You know what I love about Steamboat? It can be the lazy man’s mountain town. You can lounge in their hot springs, float down their river or cool your feet off as you admire their waterfalls. (You can also, of course, hike, bike, climb, ski and/or snowboard the mountains.)
For me, Steamboat has the remote feeling everyone loves about Telluride, the pace of a small town that has no interest in overzealous developers and a beauty that can and does hold its own. Unlike many sought after mountain towns around the world, Steamboat still has a main street that staves off the t-shirt shops, small bungalows with Hondas in the driveway and people with a ready and easy smile.
David’s friends from Spain were traveling around Colorado. They had seen Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park, Telluride, Ouray and Crested Butte. We had to make sure they saw another of Colorado’s gems before leaving and told them we must meet in Steamboat. Here is what we did:
Road Trip: Although the drive on westbound on I-70 is always beautiful, turning north on Highway 9 in Silverthorne opens up all new scenery – rolling hills, big meadows, ghost towns, little towns and wildflowers.
Breakfast Burritos at Big Shooter Coffee Shop in Kremmling, Colorado
Is it possible to not stop at The Big Shooter Coffee Shop in Kremmling, Colorado (population 1414)? I think not and with some pretty damn good breakfast burritos perhaps all should consider doing the same. While there we got some Steamboat tips from the ladies working – their recommendations? Hike Mad Creek (one mentioned she tried to mountain bike it and walked the bike the first mile if that is of any interest to anyone), eat at Sweet Pea and have a glass of wine on Mambo Italiano’s deck overlooking the Yampa River.
As you head north on US 40 you will see it on the right side of the road north of Kremmling but south of the Hwy 14 interchange. I believe it was around Mile Market 198 but I make no promises.
Please know that in some odd twist of nature vs. man the deer find the ghost town as fascinating as the people and snoop around inside the structures too.
Wine at The Boathouse by the Yampa River? Yes, please.
We celebrate our arrival in Steamboat Springs with a trip to The Boathouse for a glass of wine, a sit by the river and Yampa River tuber watching. (To note, one serious yet understandable downside of The Boathouse is you can’t sit under the covered patio unless you are ordering lunch and as such a glass of wine there can become very sweaty, very quickly.)
Addictively Delicious Lunch at Sweet Pea
Lunch at the highly recommended Sweet Pea complete with a shaded deck overlooking the river. Sweet Pea offers a break from the standard and ever present bar food scene and serves fresh, healthy, ultra-delicious farm to table style food. In our 28 Steamboat hours we would eat here twice. Just writing about it makes me want to go again.
Rodeo Ticket Purchase & Western Wear Window Shopping at FM Light & Sons
At FM Light & Sons – home of all things Cowboy, all things Western AND Steamboat Rodeo Tickets ($15/each). You will be well acquainted with FM & Sons prior to arriving thanks to the 972 handcrafted roadside signs placed every 92 feet on your drive to Steamboat. These signs won’t let you forget them and practically mandates a visit to see what all the hubbub is about. Who says cowboys can’t do marketing?
Rodeo Watching Tips from FM Light & Sons
You can only buy Steamboat Rodeo tickets in town and apparently you only need to worry about them selling out on 4th of July weekend. They are not available online.
Also, as the FM Light people will tell you, you need to get to the rodeo at 6:30 so you can sit in the aluminum and covered bleachers as opposed to the concrete bleachers across the way. (Total rookie move apparently.)
Random Run-In (Thankfully!)
We randomly run into Hector and Norma (David’s friends from Spain) on the street which is fabulous as none of our cell phones were in the mood to 1) work 2) send text messages 3) receive text messages and with the probably 100+ years of traveling experiences between the four of us, none thought it wise to provide the address where we were staying, have a meet up plan or a plan b.
Fish Creek Falls
Another great thing about Steamboat? The fabulous Fish Creek Fall a hike or short drive for the lazies (like us) away.
Steamboat Pro Rodeo Arrival
Off to arrive early to the rodeo (or row-day-oh as the three Spanish & Catalan speakers amongst me would say). Considered getting BBQ but the prices were encouraging us to wait and go elsewhere later.
Questioning the Morality of Rodeos and My Decision to Go (Again)
When the cows started being lasso’d around the head and feet, we all unanimously decided it was time to head elsewhere.
TO NOTE: I am not well-versed on the animal-friendliness of rodeos. It does not seem possible to me that the animals are totally enjoying all of this. (I think the horse slamming his head into the wall in the video below kind of gives creedence to that, not to mention the only other time I have been to this rodeo a horse broke its leg and was euthanized right there in the middle of the stadium.)
I do know there are different schools of thought and I suggest you do a bit of research on your own before deciding if you want to go. (Feel free to share it. I would like to know.) There is no question that the men and women involved in rodeo’s are not some of the world’s strongest, talented and most capable athletes. There is also no question that everyone seems to be quite entertained there. The question and the conversation that needs to be had, I think, is what exactly is happening with the animals and what needs to be done to alleviate, prevent or eliminate any of their distress or pain.
Late Night Italian / Pizza Dinner at Mazzola’s
The friendly Steamboat Springs Police Department acting as impromptu tour guides suggested we go to the Mahogany Ridge Brewery & Grill but the line out the door when we arrive did not seem awesome. The SPPD also suggested Ciao Gelato but we were thinking more dinner than dessert. Sweet Pea was closing, so we ended up at Mazzola’s. Yelp reviewers gave it a solid 4 stars. I wouldn’t say it blew me out of the water but it was solid AND the Catalans and Spaniards liked the pizza and the mussels; and let me tell you – as sweet and lovely as they are – that is saying a lot.
Steamboat “Farmers” Market
We took a quick stroll through the Steamboat Springs Farmers Market. This market, as I am finding most do these days, puts a lot more emphasis on the “market” than on the “farmer” (I believe I saw one stand selling fruits and veggies), but it is worth a stroll nonetheless and probably perfect for the tourist looking to try or take home some locally made artisian goods.
Best Cappucino & Shady Terrace in Town at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore
“Do you know where I could get a cappuccino?” Me
“How important is it to you, that it is good?” Random friendly guy working at the outdoors store
“Pretty important.” Me
“Then, you should go to the Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.” Random friendly guy working at the outdoors store
The Strawberry Park Hot Springs, A Steamboat Must-Do
Before arriving in Steamboat I emailed a former co-worker and friend who lives in Steamboat and works for Moots, home of high-performance titanium bicycle frames and components made right there in Steamboat, about the best hotels in town. Although I had not seen him in over 10 years or talked to him in almost the same amount of time, he told me he was going to be out of town and we were welcome to stay at his house if we were interested. (Yes, folks on the days when you think there aren’t people “like that” anymore, remember Jason.)
He also told me (via email):
“…I totally recommend going to Strawberry Park Hot Springs (4 miles from my house). You can hike up Spring Creek too – which you can do from the house. Tour main street just for kicks. Have donuts at Milk Run. If you go out for lunch/dinner/smoothies then try Sweet Pea and tell Katherine (the owner) that I sent you. Don’t feel obligated to do any of that though (except for the hot springs which is clothing optional after dark.)”
We arrived at the Strawberry Park Hot Springs shortly after everyone was questioning if I really knew where I was going. Although my directional capabilities are consistently wrong, the random dirt road leading to the springs was not helping to quiet one front seat and two backseat drivers.
For $10 a person (and $1 per towel rental) we were treated to the spectacularness of the hot springs. Unlike many hot springs that were turned into glorified swimming pools, Strawberry Park has maintained the hot springs natural beauty which is probably one of the many reason people rave about them. Pool temperatures range from quite hot to freezing cold and a lot of temperatures in between.
It is a place you could hang out at all day. (They do offer massages!) Make sure to bring your own food and water. The earlier you arrive the better the chance you have at scoring one of their cush lounge chairs!
Lunch, Sweet Pea, Again
4:00 – 7:00 pm
Head back to Denver through Winter Park for a chance at seeing new scenery.
Arrive in Denver and agree the drive to Steamboat via Silverthorne (Highway 9) is definitely, from a scenic and timeliness perspective, the way to go. BUT regardless of how you arrive there I can almost promise you, you will be very glad you went.