Our drive on Sunday, August 19, 2018, from Craig, Colorado, to Steamboat Springs only took us about 40 minutes. The scenery along the way that filled the windshield included canyons, green pastures, grazing cows, and rolling hills.
Where’s the Steamboat?
No actual steamboat has ever resided in Steamboat Springs. The story goes that trappers named the spring from where they heard what sounded like a steamboat. The city later adopted the name when it was incorporated in 1900. The economy originally rolled along supported by ranching and mining. In 1913, Carl Howelsen, a Norwegian, introduced ski jumping by building the first jump on Howelsen Hill, now part of the Howelsen Ski Area. A winter carnival soon followed and is the oldest continually operated ski area in the state. Founded by Jim Temple and John Fetcher, the Steamboat Ski Resort opened in 1963 and is now the largest employer in Steamboat for the population of nearly 13,000.
With a 2-bedroom condo offered at just under $500,000 and many single family residences going for over $1 million, this resort town is not an inexpensive place to live. I suspect many of the condos and residences are second homes for people who drive or fly in to enjoy the skiing and other winter activities.
Adventures in Laundry
Laundry day, usually a boring activity, turned out to be a challenge in Steamboat. After setting up and eating lunch, I strolled over to the Steamboat Springs KOA laundry to check out the facilities. They had four washers and six dryers crammed into the corner of a building. Really? Why would they have six dryers if they only had four washers? It seemed like a waste. Two women had the machines filled with their clothes and another woman waited for her turn. It was going to be a while before I could squeeze in and I really needed more than four machines.
A quick search online showed a public laundry not too far away. The pictures online of rows and rows of clean and modern machines promised a better facility. Sadly, most of the machines had “not working” signs on them. Water seeped out from under one machine. Congregated around folding tables and one of the doors, a group of hippy-dippy type young people gathered around a guy playing a ukulele and singing. With the young people sporting dreadlocks, baggy pants, and ill-fitting shirts, and the distinctive odor of ganja hanging in the air, Jon and I were transported back to 1967. I had to silently laugh when I saw one of the guys pulling on a pair of jeans that had not dried yet. Hey, I remember pulling on wet jeans and letting them dry while I wore them. Oh, to be young again. Well, maybe not.
Fish Creek Falls
We sought out the Fish Creek Falls trail to start on our first full day of adventure. The accessible trail to the lower falls is only a 1/4 mile, so easy peasy even at an elevation of 7,440. The trail continued for another 5 miles, but it was a bit treacherous. Another ½ mile was enough for us.
Yampa River Botanic Garden
The Yampa River Botanic Park was next on our list. It took us a few tries to find the place. The instructions said to turn on Emerald Park Lane, but the actual street sign said Emerald Park Way. We finally saw the soccer field and knew we were in the right place. We were flabbergasted that a botanic garden thrived in a place that receives snow 7 to 8 months out of the year.
A butterfly garden inside the gate contained echinacea in full bloom with bees, moths, and butterflies whirling around and landing on the flowers.
Rocks terraced on a small hill create pockets for a variety of plants and flowers to grow and flourish.
Plenty of benches throughout the park are strategically located for a view of the plant and flower displays. We picked a bench that overlooked a pond where cattails and water lilies bloomed.
Then we wandered around the pine forest and found a few hideaways to explore.
I wonder how many people visit Steamboat Springs every year and never realize there is a botanic garden growing with such bounty. It is truly a wonderful place to visit.
Downtown and The Shack Cafe
After the botanic garden, we ducked in and out of a few of the shops while we searched for a place to eat. I had expected the stores in the downtown area to consist of brand name upscale shops one might see in a ski resort, not so. It was a nice surprise to enter the independent establishments with unique offerings.
The Shack Cafe closes for the day after lunch service, but we managed to make it inside before they flipped the sign over. A French dip and a side of sweet potato fries for me and a bowl of chili and salad for JT satisfied our hunger pains.
Steamboat Lake State Park
After Jon nursed a headache one morning and an hour’s worth of rain passed over, a drive to Steamboat Lake State Park occupied our afternoon. This state park looked like a great place to stay with stunning views of mountains. There are 113 campsites and most can accommodate large RVs and some are pull-through sites. Only electric hookups at some sites, with no water or sewer. One loop had a nice restroom, laundry, and store at the marina. Deer grazed and strolled through the sections of the campground that were less occupied.
Vista Nature Trail
The highlight of our time in Steamboat was stumbling upon the naturalist-led hike on Vista Nature Trail followed by a gourmet lunch at the lodge. Our objective for the day was a hike along the Vista Nature Trail, but when trying to find its location we learned we had to take the gondola to the top of the mountain.
When we arrived to purchase our tickets, the offer for the hike and gourmet lunch was too good to pass up. The hike turned out to be led by not only the naturalist, Katy from Yampatika, but also Mark Bass a Steamboat Resort ambassador and a woman from the botanical garden.
Each of them added a unique perspective to the hike. Katy talked about the geology of the area. Mark talked about the history of the town and ski resort, and the woman from the botanical garden pointed out which plants were edible and which were poisonous. We even had a chance to taste huckleberries, which pack a sweet punch in a tiny berry.
Even though it was mid-August, wildflowers still bloomed at the top of the mountain, much to our surprise.
We managed to pick a good time to visit Steamboat Springs. Prior to our arriving, smoke filled the skies. A little rain cleared out the smoke leaving beautiful blue skies and puffy clouds.
We would have stayed longer in Steamboat if the KOA hadn’t been booked solid for the weekend coming up. There was much more for us to explore. Perhaps we will make our way there again to spend more time.
Although we were sad to leave, we looked forward to making our way to Rocky Mountain National Park.