When you think of the high-altitude ski town of Steamboat Springs, it's natural to picture snowy lifts and powdery slopes. But Steamboat, about 2.5 hours northwest of Denver, is also worth the drive after the snow melts.
As attractive as this high-altitude town is in the winter, the historic area really shines in the summer with its options for soaking in hot springs, biking and hiking trails, and general Old West vibe—not to mention glorious moderate temperatures and bright blue skies. Here are the 20 best things to do in Steamboat Springs in the summer.
Hike to Fish Creek Falls
The trailhead is just a few miles from downtown Steamboat. Visitors can walk a relatively flat, one-fourth mile to a viewing point to see the falls cascading down (especially impressive in the spring and early summer) or take the moderate trail 2.5 miles to the base of the roaring falls. You'll gain about 1,600 feet in elevation. Don't forget to pack plenty of water. Bring a picnic, too. This is a lovely picnic destination.
Fish Creek is one of the most popular trails around Steamboat. While the views are impressive, the hike is not out of reach, and it's good for families and visitors of all levels (part of it is even wheelchair accessible). Even the shorter quarter-mile walk offers breathtaking views. If you want more of a challenge, keep going up to Upper Fish Creek Falls. This trail will take you into the national forest.
Attend the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo
A rodeo is a quintessential Wild West, Colorado thing to experience. If you want to see a rodeo, you're in the right town. The Steamboat rodeo is the best of the best. It's the most successful weekly rodeo in the nation, dating back more than a century.
The tickets are typically not too expensive (about $20 per adult and $10 for kids, with younger kids getting in for free). A rodeo usually lasts about two hours, but there are tons of other things to do in addition. Find live music before the rodeo, kids' activities, entertainment, food (a BBQ dinner with various options, from burgers to ribs, beans, chips and dogs, all that classic American stuff) and lots of people-watching.
Ride the Gondola
Yes, the Silver Bullet gondola lift is open year-round even after the skiing stops, and the views of the green trees and wildflowers are jaw-dropping. Make sure you pack a camera.
Gondola rides are not free, but they're worth it for the views atop Mount Werner (which peaks at 10,570 feet above sea level). At the top, stop for lunch at one of the mountaintop restaurants, especially if you've timed your visit during sunset.
If you're up for it, after your ride up, you can hike back down on a scenic trail through the trees. The terrain is moderately challenging, with parts that are easier than others.
Attend a Strings Music Concert
Live music in a mountain setting has a magical quality. The Steamboat Springs Strings Music Pavilion, the town's main live music venue. features more than 60 different shows in the summer, plus a fall and winter series. This award-winning stage features everything from orchestra to jazz to rock, plus kids events and free concerts. The pavilion has presented big-name musicians, such as Grammy-winner Peter Frampton to the family-friendly multiple Grammy-nominated musician Justin Roberts, all the way down to local high-school choirs. The summer concert series has been going on for more than 30 years.
Swim at Old Town Hot Springs
Per the name of the city ("springs"), Steamboat is rich with natural hot springs, known for their health and relaxation benefits. The Old Town Hot Springs is great for families. Plus, the mineral-rich water will make you feel great.
This isn't just a small hot springs pool, though. Old Town Hot Springs also offers two giant, 230-foot water slides, a fitness center complete with more than 50 group fitness classes (and personal training), and a spa with massages. This pool even has a floating obstacle course for kids in the summer, a great way to keep your little ones occupied while you soak, soak, soak.
The perfect way to unwind in Steamboat: Do a yoga class, then soak in the hot springs for a few hours and finally sink into a massage. Top it off by renting a private cabana on the poolside, where you can take a break from the strong mountain sunshine and read a book in the shade.
Cruise the Yampa River Core Trail
The Yampa River is the big river running through Steamboat and the center of a lot of outdoor action. Follow the trail on foot or on a bike.
Steamboat has many great trails, but this one is notable because it follows the river and passes through town, connecting one side of Steamboat to the other. In total, the trail is 7.5 miles long, but you can hop off whenever you want. It's paved and easy to walk, with minimal elevation gain, so it's appropriate for all levels and families.
In town, the trail passes by many restaurants and bars if you need to pause for a refreshment. One favorite is Aurum Food and Wine. Request a table out back on the patio by the fire pit. If you're lucky, you might catch free, live music back there.
Ride in a Hot Air Balloon
Ride in a hot air balloon over the valley to witness Steamboat from above. Or if you lack the courage to drift that high in the sky the annual Steamboat Hot Air Balloon Rodeo is a fun time to watch a huge gathering of hot air balloons from below. Get up early to get a good seat and watch as the blue sky fills with giant, colorful balloons. But they don't just float. They compete (hence, the "rodeo" name). Balloon pilots have creative games, like dipping their baskets into the Bald Eagle Lake. It ends up being a ton of entertainment in a festival-like atmosphere.
The "rodeo" runs alongside an art fair called Art in the Park, where you can browse and shop locally made arts and crafts, see free performances, and let your kids play in the special kids' area.
Try Alpine Golfing
Alpine golfing is a different beast and can prove quite challenging for people used to golfing at sea level. Steamboat has multiple different courses to choose from. There's the Rollingstone Ranch Golf Course, Haymaker Golf Course, Steamboat Golf Club and the Catamount Ranch and Club (with pretty challenging holes and stunning views to distract you).
Haymaker has been a Steamboat staple for 20-plus years. This public, championship-caliber course spans 233 acres with mountain range views in the distance. It's appropriate for all levels of golfers, from newbies to pros.
Tip Back a Cold One
Tour Steamboat's local breweries, including Butcherknife, Storm Peak, and Mountain Tap breweries. Not only do they offer great local brew, but also food and a laid-back atmosphere.
Mountain Tap, on Yampa Street, offers more than just standard bar fare. Its menu is seasonally and locally inspired (from local farms and bakeries), and everything is prepared in the brewery's wood-fired oven. For something light, popcorn is so much more than just popcorn; it's made with spicy chili, garlic, Grana Padano cheese, nutritional yeast, sea salt, and paprika. For a full dinner, try the beer-brined half Cornish game hen, served in a smoked beer glaze, with cranberries, sage and barley pilaf. It's the perfect beer-centric meal to enjoy with, of course, a beer.
Tube the Yampa River
Tube, kayak, or go rafting down the energetic Yampa River, the only free-flowing river in the entire state. Nowhere along the river will you find any kind of dam or diversion.
You can find guided rafting tours for a variety of (courage and skill) levels, but even then, water can be unpredictable, and it can be quite the rush. You can find stretches of the river that are pretty rowdy and challenging for an adrenaline-filled, river rafting experience.
Steamboat's professional rafting guides can provide a wetsuit to keep you warmer and will give you the full scoop on safety. Book a rafting trip through a local tour company. One option to check out: Backdoor Sports in Steamboat.
Go Mountain Biking
The town boasts more than 500 miles of singletrack. It's also home to Moots mountain bikes.
There are so many different places to go biking that it can be hard to narrow down, but one favorite pathway is to mountain bike Emerald Mountain. This destination has great biking trails (arguably the best in Steamboat, maybe the state) with even better views.
It's not too far from downtown; the trailhead is a short ride off the main street, so it's accessible and quick, unlike the deeper, backcountry trails (which are worth visiting, too, but only if you have plenty of time and experience). Emerald Mountain isn't just a single trail. You can mix and match the area's various trails to make the right length and challenge for your personal needs.
If you'd prefer to explore nature by foot, there are many great trails in Steamboat. One of the favorites is the Devil's Causeway.
This isn't a trail for newbies; it's pretty tough and brings you to a jarring 11,800 feet above sea level. A few spots are only four feet wide and surrounded by several-hundred-foot cliff drop-offs on either side. But what it offers in thrills, it doubles in views. It's six miles round trip, or you can extend it to 10 miles with a loop.
Steamboat offers guided, educational hikes, too, or a few other trails more suitable to all levels. For example, consider Vista Nature Trail, a one-mile, relatively flat and easy loop at the top of the gondola, or Thunderhead Trail, a 3.8-mile, difficult trail from the base of the mountain to the top of the gondola.
Catch (and Release) Some Fish
Enjoy the water by fly fishing on the Yampa River, a great place to snag world-class trout. Visit a fishing retailer, like Steamboat Flyfisher, for tips on where to go and to rent a pole if you are traveling without one.
Also look into Steamboat Fishing Adventures, Steamboat's only charter fishing company that can arrange night fishing. This higher-end company takes guests out on its luxurious "tritoon."
Beyond the Yampa, there are many other places to fish in Steamboat, including in the smaller streams, Steamboat Lake State Park, Pearl Lake, Stagecoach and ice fishing in the winter. In Steamboat, the lines keep casting year-round.
Take a Hot Springs Dip Naked
Soak at the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, one of the most popular tourist activities in town. After dark, this remote hot springs under the stars is clothing-optional and adult-only. There are several different natural pools of different temperatures. If you're feeling brave, dip your toes (or plunge) into the icy river, before retreating back into the warmth of the natural hot springs. The hot-cold circuit is good for your circulation and some believe can improve your health.
You can even stay the night at Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Our favorite spot: a night in an old train caboose converted into a tiny room. Strawberry Park Hot Springs is pretty remote, deep in the forest and isolated, so you will be glad you booked an overnight and don't have to try to drive back through the winding roads after so much relaxation.
Fill Up at the Farmers Market
Fill up on food and fun when you shop, eat, and browse at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market. This will give you a great taste of the local culture and unique personality of Steamboat.
Typical vendor offerings include freshly baked bread, pie, bison, lamb, jam, BBQ, gyros, and more. Listen to live music, and munch on a yummy crepe. The Farmers Market runs 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays starting in early June through mid-September. The best time to visit is when it first opens. Then you have full pick of the produce and the crowds are still thin.
It's also a good place to pick up a meaningful souvenir that's not just regular tourist trap kitsch. You can find high-quality artisan creations here.
Go Downhill Biking
While trail-riding is one way to enjoy Steamboat on two wheels, downhill biking is another, if adrenaline is what you're craving. This is a whole different game. Steamboat offers thousands of vertical feet of riding.
Go downhill mountain bike riding at the Steamboat Bike Park, where you can explore more than 50 miles of trails. Hop on the gondola to the top and fly, jump, pump or bomb down. Not sure what those terms even mean? That's OK. The bike park welcomes downhill riders of all levels and there are experts here who can show you just how fun gravity can be.
Browse Fine Art
Steamboat Springs is also a creative and artsy town. Stroll through the art galleries, like the Wild Horse Gallery, a fine art gallery in downtown. Find paintings, drawings, sculptures, blown glass, jewelry, and more. Also in downtown is the longstanding (since the '70s) Steamboat Art Co. and Embellishments. Here, you can buy handcrafted art, jewelry, gifts, decor, and more.
Also, look for fun, art-centric events and classes in Steamboat through the Steamboat Springs Arts Council. In the summer, one fun art event is Art on the Mountain (typically early July), set at the base of the ski area.
Camp in the Zirkel Wilderness Area
One of the best places to stay the night is under the stars in a tent. The Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area covers nearly 160,000 acres of open space in the Routt National Forest. It is home to about 70 lakes and even part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. There are multiple camping sites here.
This area also has a lot of cabins you can rent, from charming, historic log cabins to little houses perched on mountaintops with breathtaking views. In the summer, hike to your cabin; in the winter, ski to it.
Go on a Scenic Drive
Scenic drives are a relaxing way to see the area without exerting yourself too much, and a great destination is Steamboat Lake, about 27 miles from town. At Steamboat Lake, you can rent boats, canoes, and paddleboards, and you can go for a hike or jog on the nearby trails. (But always keep your eyes open for wildlife that lives in the area.)
The lake also has regular campsites for tents, as well as sites for RVs, complete with electric hook-ups. But beware: It can get a bit crowded in peak summer season.
Try Out the Slide
Looking for a fun and playful activity? Try out the Howler Alpine Slide. Enjoy views of the city from the top (you take the chairlift to get there), before pummeling down the 2,400-foot track on a sled. This slide is family-friendly and a great way to celebrate Howelsen Hill, Colorado's longest continually running ski area, even without skiing.
Sound too scary? No fear. You control the speed of your sled as you fly down the mountain.
Note: Check with Steamboat to make sure the slide is running because it has been closed in the past due to mudslides and weather.