Wolf Creek Pass is a paved mountain pass on the Continental Divide in the San Juan Mountains. U.S. Highway 160 passes from the San Luis Valley into southwest Colorado on its way to New Mexico and Arizona.
Begin in South Fork and ride southwest on US 160
Continue to Wolf Creek Pass Summit--mile 18.9
Continue west and south on US 160 to Pagosa Springs--mile 42.5
The pass is significantly steep on either side with a 6.8% maximum grade including many switchbacks. Don’t miss the Pagosa Hot Springs after the ride!
Pagosa Springs, 23.2 miles to the south
South Fork, 21.1 miles to the north
Just west of the Pass (about 15 miles from Pagosa Springs) is a stunning waterfall called Treasure Falls. The falls are named after a local legend of a gold treasure in the mountain that the falls plunges from.
Wolf Creek Pass ski area began in 1938 when Kelly Boyce installed a rope tow on the north side near the summit. The lift was driven by an old Chevy truck with tickets were $1 per day.
The Pass was most likely named for William Wolf, an early settler. Construction on the pass concluded in 1938.
Wolf Creek Pass was made famous in 1975 by Country music artist C. W. McCall’s humorous spoken word song of the same name, in which the pass is fondly described as “37 miles o’ hell — which is up on the Great Divide.” In the song, two truckers drive an out-of-control 1948 Peterbilt down U.S. Highway 160 to Pagosa Springs—a 5,000-foot drop in elevation.
I looked at Earl and his eyes was wide
His lip was curled, and his leg was fried.
And his hand was froze to the wheel like a tongue to a sled in the middle of a blizzard.
I says, “Earl, I’m not the type to complain
But the time has come for me to explain
That if you don’t apply some brake real soon, they’re gonna have to pick us up with a stick and a spoon…”
(“Wolf Creek Pass” written by Bill Fries and Chip Davis, sung by C.W. McCall)
The song describes the truck careening down through a “tunnel” and eventually into a feed store in Pagosa Springs. During that plunge, several crates of chickens stacked on the back of the truck are inadvertently lost. Now that is a Descent!!
Wolf Creek ski area is on the eastern side of the pass, and most approach it in winter from Pagosa Springs. You will note fabulous vistas on the western side with multiple overlooks down a beautiful valley. The valley below the switchbacks contains some fine western ranches that house some of the rich and famous that frequent this area.