Trekking Through Steamboat Springs
Whether you’re on wheels, foot or horseback, Steamboat is a haven for outdoor adventure
Photo by Corey Kopischke
Long before Steamboat Springs became a world-class ski resort known for its dry, fluffy snow trademarked “champagne powder,” it was a summertime destination. Tucked in northern Colorado’s Yampa Valley, the town’s rolling hills and trout-packed rivers were originally the hunting and fishing grounds of the Ute Indian tribe, and the natural hot springs provided a soothing soak after long days on foot.
Today, Steamboat is still revered as a summer getaway for its sweeping landscapes, endless outdoor attractions and laid-back, no-frills attitude that comes from humble ranching roots.
“For most people in Steamboat, it’s not about what you drive, where you work, or how nice your house is,” explains Amy Charity, executive director of Bike Town USA and a Steamboat resident of 10 years. “It’s more about if you got outside or what you did outside that day. People live here because they’re passionate about the outdoors and love being active.”
Here, a guide to exploring Steamboat’s vast outdoor playground via three modes of transportation: hiking, biking and horseback riding.
Photo by Noah Wetzel
At just 10 square miles total, Steamboat is incredibly walkable. Most hiking trails are within a short car ride from the main town center but still reap the benefits of more remote backcountry hikes.
If you have kids in tow, take the gondola up to Thunderhead Lodge and venture onto the Nature Vista Trail, an easy 1-mile loop that provides beautiful aerial views.
Arguably the most popular hike in Steamboat, the 5-mile Fish Creek Falls loop visits two waterfalls (one of which has a massive 280-foot drop, the second-tallest falls of Colorado) without being too arduous. Get to the trailhead early, as the parking lot tends to fill up by 10 a.m. on most summer days.
Thrill-seekers can travel an hour south of Steamboat to Stillwater Reservoir, where a 3-mile hike leads to the Devil’s Causeway, a narrow 50-foot natural bridge flanked by sheer cliffs. Whether or not you’re brave enough to cross, the panoramic views from the top are unparalleled.
Photo courtesy Steamboat Chamber
With over 500 miles of diverse cycling terrain ranging from paved walkways to gravel roads to singletrack dirt trails, Steamboat’s biking scene supports all skill sets and interests.
For those wanting an even-keel cruise, the Yampa Core River Trail is a 7.5-mile commuter path that traces the winding river and is adjacent to the downtown shops and restaurants, so you can ride among rushing waters and wildflowers one minute, and stop for coffee the next.
Photo by Noah Wetzel
The Town Hill Climb is a 28-mile road-biking route that begins in downtown Steamboat and provides a series of heart-pounding interval climbs up the mountain. Along the way are 360-degree views, historic barns, and a pit stop at Fish Creek Falls.
Intermediate mountain bikers will relish the new 5-mile Flash of Gold Trail, a two-way path that climbs 1,800 feet while meandering through aspen groves and up Buffalo Pass.
If your steel steed can’t make the trip, there are bike rental shops on (almost) every corner in town. Head to Orange Peel for road, mountain and cruiser bikes starting at $20 for two hours, or for something with a little more speed, Pedego on Lincoln Avenue supplies electric bikes with pedal-assist and throttle power to help conquer steep inclines.
Photo by Larry Pierce
Home to many working cattle ranches and bucking summertime rodeos, Steamboat isn’t shy about its Wild West heritage. Exploring the terrain by horseback is a bona fide way to connect to the rugged scenery, and visitors are remiss to not give it a go. Play cowboy for a day at Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch, a 2,000-acre horse ranch in a sleepy town called Clark, 35 minutes north of downtown Steamboat. Family-owned and -operated for six generations, the ranch is run by Perk Heid, his dad Ray (whose credibility includes being named Best Cowboy by the Steamboat Pilot in 2017), wife Becky and their two sons. Trail rides are led by experienced wranglers and accompanied by stories about the Heid ranching history and stable of horses. One- and two-hour rides journey through gentle meadows and often reward riders with glimpses of local elk and deer herds. Half-day and full-day excursions are also offered and include a sack lunch enjoyed among the forest vistas. Rides start at $60; cowboy hats supplied.
Photo courtesy Cloverdale Restaurant
GETTING THERE: Steamboat Springs is 160 miles from Denver, an easy and scenic 3-hour drive along the I-70 and US-40 corridors. To cut down on travel time, nonstop flights from Denver and Houston into the Steamboat/Hayden Airport (30 minutes from downtown Steamboat) are offered daily during the summer months.
STAY: Situated at the base of the ski area, the Steamboat Grand offers a comfortable stay in a refined-rustic setting. Go for its proximity to mountain trails and short shuttle ride to downtown shops and restaurants, as well as the stunning mountain views found in each of its 328 guest rooms. Four-star amenities include an impressive pool area and onsite massages and facial at the Grand Spa. Bonus: Two-night stays during the summer are up to 20 percent cheaper than peak-season pricing.
Photo courtesy Salt & Lime
EAT: For post-adventure beers and bites, wind down at Mountain Tap Brewery, a local favorite just off the main drag downtown. The family-friendly restaurant serves a wide selection of house-made craft brews and Napoli-style wood-fired pizzas, and has one of the best outdoor patios in town. Make a pit stop at the walk-up Burrito Bar—operated by the hip Mexican restaurant Salt & Lime and just around the corner from its main entrance on Lincoln Street—for burritos, tacos and margaritas made fresh and fast. Or for a slowed-down date night dinner, head to Cloverdale for a prix fixe tasting menu that focuses on local farm-fresh ingredients.
Photo courtesy Strawberry Park Hot Springs
SOAK: Soothe and recharge sore muscles at one of Steamboat’s natural hot springs pools. Take the kids to Old Town Hot Springs for its convenient downtown location, adjacent cold-water pool with a rock wall and water slides; or drive 20 minutes north to Strawberry Park Hot Springs for a dip in the stone-clad pools nestled alongside Hot Springs Creek and surrounded by towering pines.