Days 1 & 2
Start your trip at one of Steamboat Springs’ two thermal-water attractions — Old Town Hot Springs or Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Located off Lincoln Avenue, 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. Follow your soak with a gondola ride to the top of Mount Werner for brunch or lunch with a splendid view or head to Steamboat Zipline Adventures on Rabbit Ears Pass, where views of Lake Catamount, the Flat Tops Wilderness and Yampa Valley fight for your attention.
Nearby, Stagecoach State Park’s reservoir tempts water bugs with boating, jet-skiing and hard-fighting rainbow trout. As you drive through the region, look for interpretive signs that share the rich legacy and cultural heritage of the area (go to nwcoloradoheritagetravel.org for maps and more information).
Kids could spend days exploring the ropes course, climbing wall and bungee trampoline at Steamboat Resort’s Coca-Cola Adventure Zone. Other options include the more than 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 in this once-Wild West town. Find more things to do in Steamboat >>
Head up Buffalo Pass Road, an especially picturesque scene in fall when glittering aspens blanket the Park Mountain Range slopes. High-clearance vehicles are recommended if you want to drive far up. Anglers will delight in the Yampa River’s Gold Medal fishing waters — in particular, the stretch below Stagecoach Reservoir where leviathan brown and rainbow trout lurk in swirling tail waters. Hikers head to Fish Creek Falls — go first thing in the morning to avoid the masses.
Steamboat is also a big biking destination. Rent a cruiser and ride the Yampa River Core Trail in search of adventure: fishing access, the hot springs, shopping in town, riverside parks and the rodeo, or just watch the tubers, kayakers and rafters float by. Keep an eye out for the Art Along the Yampa community mural installation along the way. Or hit the trails at the Steamboat Bike Park and more than 50 miles of singletrack trails on Emerald Mountain. End the afternoon at Butcherknife or Storm Peak brewing companies or the Steamboat Whiskey Company, the only craft distillery in the region.
Delicious dining options abound in historic downtown Steamboat Springs. One new favorite: Low Country Kitchen serves up southern classics like fried chicken and boiled peanuts. On summer weekends, cross the Yampa River to the Romick Rodeo Arena and cheer on the cowboys of the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, preceded by barbecue and live country music. Or, since Steamboat was named a Certified Colorado Creative District, stroll through the town’s galleries or pick up the First Friday Artwalk. For those seeking alternative entertainment, The Crooked Key recently added new escape rooms, including an outdoor option.
Get a taste Colorado’s famous Rocky Mountain hospitality at one of the area’s dude and guest ranches — like the luxe Vista Verde Guest Ranch or the more-rustic Elk River — where you can fill your days with cattle drives, fly-fishing, horseback riding, cowboy cuisine and more.
Days 3 & 4
Northeast of Steamboat is an area called North Park, known as the Moose Capital of Colorado, where sightings are a common occurrence. The Moose Visitor Center at State Forest State Park is an excellent first stop, or you can stop into the Moose Creek Cafe or River Rock Cafe on Main Street in Walden for tips from locals.
Elusive and enchanting birds like the greater sage-grouse, boreal owls and fox sparrows frequent the Colorado Birding Trail, Walden Lake and Cowdrey Lake State Wildlife Area. Make more feathered friends at Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge.
Around 65 percent of North Park is public land, and amid the abundant lakes, rivers, mountains, wide-open prairies and the other towns of Rand, Gould and Cowdrey, you won’t find crowds. Step back in time at the North Park Pioneer Museum in Walden, housed in an 1883 cabin that’s packed to the rafters with Old West relics.
Steamboat’s famed Champagne Powder™ is light, dry and smooth, which makes for great skiing and riding and also snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in Steamboat and the public lands that surround it.
To Steamboat’s west, stop into the quiet towns of Craig and Hayden, popular with hunters and fishermen as an easy homebase amid pristine lakes and wilderness areas. In Craig, find one of the nation’s best collections of cowboy and gunfighter memorabilia at the Museum of Northwest Colorado. 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 Seven Mile Ridge just north of Maybell.
The enclaves of Meeker and Rangely are jumping off points for exploring some of Colorado’s finest wilderness along the 250-mile Wagon Wheel off-highway-vehicle trail system through the White River National Forest, which was recently expanded. Plus, visitors can actually ride through OHV-friendly Meeker to peek into the many shops and restaurants; or come in June for Meekerpalooza’s arts and culinary fun, July for Colorado’s oldest rodeo or September for the famed Meeker Sheepdog Trials. West of Meeker, Rangely has an automotive museum with rare cars and motorcycles from the early 1900s; The TANK Center for Sonic Arts, an acoustically perfect concert hall that lived its former life as a steel water tank; and August’s OHV Adventure Rally.
South of Steamboat, stop in the tiny town of Yampa for a bite at the historic Antlers Cafe & Bar. From there, you can hop on the Flat Tops Scenic Byway, which grants access to amazing scenery, hunting, fishing and horseback riding, as well as snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.