We started our Colorado trip with a near-blank itinerary. Rich was meeting some friends in Keystone for a few days and asked me to join up with him at the tail end of their trip.
He wanted to tour a variety of ski areas with the ultimate goal of choosing where to take an extended reprieve this winter. Rich handed me a list of about 12 towns he had researched along with a sheepish grin suggesting he’d like my help in planning our tour.
After creating, and then scrapping, two potential itineraries, we agreed to start near Keystone in a sleepy town called Dillon.
From Dillon we started our somewhat aimless tour, hitting its neighboring towns of Frisco and Silverstone before embarking on larger endeavors.
Incidentally, if you are looking for some good New Orleans-style Cajun cooking, check out the Lost Cajun in Frisco. They let you try their 6 versions of gumbo before committing to your favorite.
During my flight from Tampa to Denver, a native Dillonian had given me the inside scoop on several places on Rich’s list. After considering all this new information from a real-live local, I was pretty sure we’d have to invest a bulk of our trip in Steamboat Springs; while I wasn’t sure which ski town would become Rich’s Shangri-la, I had a pretty good sense Steamboat would meet all of his yet-identified requirements.
Truthfully, the road trip to Steamboat was underwhelming- with a lot of dry open land that didn’t appeal to me much. Our trip took us through the alleged “up-and-coming” Kremmling. We cannot in good conscience, though, support this descriptor of the little town of Kremmling. It was completely uninspiring.
Okay. So, here comes the fun part. We arrived in Steamboat!
Having just come off a disappointing stint with Airbnb, we decided to go traditional and stay at the Steamboat Grand on our first day in town. By Florida standards it was reasonably priced and we just wanted a good old-fashioned hotel where we knew what to expect. Turns out the Steamboat Grand isn’t your standard hotel. It’s better!
The Grand has various floor plans to choose from- standard hotel rooms, studios, one-, two-, and three-bedrooms. It’s a regular resort with all the expected trappings, including a lounge, restaurant, spa, pool, etc. What impressed this southerner the most was a cozy, stone fireplace roaring in the hotel lobby.
Starting off, we decided to get our bearings by renting bikes from Ski Haus, a centrally located bike rental and sports equipment retailer. We highly recommend this place. The rental process was fast and simple; and the staff was super friendly. After getting situated on our chunky-tire cruisers, we headed off into town.
A bike/walking trail runs alongside the Yampa River, leading through “downtown” and ending at the city’s skate park. Somehow we veered off the path onto the main thoroughfare. We Floridians are unaccustomed to functional bike trails and designated bike lanes, so when we inadvertently veered off the trail and began riding the sidewalks of downtown Steamboat, we were unaware that zipping past pedestrians on the sidewalks was inappropriate.
While on our self-guided bike tour, Rich and I came across a divey place that overlooked the river. Before committing to a lunch and a beer at this Sunpies, I looked it up on the Tripadvisor app. Nothing. Hmmm… very curious.
The only thing I could figure was Sunpies had escaped the tourist crowd and was a true local gem. We definitely got that vibe when we sat down. Umbrella-shaded tables were scattered on the lawn, overlooking the river. The patrons at Sunpies looked very comfortable, bantering at the bar with the snarky bartender while others were stretched out, lounging in the sun.
While I rely heavily on Google reviews and Tripadvisor while traveling, I think I’ve grown to appreciate Rich’s style which is to ask the locals what they recommend. I don’t think they steered us wrong once during our trip. While paying the bill at Sunpies, Rich got our first recommendation for dinner from someone at the bar. Mahogany Ridge was highly recommended by the local, so we gave it a try.
I feel like we can’t give Mahogany Ridge a fair review because we sat at the bar for dinner, which is Rich’s preference. He prefers to share meals in general, which I appreciate for both frugality and weight maintenance purposes; however we did have a major disagreement in this case.
I insisted Mahogany Ridge was not the type of place where you order a dinner and share it at the bar, but I acquiesced and ate my portion, head held down in shame.
I will never forget Creekside Cafe, another recommendation from a Steamboat local. Our day started with breakfast here. I had smoked trout on top of a salad of micro-greens and topped with hollandaise sauce and capers. Out of this world! This is Rich’s assessment of his breakfast croissant, “It was bleep-ing awesome”. Enough said.
Beyond the deliciousness of Creekside is its ambience. As its name suggests, this brick cafe sits alongside a creek and across from another rustic-looking building. Tall grasses and potted wildflowers adorn the outdoor patio.
We had intentionally left our itinerary flexible so we could squeeze in anything unexpected we might come across. After breakfast, I noticed a small sign right on the main street, Lincoln, pointing in the direction of a place called Fish Creek Falls.
We had made reservations for an ATV tour later that afternoon, so we checked out this Fish Creek Falls park. For a simple parking fee we were able to explore the falls which are situated in Routt National Forest. It was a real treat to find this very walk-able trek that led to a 280-ft high waterfall.
We had reserved an ATV tour through Hahn’s Peak Roadhouse. Before our tour, though, we swung by Steamboat Lake, hoping to rent a kayak. Sadly, the season for water activities had ended, and the place was absolutely desolate. We took a half-mile hike on Tombstone Trail which overlooked the lake and where we saw a timid mom and her two baby deer.
The weather which had been comfortable earlier in the day, was becoming increasingly cold and windy. Rich and I arrived early for our ATV tour reservation. We enjoyed a couple of beers at their bar and a tamale I had grabbed on the way out of town from Taco Cabo, a taco stand on the outskirts of town.
Rachel, the head wrangler at Hahn’s Peak Roadhouse Ranch, encouraged us to bundle up as much as possible; but we hadn’t exactly packed for arctic conditions.
We followed her instructions and suffered a bit of pelting by unexpected snow, but the experience was spectacular. Our two hour tour took us high up onto Hahn’s Peak and through a variety of habitats and sub-climates.
Rachel was an excellent tour guide, stopping occasionally to point out geographical and historical points of interest. At the same time she kept it challenging enough to keep the boy happy.
I decided to play passenger, as I really had no burning desire to drive the Polaris Ranger. Rich was pleased with the driving experience, as the trail took us over all varieties of surfaces and driving challenges.
Dinner at the Ore House, an established mid-range restaurant followed our ATV tour. We ate the rib platter (shared, of course), and I was thrilled with their salad bar. A salad bar. I hadn’t enjoyed the make-your-own-salad set-up in ages!
The Ore House is where Rich and I thought we had figured out a local practice of dropping names and getting free stuff. Our bartender, Eric, surprised us by comp’ing two drinks, mentioning that bartenders are given some leeway in that respect. I had seen a barmaid comp a patron’s beer at the Mountain Tap Brewery for no apparent reason. (By the way, the Mountain Tap had a great selection of craft beers, so naturally we had a few flights and tried most of them!)
I pointed out to Rich that we had met several people who had given out names to drop at certain restaurants and bars. In fact, we ran into a bartender from the Old Town Pub at the Ore House who insisted we stop by and mention him by name.
Excited we had learned an insider code for free stuff, Rich and I stopped by the Old Town Pub for dinner the next night. While our bartender at the pub was pleasant and friendly, we walked out paying full price. So much for our theory!
On day 3 we hit Freshies for breakfast which was a solid, traditional kind of restaurant recommended by our Old Town Pub friend. I would describe it as a nice diner with a selection of healthier options, if that’s your thing.
Our first big outing was a horseback ride at the Saddleback Ranch which sits about 30 minutes outside of town. It may seem like an exaggeration to describe a landscape of rolling hills as “stunning”, but the views from our horseback tour were absolutely amazing. Our tour began from the ranch stables which are seated in a lush, green valley.
Saddleback Ranch spans an area of 8,000 acres that encompass golden fields that are spotted with oak and sagebrush. On the day of our tour the fields were contrasted by a bright blue sky. We definitely got lucky with the weather!
On the way to our next activity we stopped at Taco Cabo (again) where you can select from a variety of fillings for tacos, burritos, and tostadas. It’s reasonably priced for very tasty Mexican fare.
Our last activity, the grand finale of our three days in Steamboat (though I’m not sure Rich would agree it was worthy of a grand finale) was visiting Strawberry Park Hot Springs.
Years ago I lived in Chile and became enamored with thermal springs. Ever since, I’ve been in search of hot springs that would come close to those I experienced in South America, but I’ve always been disappointed. Almost every hot spring I’ve discovered in my travels outside of South America has been too developed, too commercialized. I was so pleasantly surprised with Strawberry Park Hot Springs.
A series of rustic pools drain into each other- the first, receiving the hottest water directly from the source. The pools become cooler the farther they are from the original pool, so visitors can choose which temperature water they prefer. I can’t say enough good about this beautiful, open air hot spring.
One last thing worth noting- the park operates into the evening, and after nightfall clothing is optional.
Day 4 was check out, a sad day for sure. There are so many great things about this little Colorado town.
It’s full of unique shops and restaurants, with limited influence from the larger national retailers that you see in Everytown, USA. When we did spot a big box store on the outskirts of town, it seemed someone had subtly hidden it from sight of the main road.
The summer climate in Steamboat is temperate. While we were there the temperature ranged from 35 to 70 degrees within one day. With a little planning (i.e. a few layers of clothing), we were almost always comfortable.
For a relatively small town there is a TON to do in Steamboat. Not only are there a huge array of activities, there are a limitless number of natural areas to explore, and most things are located within a short distance from the town. We never drove more than 35 minutes to get anywhere.
Finally, the people in Steamboat are really cool and down-to-earth. They were welcoming and genuinely interested in talking to us (or were really good at faking it). We found no pretense, and everyone we met seemed proud of this fact.
We fell in love with Steamboat for many reasons and we will be back soon.