With its sprawling ranches, aspen-draped mountains and oxbow rivers, the Steamboat Springs area makes for a serene Western escape. But don’t let the tranquil setting fool you — there is plenty of spine-tingling adventure to be had as well.
For hot-air balloon enthusiasts, the Upper Yampa River Valley often has the holy grail of conditions: gentle box winds. This phenomenon allows pilots to travel down the valley, reach a certain altitude, and return up the valley because of the opposite wind current up high. Regardless of season, travelers can gain a bird’s-eye view of this majestic valley with Wild West Balloon Adventures. Their 45-minute flights start bright and early to take advantage of ideal conditions and include a continental breakfast and champagne celebration.
After the flight, head to one of Steamboat Springs’ two thermal-water attractions — Old Town Hot Springs or Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Old Town Hot Springs boasts a waterslide, soaking pools and lap lanes, while Strawberry Park offers a more rustic and secluded (but no less indulgent) experience. Watch our video of Strawberry Park Hot Springs >>
For an added bonus, join the throngs who spend mornings tubing the Yampa River. Local shops rent the tubes and can point you in the right direction and offer safety tips for bobbing down the city's waterway. Follow your soak with a gondola ride to the top of Mount Werner for brunch or lunch with a splendid view. A few miles away, Stagecoach State Park’s reservoir tempts water bugs with boating, jet-skiing and hard-fighting rainbow trout.
As your drive through the region, look for interpretive signs that share the rich legacy and cultural heritage of the area (go to nwcoloradoheritagetravel.org for a map).
Follow your river or hot spring soak with a gondola ride to the top of Steamboat's Mount Werner for brunch or lunch with a splendid view. The Sunday brunch at Hazie’s has been called one of the top on-mountain dining experiences in North America by USA Today. Or head to the eight-segment Steamboat Zipline Adventures on Rabbit Ears Pass, where Lake Catamount, Flat Tops Mountains and Yampa Valley views fight for attention as you zigzag down the mountainside.
At the base of Steamboat Ski Resort, thrill seekers should check out the Coca-Cola Adventure Zone where they can embark on a ropes course, a climbing wall and a trampoline bungee jump. Other options include the 50 gardens at Yampa River Botanic Park and the Tread of Pioneers Museum to explore the ways of the Native Americans, early settlers, miners, ranchers, skiers, outlaws and lawmen to this once-Wild West town.
From mid-afternoon to evening, make time to embrace the natural beauty of the area. Drive up scenic Buffalo Pass Road, which is especially picturesque in fall when golden aspens blanket the lower slopes of the Park Mountain Range. Picnic areas abound, but a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.
Meanwhile, anglers will delight in the Yampa River’s Gold Medal fishing waters. If you’d rather be seen in cowboy boots than waders, head to Lincoln Avenue for Western shopping at the iconic F.M. Light & Sons.
Steamboat is also a growing destination for biking. Rent a cruiser and ride the Yampa River Core Trail in search of adventure: fishing access, the hot springs, shopping in town, the library, yoga, riverside parks and the rodeo, or just watch the tubers, kayakers and rafters float by. There’s also the Steamboat Bike Park, more than 500 miles of scenic singletrack trail and four exciting new trail to explore on Emerald Mountain.
Spend the evening on downtown Steamboat Springs' historic main street, where delicious dining options abound regardless of season. One new favorite: Cloverdale Restaurant, serving multi-course dinners made with fresh ingredients from the Cloverdale Farm. On summer weekends, cross the Yampa River and enter Romick Rodeo Arena to enjoy a taste of the authentic West with the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series.
To Steamboat’s west, stop into the quiet towns of Craig and Hayden, both popular with hunters and fishers as an easy home base amid pristine lakes and wilderness areas. In Craig, you’ll find one of the nation’s best collections of cowboy and gunfighter memorabilia, saddles, spurs and stories at the Museum of Northwest Colorado. Just 45 miles west of Craig, spot one of the few remaining herds of wild mustangs in the Sand Wash Basin, also prime off-roading territory. The horses are consistently seen along the Wild Horse Loop on Sevenmile Ridge just north of Maybell. To the far west, there’s also Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, a nesting/resting area for migratory waterfowl along the Green River where hikers, sightseers, fishermen are welcome year-round.
Get sidetracked south of Craig toward Meeker’s 250-mile Wagon Wheel off-highway-vehicle trail system through the White River National Forest to explore some of Colorado’s finest wilderness. Meeker itself is OHV friendly, too, so you can ride your vehicle right through town. Meeker sits along the Flat Tops Scenic Byway, which grants access to amazing wilderness scenery, hunting, fishing and horseback riding, as well as snowmobiling and cross-country skiing from the Lost Creek trailhead. Visit in June for Meekerpalooza’s arts and culinary fun, July for Colorado’s oldest rodeo or September for the famed Meeker Sheepdog Trials. In the winter, hop on the White River Nordic Council’s groomed trails, including the one to Marvine, where a warming hut and hot chocolate await!
Northeast of Steamboat is an area called North Park, known as the Moose Capital of Colorado. Stop into the town of Walden, where a new Main Street welcome center can point you to all the outdoor activities surrounding you year-round, including ghost-town exploration, wildlife refuges, rodeos, the OHV trails in North Sand Hills’ sand dunes and the North Park–Cache la Poudre Scenic Byway.
Visiting During Winter?
Steamboat Ski Resort is a prime spot for skiing and riding. Its famed Champagne Powder is light, dry and smooth, which makes for great skiing and also snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in Steamboat and the public lands that surround it.