Splendid Things to Do in Steamboat Springs
Here's how to spend the perfect family holiday in this beautiful and bountiful Colorado city
Contrary to what the name suggests, Steamboat Springs is not somewhere one visits for boating. The town takes its name from the particular gurgling sound made by a nearby natural hot spring, which was mistaken for a chugging steamboat engine by the area’s first non-native settlers. Nature certainly does play a big part in a holiday here, with family-friendly outdoor thrills around every beautiful corner. There are so many great things to do in Steamboat Springs, and here at Plum Guide, we've made it our duty to highlight the best of them for you. We've dived deep into our extensive pool of knowledge, and curated this expert guide to guarantee you a memorable trip to Colorado.
Hit the snowy slopes
When it comes to spending time in Steamboat, as it’s known by the locals, nothing beats taking to the slopes. Skiing and snowboarding are undoubtedly the city’s biggest draws (as well as our homes, of course). There are terrains here for all levels, whether you’re an expert skier or enthusiastic wannabe. There are two main skiing areas right on the edge of downtown: Steamboat Ski Resort and Howelsen Hill Ski Area. The former is definitely the reigning snow queen with 165 named trails, 20 plus lifts, and a vertical drop of more than 3,500 feet - although we’d recommend resisting the urge to incorporate that drop into your midlife crisis shenanigans.
Steamboat is blessed with 350 inches of snow every year, much of it northern Colorado’s famously coined ‘Champagne powder’. Speaking of champagne, your après here will exceed expectations even though you are in the US (and we all know European après is superior, sorry yanks). If you’re looking to ski somewhere <s>cheaper<s/> a little more down-to-earth, Howelsen is a great shout (or should we say yodel since we’re in the mountains?). Operating as an alpine run since 1931, it’s actually the oldest continuously operating ski area in Colorado. And if you’re anything to judge by - older can certainly be better. Owned by the city of Steamboat Springs, Howelsen is home to about a dozen named trails, a terrain park, Nordic ski centre and ski jumping centre.
Jump into summer
Just because this city is known for its powder, doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of fun things to do in Steamboat Springs when the weather’s a little warmer. For a thrill ride, check out the Outlaw Mountain Coaster, the longest rollercoaster in North America at more than 6,280 linear feet. This wild ride, which may or may not have you holding back tears while your kids have the time of their lives, features mad descents, unsuspected dips and 360-degree turns. If you’re feeling sick just thinking about that, why not try hiking or mountain biking in the glorious natural surroundings of Mt. Werner. Hiking trails range from super easy to excruciatingly tough, so pick a low-level stroll and take lots of photos so you can show off your fitness to your friends without having to work too hard for it (you’re very welcome, we get it). Or jump on a bike and explore the ski resort from top to bottom, thanks to the easy-to-follow cross-country trails.
On a hot day, head out from your Plum Guide home and try one of the city’s multiple water sports, ranging from fly fishing to paddle boarding. Assuming you have the kids in tow, nothing beats a day spent at Burgess Creek. Located at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area, you’ll find shallow, pristine waters the ideal depth for your little ones. Sunbathe on a deck chair while your children splash to their heart’s content in the sand and mini-waterfalls. Pictures from this day could definitely be Christmas card contenders so don’t forget to charge your phone. To end your long day of exhausting family fun, make sure to go for a relaxing soak in the natural hot springs at Strawberry Park, featuring thermal pools with temperatures hotter than your mother-in-law’s bad temper.
Soak up some culture
No matter how much you may enjoy bombing down a piste at full speed or listening to a quiet banjo track while fly fishing (hey, whatever floats your steamboat), we can’t let you get away with becoming a full-on ski bro, so we strongly suggest you make time for a little culture when considering things to do in Steamboat Springs. Enjoy a concert by the resident Steamboat Symphony Orchestra (SSO) - this orchestra founded in 1991 may be younger than you, but is certainly worth the attention. Should you find yourself visiting in March, don’t miss the Strings Music Festival featuring multiple SSO performances.
For those who prefer less noise coming into their ears, the Steamboat Art Museum is a feast for the eyes. Though quite small, this beautifully curated gallery features a rotating exhibition calendar including the annual Plein Air art exhibition and competition. Taking place in late September, this event sees artists make the pilgrimage to Steamboat from all over the country for a week of making art in the nature surrounding the city. If you’re looking for a cultural activity the kids won’t be mad at you for, try the Tread of Pioneers Museum, which makes learning about Colorado fun (as unlikely as we realise that sounds). And if you don’t mind a drive, the Museum of Northwest Colorado 40 miles west of Steamboat in the town of Craig claims to have ‘one of the largest cowboy gun/leather/spur collections ever on public display -- anywhere!’. Sign us up? With free admission this seems like a no brainer for those of you who have had dreams about being Billy the Kid.
Live your cowboy dreams
Speaking of which, when planning a trip to Steamboat Springs, why not include living your most embarrassing cowboy fantasy (we know you have one) with a family visit to Saddleback Ranch. Open year round, this working ranch offers an array of great family activities, including sleigh rides and snowmobile rides in the winter and horseback riding in the summer. You can even pretend you’re John Wayne and participate in an actual cattle drive. Will this adventure come cheap? Absolutely not, but we both know this is why you still work in the job you hate. Speaking of spending money, don’t miss the Wagon Dinner Ride adventure when visiting Saddleback. You’ll take a 30-minute wagon ride to the Double Dollar Lodge, where you’ll be welcomed with cold drinks and a tasty frontier meal before being taught how to rope a calf. If this isn’t the perfect opportunity for your kids to film you embarrassingly failing and proceed to post the video to Instagram, we don’t know what is.