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The Champagne Powder snow in the Rocky Mountains draws millions to snowboard and ski in Steamboat Springs. The mountain towns are like magnets for visitors from around the world. However, in the summer, the masses leave, the weather turns warm, the snow melts and the mountains become paradise gardens. While thousands clog the I-70 corridor and turn the highway into a parking lot, quaint Steamboat Springs in Northern Colorado retains its idyllic qualities.
On a recent trip to Colorado, I travelled to Steamboat Springs for a mid-week trip of outdoor fun. And there is so much to do in Steamboat in the summer – mountain biking at Steamboat Mountain, horseback riding, tubing on the Yampa River, golfing in the valley and hot air ballooning in the crisp morning hours before dawn.
Steamboat Springs first caught my attention for the 150 natural hot springs that dot the Yampa River Valley. Since 1874, the springs have been used by locals and visitors alike to relax. And relaxation was my first priority!
On arriving in Steamboat, I immediately headed a few short miles out of town to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. These are the best natural hot springs in Colorado. The springs flow down into a creek bed and fill a series of cozy pools with their hot waters – with temperatures ranging from 104 degrees to just above bath water.
Having visited hot springs from Nepal to Peru to Iceland to Turkey, this is one of the most rustic and intimate springs you’ll ever find. And it was the perfect way to relax before going back to The Steamboat Grand hotel for the night! (Hours vary. Please note no children after sunset, when clothing becomes optional. Admission is $15 for adults. There is no electricity and the site is very rustic, so bring everything you might need.)
The next morning, I had a small breakfast because my first order of business was The Howler – a half-mile long alpine slide with a several hundred foot vertical drop. Think of it as the summer equivalent of flying down a luge or bobsled track. I have no idea how fast I went, but the ride was a thrill. You can’t stop with just one ride! (Hours vary. Cost per single ride is $12 for adults. All participants must sign a liability waiver).
There’s no shortage of places to eat in Steamboat, but my passion for meat in tube form led me to the Hungry Dog – a hotdog and sausage kiosk on main street. They make some great hot dogs and it was a good spot to fuel up before going up the mountain.
While the original settlers in the 1870s came here for the ranching and mining, skiing is the dominant industry today. No visit to Steamboat Springs would be complete without a visit to Mount Werner and the Steamboat Ski Resort, which is where I found myself for some afternoon hiking. In the winter, the gondola at Steamboat whisks skiers up the mountain for a serious adrenaline fix.
But in summer, hikers and mountain bikers commandeer the gondola for the 2,200 foot descent of the mountain. While the mountain biking looks amazing, my interest was in hiking. The gondola saved me the 3-mile hike up the mountain, but from the top of Thunderhead Peak, I climbed further up Mount Warner for views across the Yampa River valley.
A late afternoon storm rolled in and created a curtain of rain across the valley – a marvelous sight to my east coast eye! (Summer gondola hours generally 10:00 am – 4:00 pm and depend on the weather. The cost for adults is $25. Packages are available for Gondola and The Howler alpine slide.)
I worked up an appetite with all the hiking. For dinner, a local recommended the 8th Street Steakhouse. Now, I’ve never understood the appeal of going out to dinner and then cooking your own food. After all, having someone take care of you is one of the appeals of going out to eat.
However, 8th Street Steakhouse showed me the error in my thinking. This was perhaps the most fun I’ve had out at dinner in years. I selected my own cut of bison and then grilled it to perfect medium, while enjoying the relaxed ambiance.
On my way out of town, I wanted to get in one last hike up to Fish Creek Falls. I started by hiking the quarter mile down to the lower Fish Creek Falls, where the winter runoff cascades over a 283 foot cliff. The deep gorge is packed with other hikers and tourists enjoying the view. But that is where the challenge starts.
From the lower falls, I hiked to the Upper Falls – a challenging 2.5 mile hike with over 2,000 vertical feet of elevation gain (especially challenging since my home elevation is about 70 feet above sea level).
The most challenging part are the steep switchbacks at the beginning, however, the route tapers out as you approach the Upper Falls. On the way back down, I was rewarded with stunning views of the Yampa River Valley. (Admission is $5. Parking at the upper lot is limited. Bring lots of water.)
Summer in Colorado is a magical time with the wildflowers in bloom. Hopefully, I’ll be able to return in the winter and sample that legendary Champagne Powder!
We were the guests of Steamboat Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation. All opinions are our own.