Active fun for the family or the two of you! Don your cowboy boots along with hiking and biking gear when heading up to Steamboat Springs, a cool mountain town where Old West ways meet up with a wagonload of alpine summer fun. This Western heritage is at its best when Steamboat celebrates its 103rd annual Cowboys’ Roundup Days the Fourth of July with a cattle drive down its main street, along with rodeos, a parade, a flapjack feed, free concerts and plenty of fireworks (July 1-4).
Since the late 1800s, ranching has been a way of life in the surrounding Yampa River Valley, and on Steamboat’s picturesque streets you’ll still see ranchers going about their business among the townsfolk and tourists. One of the newest attractions celebrates this Old West way of life: Led by local historians, Heritage Ranch Tours give visitors a glimpse of life on working cattle, sheep, horse, bison and elk ranches near Steamboat (July 2 and 22, Aug.10 and Sept.9).
Yet lively Western traditions are just part of what makes this town tick. As summer wildflowers replace the deep Champagne Powder® snow on slopes that have trained more Winter Olympians than any other mountain in North America — including famed silver medalist and Steamboat Ski Resort’s director of skiing Billy Kidd, who skis in a cowboy hat — Steamboat turns into one of the most spectacular hiking, biking and horseback-riding destinations in the Rockies. When President Teddy Roosevelt hunted and fished in the forests around Steamboat Springs in the 1890s, their pristine beauty no doubt helped inspire his decision to establish the National Forest Service in 1905, and, with it, the Routt National Forest near Steamboat Springs. This legacy includes the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness, Steamboat’s unofficial backyard, where 173 miles of trails wind among three mountain ranges and more than 70 lakes, including 27 miles of the sublime Continental Divide Trail. Here the Gold Creek-Gilpin Lake Loop (six hours round trip from the Slovenia trailhead) is a favorite scenic route.
Another popular trail with over-the-top views is the Devil’s Causeway in the Flat Tops Wilderness, where more than 100 trout-laden lakes and ponds dot the slopes beneath the unusual Flat Top Mountain — created when a massive block of rock pushed upward and planed level (about four hours round trip from the Stillwater Reservoir trailhead). Especially hiker-friendly, the Sarvice Creek and Silver Creek trails in the Sarvice Creek Wilderness — named for the Sarvice berries that the native black bears love — have shuttle cars at both ends of the trails so you can return without backtracking. Even if you’re not in top hiking or biking shape at these altitudes, ranging from 7,000 to over 12,000 feet at summits, no problem: There’s still a perfect scenic trail just for you.
In fact, your whole family can enjoy biking along the paved, mostly flat, seven-mile Yampa Core Trail, which follows the Yampa River from downtown to the mountains. En route you can stop for a dip in picture-perfect swimming holes, picnic in parks or go fishing for tasty trout for dinner. There’s also tubing on the Yampa River, as well as rafting and kayaking — with lessons available at the Mountain Sports Kayak School.
Steamboat SpringsAnother sure-fire family hit is the “Howler,” an alpine slide that zooms down a 2,400-foot track on Howelsen Hill, one of Colorado’s oldest ski areas. And in summer the base of the Steamboat Ski Area becomes the “Gondola Square Adventure Zone” featuring a climbing wall, a slingshot bungee jump and miniature and disc golf. Or take your crew for a thrilling ride on the gondola, and savor the panoramic views of the entire Yampa Valley. If your kids want even more adventure, consider enrolling them in an “Adventure Camp” session (Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm, for children ages 3-12) for a variety of alpine activities, or a “Yampatika” outing, where they’ll join a skilled naturalist for a day of back country hiking while learning about plants and animals as well as valuable wilderness survival skills (grouped for ages 9-11 and 12-15). And if you’re into climbing, guides with Rock Mountain Ventures can lead all levels of climbers on half-day or full-day climbs. After so much fun, everyone will be ready to relax in the downtown hot springs pool of Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation, where the kids can play on the water slide while Mom gets a massage at Hot Springs Body Works in the complex.
For dinner, head for a family-friendly restaurant such as the historic Old Town Pub, whose large menu has something for everyone. Or cook your steaks just the way you like them (or let the staff do it all) and enjoy s’mores for dessert at the 8th Street Steakhouse. Burgers at the 1950s-style diner Johnny B. Good’s or barbecue at the casual Steamboat Smokehouse are likewise family favorites. Evening family entertainment takes center stage at the new Steamboat Mountain Theater, which has puppet shows, juggling acts, melodramas, live music, films and more. If it’s just you and your honey, make Saturday night dinner reservations at Hazie’s at the top of the gondola, or for Sunday brunch at its New Orleans-inspired buffet. Other good restaurant choices for couples include Antares (New American cuisine), Cottonwood Grill (Pacific Rim), Riggio’s (Italian), La Montaña (Southwest-Mex) and The Cabin at Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel (steaks, jet-fresh seafood and Colorado wild game).
Summertime is also the perfect time to discover Steamboat’s cultural side. From Tuesday through Saturday there are live music concerts (most of them free) ranging from chamber music to bluegrass and jazz. Many of these are sponsored by the Strings in the Mountains Music Festival, which presents both local and international talent, including the renowned South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo on July 21. If you’re opera fans, come for the Emerald City Opera, bringing performers from opera companies around the country for performances of Letters for Mozart: Life and Love through His Operas (Aug. 4 and 6). This original operatic tribute to Mozart’s 250th anniversary is part of the city-wide Beaux Arts Festival & Art Car Stampede (Aug.1-13), a celebration of all the arts with fine art exhibits, street painting, theater, sculpture gardens, concerts, wine-art dinners and more. Artists and art connoisseurs would also enjoy the annual Steamboat Studio Arts and Culture Tour (Aug. 19), a self-guided tour of working artists’ studios. Or the beauty of more than 40 hot-air balloons rising over the Yampa Valley at the much-anticipated annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and Art in the Park, Steamboat’s biggest arts and crafts fair (July 8-9).
Steamboat SpringsWine lovers and foodies won’t want to miss the annual Steamboat Wine Festival (Aug. 3-6), a chance to sniff, swirl and sip their way through a fantastic weekend while savoring cuisine by award-winning chefs from around the state as well as live entertainment. And even people without green thumbs look forward to the annual High Country Garden Tour (July 15), which showcases six stunning gardens created by local experts and includes a catered lunch. As you stop to admire their artistry in concert with Mother Nature, musicians with the Strings in the Mountain Festival of Music play, and Master Gardeners gladly answer your questions.
Of course, no visit to Steamboat Springs is complete without a visit to a special place that has been drawing people here since the Ute Indians first discovered its rejuvenating powers. Tucked into a forest glen just seven miles from downtown Steamboat Springs, the rock-framed natural pools of Strawberry Park Hot Springs have this effect: Once settled into your favorite pool, you never want to leave. For a romantic escape, you could stay in a rustic cabin or a renovated caboose nearby — after getting Watsu floating massages in two side-by-side private pools from staff in two cottages overlooking the pools. (Swedish, deep-tissue and sports massages are also available). Visitors take note:A dip in these hot springs virtually guarantees you’ll come back.
For more information, visit steamboatchamber.com, or for reservations, steamboatsummer.com. Or call 877-754-2269. Steamboat Springs has a wide range of accommodations for all budgets, including condos, motels, bed and breakfasts, small inns, resort hotels and guest ranches. Steamboat Springs is about 160 miles northwest of Denver.
By MELANIE YOUNG