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Steamboat Springs – even the name of this town in the rugged Colorado Rockies is a reminder of its historic past and its natural riches. Early trappers arriving at the start of the 19th century heard a chugging noise that sounded like nothing so much as a steamboat coming down the river. When the bubbling was revealed to be not a vessel but one of the area’s many hot springs, Steamboat Springs was born.
On the edge of the Western Slope and centered on Mount Werner, Steamboat Ski Resort is the main draw, with 165 trails winding through nearly 3,000 acres of terrain. ‘Steamboat’, as it’s known locally, gets about 350 inches of snow a year, much of it the fabulously smooth, dry stuff that’s been dubbed Champagne powder. This, of course, means skiing – plus sledding, snowshoeing, sleigh rides and numerous other ways to enjoy the white stuff – is deservedly popular, but there’s plenty to do in the summer months too, with the wide-open West, both past and present day, right there on your doorstep to explore.
Make like a cowboy
If you've got a hankering to hightail it across the hills and valleys on the back of a fine filly, then head to Saddleback Ranch. Located in a valley about 17 miles west of Steamboat Springs, this fourth-generation, all-season working family ranch covers 8,000 acres and offers a range of down-home and high-speed activities. In the summer you can saddle up to go horseback riding, or get a true taste of the ranch experience by joining a cattle drive, while those who’d like a more sedate ride can hop in a horse-drawn wagon to Saddleback’s Double Dollar Lodge for dinner and drinks. In winter, these ranchers harness the lure of all that snow, and you can whizz down their Yee-Haw Tubing Hill, head out on a snowmobile tour or snuggle up on a jingle-bell nighttime sleigh ride.
To find out more about the history of this onetime Wild West outpost, pay a visit to the Tread of Pioneers Museum on Oak Street in the center of town. Housed in a Queen Anne-style Victorian house built in 1908, it’s a repository for historical artifacts and stories from centuries past to more modern times. Permanent collections and a roster of rotating exhibitions cover topics such as the history of pioneer life, agriculture and town development, Native Americans, mining and the growth of skiing. Kids will enjoy the hands-on exhibits and the scavenger hunt complete with treasure-chest prize, and there are plenty of tours for the grown-ups too, including a walk, talk ’n’ sip Snowshoe Through History Happy Hour.
If you find yourself gripped by the pioneer spirit, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a genuine Western outfitters in town too. At F.M. Light & Sons, who have been clothing cowboys since 1905, you can pick up a fine pair of pants, a handsome plaid shirt, some boots and of course that all-important Stetson.
Soak up the scenery
You can’t ignore Mother Nature when you’re surrounded by her bounty at every turn, and Steamboat offers a whole host of ways to get out there and appreciate the natural world. If you’re in the mood to sit back and drink it all in, the Steamboat Scenic Gondola is the way to go. Settle into your 8-seat cabin to scale the slopes of Mount Werner, passing summer wildflowers or glowing colors as the aspen trees light up the fall days, and perhaps the odd shy rabbit or deer. When you reach the top there are spectacular views from the sundeck, across the Yampa Valley to Sleeping Giant Mountain and Flat Tops Wilderness.
There are plenty of choices for those who’d like to take in the scenery on foot, too. A short walk from downtown Steamboat, Fish Creek Falls spills down 280-ft Fish Creek Canyon and is especially impressive in the spring and early summer when the seasonal snowmelt swells the water’s volume to a raging cascade. There are four trails to choose from, including two shorter paths ideal for families and a more challenging trail for experienced hikers. In the summer months, pack a picnic and a camera for a standout lunch with a view.
The 7.5-mile Yampa River Core Trail, following the course of the river, is another popular choice. Running from one side of Steamboat Springs to the other, the paved trail is great for both hikers and bikers, with bridges crossing the trout-rich water, as well as several playgrounds and scenic overlooks. One particular highlight is the Yampa River Botanic Park. This six-acre horse pasture turned botanical garden, open May through October, is free to visit and is home to more than 50 gardens, including a lily garden, medicinal herb garden, rose garden and the Stumpyland Fairy Garden. During the summer, you can also enjoy free afternoon concerts and yoga classes on the grassy expanse of the park’s Green.
Enjoy a Luxury Retreats Steamboat Springs lodging
Want to bring the kids on their first trip to the slopes? We have plenty of Steamboat Springs ski vacation rentals to choose from, including properties in town so you never have to drag the little ones too far, complete with cozy fires and TVs and DVDs for when they’re too pooped to head back out. Our Steamboat Springs rentals cover everything from traditional wooden chalets to luxury modern homes with breathtaking mountain views, ski-in, ski-out facilities, in-home spas and catered meals. So whether you seek snow or sun, grab a bottle of bubbly, head for the hot tub and just soak it all up.