Steamboat Springs, similar to its Colorado ski resort cousins – Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen – works equally well as a brief day trip or weeklong visit for those interested in experiencing more of its countless outdoor activities. Kristi and I were there for just the day. Our relaxing, sunny, late-summer afternoon spent browsing art and craft beer in the charming downtown area was a reward for the drive out.
And make no mistake about it, Steamboat Springs is off the beaten path.
Steamboat Springs is on the way to nowhere. It’s 90 miles of mostly two-lane road from the Silverthorne exit on I-70, and Silverthorne is 70 miles from Denver. There’s nothing on the way to Steamboat Springs. There’s nothing just past Steamboat Springs. The only reason to go to Steamboat Springs is Steamboat Springs – and that’s reason enough.
Before arriving in town, a stop at Fish Creek Falls seems almost compulsory.
The $5 entry fee allows you to park a short walk to the base of the 280-foot falls. Additional hiking opportunities present themselves from the lower falls, including a walk to Upper Fish Creek Falls and then on to Long Lake. Kristi and I spent only 45 minutes at the base of the falls taking pictures, but a full day could easily be spent on the hiking trails, particularly the Long Lake trail, a nearly 12 mile (one way) trail with over 2500-feet of elevation gain rated as “difficult.”
The downtown area features a roughly one mile “Main Street” – Lincoln Ave just one block removed from the Yampa River – offering the sort of restaurants, shops, boutiques and galleries you’d expect to find in a mountain resort town.
What most caught our eye immediately were the disarmingly reasonable prices on artwork. High-quality, original paintings from local artists were priced well below $1,000, some below $500. The prices on all of these could easily have been doubled without blushing.
Three galleries in particular offered extraordinary quality for the price – the gift shop at the Steamboat Art Museum, the Steamboat Springs Center for Visual Arts, and the White Hart Gallery which also retails home furnishings. If your tastes lend more toward the pricey—and for sure just to browse—Wildhorse Gallery displays an impressive selection of large-sale landscapes and high-end sculpture, including Jim Gilmore. Be a tourist and take a picture with the life-size sculptures of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson at the store’s entrance.
While we were only in town for six hours, we visited The BARley twice after a Google search for “best craft beer selection in Steamboat Springs” led us there. We agree. The BARley offered 30 craft beers on tap, most of them from Colorado, and what we especially enjoyed was the variable pour sizes, including three, six and 12 ounces.
Kristi and I are not “sit around and drink six or eight beers” kind of people. Rarely do we have more than two drinks of any kind per sitting, but we do like sampling. The problem with sampling being oftentimes there’s no solution between a spurt from the tap to taste or a full 12-ounce glass. The BARley allowed us to comfortably try a half dozen options with little commitment nor buyer’s remorse.
When we learned The BARley allows patrons to bring their own food, that’s what we chose for dinner. Unfortunately, our food choices didn’t live up to the beer selection. I ordered a takeout pizza slice from High 5 pizza just upstairs from The BARley and found it to be adequate at best. Kristi sampled appetizers from The BARley, including the fondue, which was also average.
Earlier in the day for lunch, however, we were pleasantly surprised by Steamboat Smokehouse, whose pulled pork and baby back ribs were better than we might have expected.
A note about how we eat: we do not seek out white tablecloth establishments with wild-caught trout and elk medallions. However, you’ll find plenty of these places in these mountain resort towns, and I’m sure they’re all wonderful. Spending over $50 at any one meal for us is unusual so consider that when we offer our restaurant experiences. My pizza slice at High 5, for instance, was $3.
The highlight of our visit, though, was the Yampa River Botanic Park. What a delight. Six well-landscaped acres at 6800-feet of elevation featuring a variety of local alpine and more exotic plantings is located right on the edge of town.
Our visit in late August found us rubbing elbows with a variety of hummingbirds throughout the park. The number of hummingbirds and their proximity to the well-groomed walking paths provide photo opportunities the likes of which you’ll rarely find outside of feeders. Kristi, with her Canon 50SX camera, but no particular photographic expertise (just patience), was able to capture a number of frame-worthy shots.
The botanic park, entry to which is free, was not only a highlight of our day in Steamboat, but our entire weeklong trip to Colorado.
Steamboat Springs offered much of what the other ski resorts we’ve been to in Colorado do —incredible scenery, friendly people, great craft beer, fine local artwork, hours of outdoor activity and no humidity. That’s a great place to start and a big reason we love coming here. The botanic park was far out of the ordinary.
There is one other defining feature to Steamboat that none of the other resorts have: the Rabbit Ears. Keep your eyes open and focused up for a most unusual geographic feature you won’t soon forget.