12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Steamboat Springs, CO
It doesn't get much more idyllic than Steamboat Springs, Colorado. When you close your eyes and picture the Colorado wilderness, chances are you're picturing Steamboat Springs. The region packs a punch when it comes to adventure travel and natural beauty, but you'll also find a town buzzing with culture and entertainment.
Located on the Western Slope of Colorado, Steamboat Springs' settled history dates back more than 100 years when it was a railroad center. When you visit Old Town, you'll be thrown back to its adventuresome roots.
Today the picture is a bit different. You still have your adventurers, but rather than arriving in covered wagons, they're rolling up in Range Rovers, with extreme adventure gear in tow. In winter, Steamboat Springs is one of the top ski destinations in Colorado. But in snow-free seasons, the city is still alive with hiking, biking, live music, art galleries, and gardens.
Stroll along the Yampa River to discover the botanical gardens and nature trails, or head up into the mountains for hiking, hot springs, and mountain views. The ski area around Steamboat Village is one of the best in the world. No matter the time of year, you're guaranteed to enjoy the best things to do in Steamboat Springs.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Visit Fish Creek Falls
Perhaps the best introduction to Steamboat Springs is a trip up to Fish Creek Falls. What could set the scene better than a plunging waterfall that plummets hundreds of rocky feet down the side of a cliff, with nothing but a sea of evergreen trees as far as the eye can see? Welcome to Colorado, indeed.
Fish Creek Falls plummets 280 feet down into Fish Creek Canyon within the Routt National Forest, just outside of Steamboat Springs' downtown. What's neat about Fish Creek Falls is the variety of different ways you can see it.
For those who simply want to snap a picture, you can easily drive to the parking lot, park, and walk down a short paved path to a viewpoint that overlooks the falls. Then again, the more adventurous can take in the whole experience with a hike. The hiking route takes travelers to the Upper Fish Creek Falls and Long Lake.
The best time to see the falls is in the spring, when the alpine snowmelt is running off. You can even visit in the winter. Once the falls are frozen, ice climbers come from all over to scramble their way up to the top.
2. Ski Steamboat Springs
No matter the season, Steamboat Springs is spectacular. But more often than not, you're going to find the city thriving in winter thanks to the epic Steamboat Ski Resort slopes that you can see from every direction.
The ski area carves down the Mount Werner Park Range within the Routt National Forest and is one of the largest ski resorts in Colorado. It's known for its "Champagne Powder," which is iconic to the destination — it is the best of the best, the locals say.
The ski area is veined with 165 main trails that crisscross nearly 3,000 acres. Twenty percent of the trails are suitable for beginners, and the rest are reserved for the more experienced. Of course, you can also explore on snowshoes, snowmobile, snowcat, or sleigh.
The gondola is even open to non-skiers who are simply interested in cresting the top of the mountain to drink in the sweeping views. And they are absolutely worth seeing.
3. Explore Yampa River Botanic Park
Right in the heart of downtown Steamboat Springs sits the Yampa River Botanic Park. The seasonal park is free and open from May through October. The quiet, nature-forward respite provides a pop of color and a serene place to escape the rattle and hum of downtown Steamboat Springs.
Not only is it a place to stroll the walking paths and shady areas, the botanic park becomes a venue for summer music festivals, outdoor yoga, and events like weddings. You can also browse the Butterfly Garden, Culinary Herb Garden, Children's Garden, and Hummingbird Garden.
The park opened in 1995 in what became a transformed six-acre horse pasture. Now it includes more than 60 gardens, berms, and ponds.
4. Hike or Camp the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest
Steamboat Springs affords a spectacular location west of the Continental Divide, completely enveloped by the Medicine Bow and Routt National Forests. This means that it is one of the best locations in the state (or even the nation) for hiking and camping. The entire forest area covers 2.9 million acres from northern Colorado to central and northeastern Wyoming.
The landscape features mountain ranges, grasslands, lakes, streams, and thick forest, and from Steamboat Springs, you will have access to endless hiking and biking trails, dispersed camping within the forest, and designated national forest campgrounds.
Within the forests, you'll find the Chapman Reservoir, Dumont Lake, Fish Creek Falls, Mount Zirkel Wilderness, the North Platte River, and many other stunning natural features that contribute to the wild, rugged beauty of Steamboat Springs.
5. Walk the Yampa River Core Trail
The ski towns of Colorado are known for many things, but affordability is not one of them. But if you know where to look, you can find plenty of free things to do that embrace the beauty and magic of the Colorado mountains.
The Yampa River Core Trail in Steamboat Springs is one of those free, wonderful things. The trail is 7.5 miles long and runs parallel to the Yampa River from one end of Steamboat Springs to the other.
The entire path is paved, which means it's great for an easy stroll, an afternoon bike ride, roller blading, and more. The river is traversed over a series of wooden bridges. Be sure to take a peek over the edge to catch the rainbow trout that are popular in this area.
In the summertime, you'll even see parades of inner tubes floating down the river, which is one of the most popular summer activities in Steamboat Springs. Other points of interest along the trail include the rodeo grounds, where you can see the Pro Rodeo Series; the Howelsen Ice Arena; the Yampa River Botanic Park; and several restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques.
6. Soak in Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Steamboat Springs is named such for a reason — the natural hot springs that bubble beneath the mountains and percolate to the surface to create a collection of natural hot springs. Strawberry Park Hot Springs is perhaps the area's most famous and popular.
The year-round hot springs sit on County Road 36 along Hot Springs Creek, a short drive from downtown. The water stays at a piping 104 degrees, which means that you'll find the springs packed after a day on the slopes.
Within the park area, you'll find changing rooms, a picnic area, and even a spa section where you can book a relaxing massage. Want to stay overnight? No problem. You can book lodgings in a train caboose or a covered wagon. They have campsites, as well.
Pool reservations are required, and pool capacity is limited and available to guests in groups of six or less to make bookings through the reservation system.
7. Explore the Steamboat Art Museum
It started as a local project back in 2004 and has evolved to become one of the most important art museums in Colorado. The Steamboat Art Museum began as a collaborative effort among Colorado artists with the mission to display fine art in this pocket of northwestern Colorado.
By 2010, the museum had signed a 99-year lease with the city to permanently house the museum in the historic Rehder Building, where it sits today. To date it has presented more than 45 exhibitions to more than 150,000 visitors.
The museum exhibits include paintings and photographs, watercolors, and quilts. It even has an education program that features a "Student Gallery" for children, and has a calendar of classes, workshops, and museum tours.
8. Listen to the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra
Certainly the great outdoors is the prime reason to visit Steamboat Springs, but the cultural entertainment is not to miss, either. Take, for example, the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra. The community ensemble started in 1991 and since has grown to become one of the top acts to see in town.
The Steamboat Symphony Orchestra is made up of local musicians and even has subgroups like the String Quartet and a Woodwind Quintet. The group can be seen performing all over Steamboat Springs at many of the community events. They have a calendar of performance dates up on their website.
The SSO provides entertainment for the whole family, including a music education program for kids and adults. Check out the Youth Music Immersion Weekend, which is one of their most popular programs.
9. Ride the Steamboat Scenic Gondola
Arguably the best way to see Steamboat Springs is from above. For skiers this is easy — just take a ride up to the top of the mountain and enjoy the view on the way down. But the great thing about Steamboat Springs is that the top-of-the-house views aren't reserved only for skiers.
Anyone can take a ride up the Scenic Gondola, which is a great way for families, individuals, and couples to see all that there is to see in Steamboat Springs. The eight-person (enclosed) gondola travels all the way up to the top of Mount Werner. Year-round, rest assured there will be something to see, from the greenery of spring and summer, to the brilliant colors in the autumn, and the endless slopes of powder white in winter.
From the top of the hill, visitors can access a variety of hiking trails or have panoramic views of the Sleeping Giant Mountain and Flattops Wilderness.
10. Visit the Tread of Pioneers Museum
Colorado's history is simply fascinating. Settled by pioneers and the most adventurous, Colorado has always beckoned the most daring explorers. You can learn all about the history of Steamboat Springs at the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
The museum is dedicated to the history of the region and lives inside a Victorian house that dates back to 1908. Inside you'll discover exhibits that cover pioneer life, the development of the town, Native Americans of the region, and the mining history.
This family-friendly tourist attraction has exhibits for kids, as well as a library and research center. You can even sign up for a walking or bicycle tour to get a different perspective on Steamboat Springs' history.
11. Skate the Howelsen Ice Complex
Steamboat Springs thrives in winter, but you can get your fix year-round at the Howelsen Ice Complex. This is the only ice rink in Steamboat Springs, and it hosts many fun activities and events for people of all ages and skill types.
This is one of the only places to visit in Colorado where you can play bumper cars on ice, in addition to taking figure skating classes or enjoying a public skate. More advanced skaters can participate in the hockey leagues that play at the arena, as well. The Ice Arena happens to be the home of the Steamboat Springs Figure Skating Club, too.
In town for the summer? Check out the summer youth hockey camp.
12. Explore Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area
Mount Zirkel is the highest peak in the mountain range near Steamboat Springs. It caps out at 12,182 feet, and the surrounding wilderness area is one of the prime destinations in Colorado for backcountry adventures.
The wilderness area was designated in 1964. Today it has nearly 160,000 acres and is home to more than 70 lakes, 15 mountain peaks, and part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. The North Platte, Encampment, and Elk Rivers flow through it, as well. Within the wilderness area are multiple dispersed campgrounds, and many of the most famous Steamboat Springs hiking trails.
Speaking of hiking, the wilderness area has more than 150 miles of trails, which can be accessed year-round whether you're hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing.