11 Things You Must Do in Steamboat Springs

07 August 2013

...because 10 just wouldn't do.
Steamboat Springs is one of our favorite spots.  We honeymooned there five years ago, and had the great fortune of returning this summer for a great vacation with extended family.  We both took trips here as kids, and want our own kids to share those same memories.  Since I am a summer mountain girl, all of the activities are best in summer, though the town is also known for its great skiing as well. 

1. Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs.  This is no concrete pool that uses piped in hot springs water.  These pools are built into the mountain right along the river with steaming hot spring water flowing right into the pools.  The scenery is stunning as you are cozily tucked into a private forested mountain valley.  The pools closest to the spring are the hottest, and they gradually cool off down each successive pool.  The area includes little tucked away huts and cabins for massages, and a grand tee pee on the seating terraces.  It is quirky and a little hippy (especially the after-dark clothing-optional crowd), but still so grand and breathtaking.  The road up the mountain is tough in bad weather, but this place is life changing. 

Strawberry Park Hot Springs.  No pictures will ever do this experience justice.  It is too big to photograph how amazing it is.
Carl Howelsen

2. Dinner at Carl's Tavern. For a night out on the town, we ventured to Carl's Tavern, which is a little modern and funky.  The restaurant is modeled after the gregarious and outgoing life of Carl Howelsen (a bit of the "Most Interesting Man in the World" legend surrounds him).  We are all for classic food served up fancy, and they hit the nail on the head with their "twelve-hour braised" pot roast, and Chicken Fried Steak that were both so savory and rich.  We took a Banana Chocolate Bread Pudding, made from brioche and croissants with créme anglaise and bourbon caramel sauces, to go for dessert.  It was the kind of meal you remember years later.

3. Off The Beaten Path Bookshop.  This sweet little bookshop is heaven for book lovers like me who always dreamed of having a little tucked away shop with an indoor coffee stand.  The children's section even had little nooks and crannies for kids to climb into and read awhile.  They had gifts and stationery, and of course, a nice little selection of good books.  Plan to spend a while here. 

Off the Beaten Path

4. Strings in the Park @ Yampa River Botanic Park.  This was an experience I won't soon forget.  The gardens themselves are beautiful, and one of our favorite honeymoon memories.  But to take part in a strings concert in that idyllic setting was like living inside a Monet painting.  The quartet was playing under the whimsically large umbrella that is a permanent fixture in the lawn area.  The breeze off the adjacent pond with blooming water lilies offered a slight coolness on a sunny day.  And the variety of color and flowers on display was breathtaking.  In fact, a local artist, Chula Beauregard, was pond-side painting the musical scene.  It was so many loves wrapped into one experience.

Yampa River Botanic Park

5. Cocktails and Appetizers on the Boathouse Pub's Back Patio overlooking the Yampa River.  This one isn't so much about the Boathouse Pub as it is about the nice view and relaxing experience.  The Boathouse Pub is nestled down right on the Yampa River and their back patio is the perfect spot to cool off after a day of activity, enjoy a happy hour special, and sample an appetizer or two, or three.  There are tables for larger groups, but also cozy patio chairs set to look out over the water...perfect for people watching as groups float down the Yampa in inner tubes. 

Boathouse Pub

6. Steamboat Art Company.  Steamboat is full of shops and art galleries, but this is one of my favorites.  I could have easily handed over much too much money; but the earrings, and pottery, and wooden carvings, and glass works, and candles, and quirky clocks, and...well...it is a very cool shop, and worth the visit.

Steamboat Art Company
Fish Creek Falls
7. Fish Creek Falls.  This is a Steamboat classic.  Normally finding such beauty requires long car trips and/or long hikes, but this one requires neither.  The falls are only a couple of minutes out of town (literally 3 miles), and the walk to the falls is only 1/4 mile (of course if you love hiking, you can continue beyond the falls, like we did on our honeymoon. The trail beyond the falls goes for five miles, so you can knock yourself out!).  When you get to the falls, you will see the iconic bridge, and once on the bridge, you can look up to the majestic falls cresting between two wooded mountainsides as they cascade down to the creek beneath your feet. It is rocky, and frothy, and powerful.  It reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt and just how majestic our Rocky Mountains are.

8. Picnicking along the Yampa River.  So this spot will feel a little random, but you must stop here with a picnic lunch (homemade or take-out).  Off Lincoln Ave/US 40 (the main street through town), just Southwest of the in-town Hot Springs (across the street practically) is where the Yampa comes close to the road.  There are a few picnic tables there, including a nice platform deck with tables tucked into the aspen trees.  Eat here, and then walk 20 feet south to a little hidden pool within a bend in the river.  The little pool is bordered in by rocks and is very tiny, shallow, and warm.  You can then cool off  in the Yampa.  It is a very shallow entrance, so you just wade around ankle deep or get further in as you choose.  A great grassy place for pictures or just to mellow out for the afternoon.

9. Fishing at Stagecoach Reservoir/ Fly Fishing on the Yampa River.  This one is for the favorite men in my life.  My grandpa took me fishing at Stagecoach Reservoir when I was younger.  It is the hot spot for trout fishing in the area, with easy access points, and it is very close to town on the south end.  Jonny also tried his hand at fly fishing for the first time this trip.  He and his brother-in-law went out on the Yampa just south of town and had enough success to stay out for about six hours. 

10. Floating the Yampa River through town.  As I mentioned above, floating down the Yampa is a very popular pastime.  There are companies that will take you out and pick you up with their equipment, but you can also take your own inner tubes out on the river yourself (just have a plan for pickup somewhere downstream).  The river floats north through town, and so you will get a mix of beautiful scenery and in-town sights.  There are a couple of flower-lined bridges to float under, and the pace is very relaxing, though swift enough to keep you moving.

11.  Walking the Yampa River Core Trail and visiting the actual Steamboat Spring.  Since the Yampa passes through town, there are walking trails along most of it in that area.  The trails  are paved and well taken care of.  At the north end of town, the trail runs near the actual sulphur spring that is the Steamboat Spring.  It is one of several springs on the north end of town, and each one has a little sign marking its location (along with the unmistakable sulphur smell).  Since they are all relatively close to each other, it is fun to walk around and see all of them.  Apparently the Steamboat Spring was so named because its bubbling sounded like the chugging of a steamboat. 

And because we really love every little thing about this mountain town, here are a few bonus places we love...

Bonus Restaurants We Love: Steamboat Smokehouse (classic BBQ), Old Town Pub & Restaurant (funky old-time atmosphere), we really wanted to try Winona's Restaurant (breakfast & lunch), heard great reviews for Cugino's Italian Restaurant, Double Z Bar & BBQ (dive joint, but very good), Soda Creek Pizza (excellent off-beat pizzas), Sweetwater Grill (on the Yampa, great patio).

Bonus Activities We Love: hot air balloon festival, gondola rides, skiing in winter, rodeo Fridays, hiking & biking trails, lots of shopping and art galleries all throughout town (on or near Lincoln Ave.).
Now it is your turn to tell me what I forgot!  Spill your Steamboat favorites in the comments!
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