THE 7 BEST Summer Outdoor Activities in Steamboat Springs

best summer outdoor activities steamboat springs

When I first moved to Steamboat Springs, I was itching to get skiing and experience that “Champagne Powder”. When April came around, I went on my last back country ski tour and looked out at the view with nostalgia, thinking that I would surely miss the snow when it was gone.

Then, for the first time, I noticed that baby, bright green leaves were budding from the trees and that the valley was this brilliant shade of emerald. It was gorgeous. A thought crossed my mind that maybe a summer in Steamboat wouldn’t be so bad. And oh boy, it wasn’t…

The truth is that people come to Steamboat for the winters, but they stay for the summers.

There is an endless amount of outdoor fun to be had in Steamboat when the snow melts, with tons of biking, hiking, climbing, kayaking, paddle boarding, rafting, and tubing to be had. Oh, and don’t forget that after you are done with any of these delightful nature experiences, there is always a thirst-quenching brewery or delicious happy hour around the corner.

1. Mountain Biking on Emerald Mountain

As of recent, Steamboat has become known as one of the best bike towns in the country. Routt County Riders, alongside volunteers of the local and tourist variety, have worked really hard to build and maintain top rate biking trails in Steamboat. Now, there are trails scattered across the whole county that all compete for number one.

However, Emerald Mountain, one of the older trail networks in Steamboat, will always remain a local favorite.

Emerald contains a series of trails right in the dead center of town, next to the infamous Howelsen Hill. Emerald has trails for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders, specializing in beginner and intermediate trails. Once you arrive on the scene, pick your poison!

No matter where you go, you are sure to encounter beautiful, flowy trails that curve through whispering aspen trees and grassy meadows. Check out Morning Gloria for a windy trail that is a blast both on the up and down and has breathtaking views of the Steamboat valley. (Trail Map)

2. Hiking on Buffalo Pass

Taking a rest on the Continental Divide Trail.

Smack dab on top of Buffalo Pass lies the Continental Divide Trail, which spans from North to South along the entirety of the Rocky Mountains. Not only is the trail itself something out of a fairy tale, but the drive up to the top of the pass is spectacular. Once you get to the top, you can choose to go either towards the Zirkel Wilderness, or towards Mt. Werner.

Either way, you will find yourself meandering along the ridge line through pine trees, with the occasional stark, stunning view of the valley on the other side of the pass. The only disadvantage to hiking along the Continental Divide Trail is that you cannot do a loop, you must do an out and back.

Another popular trail near the top of Buff is called Buffalo Pass Lakes Loop. This loop is notoriously hard to find, as it lies behind a campsite. The truth is that, although Steamboat has a plethora of trails, many of them are not well advertised. However, if you follow Google maps you can locate the unmarked trail and make your way through the forest to four different, small lakes.

The secret nature of the trail can be frustrating to some people, but when you find it and realize that there are few other hikers, it becomes totally worth it. The total trail is 2.9 miles and moderate, so it is great for dogs, kids, and parents. (SteamboatToday.com Article)

3. Backpacking in the Zirkels

Gilpin Lake on a stunning day.

After my first summer in Steamboat, I hadn’t acquired a boyfriend yet. But it didn’t matter to me in the slightest, because I had already found my number one companion: the Zirkels. I spent more time than I would like to admit in the Zirkels that summer, and I don’t regret a single second of it. The outdoor recreational areas around Steamboat are beautiful in a soft way, with rolling hills and smooth valleys.

The Zirkels have the opposite feel, with dramatic views that are classic to Colorado. In the Zirkels you will hike up rocky trails and cross frigid streams in order to see steep peaks, high alpine lakes, and stunning summer sunsets.

In my humble opinion, the two best backpacks in the Zirkels are called the Zirkel Circle and Mica Basin Trail. Zirkel Circle is by far the more popular route, with 10 miles worth of trail and a dramatic alpine lake called Gilpin lake midway through the backpack. People adore this trail because it has a challenging, steep beginning, rewarding views, and no repeats with a (almost) full circle back to the start.

My personal favorite trail is the lesser known, lesser traveled Mica Basin Trail.

This trail is shorter, standing at only 3 miles, and it is an out and back. The most appealing aspect for me is that this trail ends at a lake that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. No, but seriously, it is jaw dropping. The Lake is framed by Little Agnes mountain (the smaller sister to the peak Big Agnes, which was the inspiration behind the name of the company Big Agnes).

If you can catch this lake at sunset, get ready to simultaneously catch your breath before it gets stolen by this view. (Trip report/photos)

4. Paddle boarding at Steamboat Lake

Paddle boarding on Steamboat Lake with Hans Peak in the backdrop.

I just recently got into paddle boarding, and boy am I hooked. If you are looking for a good time in the river or on the lake, then this very well may be the sport for you. I have found that paddle boarders love a good time: they work out, do yoga (on their boards!), drink yummy beer, and listen to bumping music.

In and around Steamboat, there is no better place to experience paddle boarding than at Steamboat Lake.

Located 40 minutes outside of Steamboat, the Lake is in the middle of a widespread open area and is framed by Han’s peak, a dramatic, triangular mountain. I would highly recommend reserving a campsite out there so that you can spend time both paddle boarding and hiking up Han’s.

Could you ask for a more fulfilling, adventure filled day? (Camping details)

5. Trail Running on Lower Bear

A year and a half ago I was training for my first marathon. I would often get a run in by running zooming up one of those painstakingly long road runs again, but since I ran my marathon I have gone back to Lower bear many times. You see, Lower Bear has just the right amount of grade, distance, and views to make any experienced trail runner shout for joy.

The trail is manageable with just enough obstacles to make the run interesting without it being too challenging. You will begin your run on a steep section that eventually decreases to a less intense grade after about a mile or so. From there on out, the trail wavers between up and down as you jaunt along a ridge with the Steamboat valley spanning out beneath you.

You can continue for about three miles, as you gradually wind your way up an exposed trail. Once you reach the top, pat yourself on the back and prepare for a fun, rewarding downhill.

If you get to the bottom and you aren’t ready to be done, continue on the dirt road from whence you came and you will arrive at Strawberry Park Hot Springs in less than a mile, where you can take a dip in legendary, natural hot springs to add a cherry on top of your run. (trail details)

6. Rock Climbing at Seedhouse Crag

I will admit that Steamboat is not known for its rock climbing. I mean, come on, we can only be known as one of the best places to enjoy so many outdoor sports. But, as an avid rock climber, I had to find a good place to pull on pebbles somewhere around Steamboat. After much research, my finger finally landed on Seedhouse.

Seedhouse is a crag located about thirty minutes outside of Steamboat. Follow Elk Park Road toward the Zirkels, then take a right on Seedhouse Road right after the Clark Store. Drive for four more miles, and Seedhouse will be visible on your left. Seedhouse has it all: Sport, trad, and top rope.

The routes range from 5.7-5.11. Although there aren’t that many routes (I believe there are ten total) the crag is diverse enough to keep a climber occupied and entertained for a full day of good climbing. (location/routes)

7. Yampa River – Kayaking, Rafting, Tubing, Fly Fishing

The Yampa is the heart and soul of Steamboat. Fun fact: It’s chugging, churning waters are actually the origin of the name of the town, as early settlers thought the sound of the river was the sound of a steamboat.

The Yampa moves through the center of downtown, it’s runoff reminding locals of the amazing snow we had over the winter while simultaneously making us excited for the endless amount of summer fun we are about to have.

Whether the water is at a higher level or lower level, in between the months of May and September, you are guaranteed to see someone kayaking, rafting, tubing, paddle boarding, or fly fishing on the Yampa.

If you are into extreme sports, grab your yak or your paddle board and send it down the white water rapids in the early season. If you are ready to chill out and enjoy a lazy, hot, summer afternoon, then you may have to wait until the water level goes down a bit. But trust me, the wait is worth it.

Once the water level has reached its peak and has begun to go down, get your raft or rent a tube at Backdoor Sports and float from Fetcher Park to C Hole (by the library). And if you must know, whether the water level is high or low, there will always be people fly fishing, and teaching fly fishing, on the Yampa. (tubing details)

Get Out There!

So, what are you waiting for? Get to Steamboat and get outside! Summer is calling your name. In fact, I may just get off of this computer and go explore some of it for myself right now. My beautiful bike happens to be calling my name.

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