A Snowy Summer Weekend in Steamboat Springs
A Midsummer Night's Snow
I didn't need snowshoes for the first day of summer in Steamboat Springs, but it might have helped--that, and a pair of galoshes!
Steamboat Springs is located in northwestern Colorado, about a three and a half hour drive from Denver. It is in the Yampa River Valley, nestled between ranges of the central Rocky Mountains. According to 2016 Census estimates, it is a town of about 12,600 people (which would make it the largest city in the mountainous region of Colorado, between the Front Range and Western Slope), but locals guess that the population swells significantly in the summertime, possibly adding another two or three thousand residents...mainly Texans and Arizonans with vacation homes, fleeing the sweltering Southern heat.
Steamboat Springs then, has enough size to offer diverse restaurant and lodging options, while still being small enough to not feel too crowded and overrun. The drive into Steamboat Springs is spectacular at times, though the town itself is in a broad, flat, fertile valley right at the foot of 9400' high Rabbit Ears Pass. Here then is a rundown of roughly 72 hours in Steamboat Springs, one of the loveliest places you can visit in the Mountain Time Zone:
DAY ONE - Airbnb Mishap; A Parking Lot Well-Flooded
Airbnb has revolutionized travel, but not without controversy. It drives up rents and mortgages in local communities by decreasing the inventory of single family homes. But it can also provide a more authentic travel experience by giving visitors a feel for what it might be like to live in the place they're travelling to. This is what I wanted for this visit to Steamboat Springs. The pictures made it look small but inviting--a one bedroom, one bathroom "condo" right off of Lincoln Street (US 40), which is Steamboat's main drag. And the price didn't raise any red flags--at about $95 a night, you would expect a place that is small, but cozy, well-kept and convenient to local attractions.
This however, was not to be the case. My wife and I took one look at our Airbnb and realized that the pictures did not do it justice and not in a good way. You can tell they tried to make it more suitable for summer tourist season, but it was all a little seedy, cramped and uncomfortable. I'm not going to trash the hosts, because after we described our issues, they realized that their place maybe wasn't what we were looking for, they were polite and they refunded most of our money (they didn't have to do this--last minute cancellations are more hell for Airbnb hosts than they are for the renters). Tracy was able to find us a room at Steamboat Springs' newest hotel, the Homewood Suites by Hilton and other than two minor things which I'll get into below, it worked out great and suited our needs. And the money we got back almost paid for the new accommodations booked through Hotels.com.
You might have heard that much of the intermountain West hasn't had much of a spring or summer so far this year. This was to be a recurring theme through our weekend visit and the most immediate impact was felt at our new lodging, where delayed spring runoff combined with a steady rain and somewhat questionable hydro-logical engineering combined to flood the parking lot with up to a foot of water from the Yampa River. The hotel staff was pretty chill about all of this (not like they could do much about it I guess), but it did make for some tense moments watching the water slowly rise against the hubcaps of my car. After a long day of driving and then finding a new place to stay, Day One ended with a quiet Night One, although we did go out for a cheap but tasty Mexican dinner.
Local Meal - Fiesta Jalisco, 455 Anglers Drive. Fiesta Jalisco is a Colorado family Mexican restaurant with multiple locations, so this is not a place distinct to just Steamboat Springs. But for $50 including tip we each had a delicious, fresh tasting burrito and a healthy sized "small" margarita, so trust me when I tell you that you could do a lot worse for a lot more money. It was low key, but worth it.
DAY TWO: Soggy Steamboat...Indoor Delights
Rain and snow were relentless on Day Two in Steamboat. Some people don't let that deter them from the Great Outdoors, but Tracy and I, well, we're not those people. Fortunately, for a small town Steamboat Springs has plenty of stuff to keep you busy even if you don't feel like a muddy hike or a chilly dip in the famous Strawberry Park Hot Springs...
Waterside Day Spa and Salon, 1110 Yampa St., #110. On the drive up from Denver the previous day, Tracy booked a Groupon offer for a "halotherapy room" at this place in Steamboat. Tracy is very much into natural or holistic therapies and since this is the only salt room in Steamboat Springs--and there was a Groupon--why not try it? A filter mounted into the wall pumps microparticles of salt into the air. Soothing spa music plays in the background and there's comfy chairs with blankets for you to sit in. Its nice. It wasn't exactly a revelatory experience, but it was relaxing and I can think of a lot less nice ways to spend 45 minutes on a rainy day. One tip that should have been obvious to me but sadly wasn't--if you do salt therapy and they offer you a glass of water, take it, but make sure to drink it early on. Salt will get in your drink if you wait too long!
Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, 68 9th Street. If you love books (and some really good hot tea), take some time from the trail or the river to visit this little gem of a bookstore. Off the Beaten Path is a cool hang, famous statewide and known as one of the most distinctive independent booksellers left in the country. I could have spent all day there.
Marcia & Joe's Kitchen, 912 Lincoln Avenue. Tucked into a space shared with a gelato shop (which is great in its own right), Marcia and Joe's offers plates of Jamaican cuisine as well as Mexican food with a Jamaican twist. Marcia moved from Jamaica (via New York) seven years ago and makes some of the best jerk seasoned food I've ever tasted. You don't expect Jamaican cuisine in the middle of the mountains, but if you wind up here, you won't be disappointed. I recommend either the oxtail platter or the jerk chicken. Both were excellently seasoned and both Marcia and Joe are very friendly!
Pearl Lake State Park
Hahn's Peak from the Highway
DAY THREE: The Clouds Broke and It Was Glorious
Although the temperatures never got above 55 degrees the whole time we were there, on our final full day in Steamboat it was nice enough (at times) to do a little hiking and explore a bit of the local scenery. As you can see by the pictures, Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley don't disappoint when it comes to the vistas that Colorado is world famous for. Tracy and I would actually like to come back and stay at a yurt in Pearl Lake State Park--you can read more about that here . Pearl Lake is about a 25 mile drive northeast of downtown via County Road 129. 129 is paved, the final road within the park to the campgrounds is a dirt road, but it is graded--at least during the summer and fall months.
The Drunken Onion, 685 Marketplace Plaza #5. This is a "grab and go" place that makes fresh food daily ranging from sandwiches and wraps, to small pasta dishes, kombucha and desserts. If you're looking to have a picnic out in the wilderness or just looking for something to throw in your backpack for food on the go, The Drunken Onion has quality food, much of which is organic and it is conveniently located just off of US 40. It can run a little bit pricier than your typical sandwich shop, but I personally thought it was worth it, especially for the sandwiches.
We checked out early the next day and headed back home through snowy, foggy (and frankly terrifying) Rabbit Ears Pass. But I have no regrets and if you haven't been to Steamboat Springs before, I guarantee you won't have any regrets exploring this place yourself. If you live in the Mountain Time Zone, it is not a far drive and you owe it to yourself to visit Steamboat Springs.
Until next time...happy travels!
© 2019 RE Scott