Tour de Colorado’s Best Mountain Community for Families: Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs was the third stop on my family’s Tour de Colorado and my pick for the state’s best mountain community. Our visit to this western resort town was also The Good, the Bad and the Ugly incarnate. When it was good (such as when my daughter Hadley won the ram scramble at the rodeo) it was very, very good. When it was bad, it was very bad with vomit and rain. But when we locked ourselves out of the car while it was still running? Think very, very ugly.

The Good

Steamboat Springs is home to two ski areas, four Colorado State Parks, hot springs, lakes and rivers–a full palette of activities that will have you painting the Yampa Valley red.

Or rather, dazzingly green.

Hiking—I’m not generally one to cough up money to hike but watching my kids squeal with glee as our Steamboat Springs gondola took flight was worth it. Even better was what unfolded at the summit: a myriad of 19 trails covering over 50 miles and a verdant meadow populated with Frisbee-playing families. We opted for the Vista Nature Trail, an easy 0.86-mile loop that starts and ends at the top of the gondola. This hike is ideal for young children and mine raced to each interpretive sign, ecstatic about their outdoor classroom.

Other hikes: A local rite of passage is the easy 6-mile round-trip hike to the famed Rabbit Ears located off stunning Rabbit Ears Pass. Tourist’s favorite 283-foot Fish Creek Falls has a popular picnic area but expect to pay $5 for parking. For views of the ‘Boat, trek Emerald Mountain’s steep network of trails through perfectly calibrated aspen paradise.

Coca-Cola Gondola Square Adventure Zone—Located at the base of the gondola, this zone has an adventure for everyone in the family. My kids became human catapults in the western-themed “Mini Bounce” and Jamie tried his luck on the Mechanical Bull (think: unlucky). Don’t miss out on the 2-person Gyro Chair (similar to those used by NASA) the “East Face” Climbing Wall and a new ropes course.

Yampa River Core Trail—With 7 miles of multi-use paved trails that wind through downtown along the roaring Yampa River, we felt like we were the only ones not riding a bike. We covered what we could on foot, admiring sculptures and natural springs, cheering the onslaught of tubers floating the river and playing at Stockbridge playground’s mini-western town. Rest assured during my next visit, I will trade in my flat feet for two wheels.

Shopping—Lincoln Avenue may be the hub for Everything Shopping but be sure to venture over to Yampa Street and have Sweet Pea Market’s Pink Panther smoothie (made of rare Soup Sop fruit) or watch twilight’s last yawn as you dine at the Boathouse Pub overlooking the glistening river. A couple miles away, Freshies serves up the best breakfast and lunch in town (must-haves include their Asian BBQ turkey sandwich and lemon coconut cookies). The Ski Haus sells a lot more than skis and is the hub for great gear, rentals and insider information.

Hot Springs—Steamboat isn’t Steamboat without the “Springs” so you must soak in one of their two natural springs. Old Town Hot Springs is the more family-friendly of the two with 230-foot water slides, a climbing wall, two spa pools and a kiddie pool. But we wanted The Full Monty Experience of Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Full Monty is what happens after dark so be warned.

Located about 7 miles out of town (including the last few miles on a dirt road), Strawberry Park Hot Springs is nestled between two peaks just outside the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. When we arrived a large number of people were sitting on the walls of the natural stone enclaves of varying sizes and temperatures. We quickly discovered why: the water was way too hot for my 3-year-old son who instead played in the waterfall-created puddles. Five-year-old Hadley transitioned easily between the hot springs and a polar bear swim in the adjacent river. Me? I was a wall-sitter, liking it neither too hot nor too cold but preferring it “just right.”

You may call me Goldilocks.

The Bad

It was raining cats, dogs and a few horses upon arrival in Steamboat. We stopped at the Steamboat Springs visitor’s center where car-sick-prone Hadley stumbled out of the car…and proceeded to throw up on their front sidewalk.

Because nothing says “Welcome to Steamboat” like regurgitated road-trip snacks.

The Ugly

It didn’t start ugly. Actually, it started out as one of our favorite activities: the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo. For 10 weeks in the summertime, professional riders come from all over the region to compete on Friday and Saturday nights.

I grew up attending the Calgary Stampede (dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”) and had never been to a small-town rodeo. My expectations were met—and exceeded. We arrived early and ate bricket, ribs and chicken at their BBQ dinner. Hadley and Bode played on the horse and carriage structures and we watched the mechanical bull and bouncy house in action.

It was my children’s first rodeo and they were elated to stomp their feet (christened the “Yampa Valley Thunder”) with each triumph. When it came time for the ram scramble, Hadley and Bode were first in line. If you’ve never seen this event, picture a herd of kids ages 5 and under racing around in the mud trying to pull a flag off a sheep’s rear end.

And yes, I fully supported this endeavor.

From the first moment they set foot in the arena, Hadley and Bode entertained the crowd when they tripped over each other and fell in the muck. What unfolded next shocked even me: Hadley won the ram scramble. The same child who was a ski school dropout, hated ballet and barely survived soccer.

She has finally found her calling as a shepherd.

Euphoric from her victory and proudly displaying her belt-buckle award and gift card from western store F.M. Light and Sons, we walked to our vehicle and were confronted with the worst-case scenario: we could not find the keys. We soon discovered them in the ignition, with the car still running and the doors locked. We had been gone for three hours.

I will spare you the sordid details. Just know they involved exhausted kids and a locksmith trying to break into our unbreakable car. Between Jamie leaving the keys running in the ignition and me locking the car, maybe The Good, the Bad and the Ugly designation is not the correct.

Think: Dumb and Dumber.


Note: This post was originally published at Mile High Mamas on July 6, 2009. Most services were discounted or complimentary.

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