If you drive down almost any road in the high country during late September or early October, you're likely to witness these breathtaking fields of gold, highlighted by shades of red, orange and green.
Among the first locations to peak each fall is one of my favorite mountain towns: Steamboat Springs. Located about 3 hours northwest of Denver, Steamboat is perfect for a weekend getaway and is a great place to experience fall foliage.
One of my favorite things about driving to Steamboat are the views along the way, which include beautiful lakes along Highway 9 and aspen groves in Kremmling and along Rabbit Ears pass.
Steamboat has a variety of lodging options, from nearby hotels to bed and breakfasts and inns to vacation rentals. Many of these are in the heart of downtown (or just a short walk away), which is super convenient for dining and shopping. Once you're there, narrowing down how to spend your days is the hard part! Here are some ideas for activities to experience the best of fall in Steamboat.
Hiking in Steamboat Springs
Steamboat offers a wide variety of hiking trails of all distances and skill levels. There's almost nothing more beautiful and peaceful than hiking among the aspen trees in the fall! One of my favorite trails to hike in the fall is Thunderhead Hiking Trail.
This trail starts at the base of the ski resort and takes you all the way to the top (which offers over 2,000 feet of elevation gain!). The best part about this hike is that once you reach the top, you can take the gondola down free of charge (which is in operation through the last weekend of September!). Even on weekends, this trail doesn't get super packed and is dog friendly (and dogs are welcome on the gondola). Keep in mind that the gondola is only free if you take it down from the top of the mountain; you will have to buy a ticket to take it up from the base.
Other notable local trails include Fish Creek Falls, Devil's Causeway, Spring Creek, Three Island Lake and Rabbit Ears Pass. If you're bringing a four-legged companion, check first to make sure the trail you're planning to hike is dog-friendly. Keep in mind that moose are active in the area; if you encounter one, be sure to keep your distance!
Mountain Biking in Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs is truly a cyclist's paradise and has been labeled one of 18 towns in the U.S. as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community. The fall is the perfect time to explore the trails on your mountain bike, and there are miles of beginner, intermediate and advanced mountain bike and single track trails close to the center of town and in surrounding areas. And if you don't plan on bringing your own bike, there are several options for rentals around town. You can find a list of popular mountain bike trail maps on Bike Town USA's website.
If you're a serious adrenaline junkie, you should definitely try downhill mountain biking! Through the end of September (and on weekends only in the fall), Steamboat Bike Park (located at the ski resort) offers over 50 miles of downhill and free ride bike terrain for all ability levels. You can rent bikes and gear at the bike park and even take lessons if you'd like. For a fee, the gondola will take you 2,200 feet up the mountain, where you can set out on a number of trails taking you back to the base (and do it over and over again).
Walk/Run/Bike Along the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs
The beautiful Yampa River runs through the heart of Steamboat and is one of the most majestic characteristics of this town. Along the river lies 7.5 miles of paved multi-use trails which are perfect for walking, running or riding bikes.
You can also quickly jump off the trail and head into town for some shopping or to get a bite to eat.
Fly Fishing in Steamboat Springs
Fly fishing is a super popular activity in Steamboat year round, and fall is the perfect time of year to do it. Almost any time of day, you'll see quite a few people fishing along the Yampa River, which is stocked with trout.
If you don't have your own fly-fishing gear, you can check out any of the outdoor shops in Steamboat for rental and purchase information. And don't forget to make sure your fishing license is up to date!
Steamboat Springs Strawberry Hot Springs
You can't visit Steamboat without a trip to Strawberry Hot Springs!
Located just a few miles from downtown, these hot springs are the perfect place to soak and relax while enjoying the fall color. There are a series of geothermic pools, which vary in temperature (and no yucky sulphur smell!). The hot springs are open year-round, but I think the fall is the best time to enjoy them. You can go during the day or night, but keep in mind that clothing is optional after dark. And, it can get pretty crowded, as it's a super popular tourist destination. There's an entrance fee and the road leading to the hot springs is a bit rough. High-clearance and 4-wheel drive vehicles are definitely recommended! Allow about two hours for your trip and don't forget to bring a towel!
All photos courtesy Lauren Martin.
Interested in more ways to explore Colorado? Check out these blog posts:
5 Must-Do Fall Hikes Along Colorado's Front Range
3 Breathtaking Hikes Near Aspen, Colorado
Your New Favorite Place to Hike in the Rockies: Ouray, Colorado
7 Things to See in Rocky Mountain National Park