AAA Travel Tips / Fall Fun in Steamboat Springs

Fall Fun in Steamboat Springs

AAA/Jennifer Broome
By Jennifer Broome , Travel Journalist and TV Personality
October 06, 2022
Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is a cowboy town with a rich ranching legacy. It’s also a ski town and home to more winter Olympians than any other town in America.
Golden aspens are the gold medal winners in the fall. In between the rodeos of summer and Steamboat’s legendary champagne powder in winter, fall colors cover the Yampa Valley like a patchwork quilt. Here’s what to do and where to go on a leaf-peeping adventure in Steamboat Springs, including where to find the best color stashes.
AAA/Jennifer Broome

1. Colorful Waterfall Walk

It’s about a 10-minute drive from downtown Steamboat to see a spectacular waterfall. Fish Creek Falls is 283 feet high. It’s magnificent any time of year, but in the fall autumnal hues line the quarter-of-a-mile dirt trail down to the base of the falls. If you’re up for a five-mile round trip hike this season, you’ll quickly lose any crowds if you continue to Upper Fish Creek Falls. The paved Overlook Trail, which is a half-mile round trip like the hike to the base, also has a great view of the falls. Enjoy the thunderous roar and misty spray of the falls as you hike, picnic, take pictures, or just enjoy the colorful scenery. There is a $5 vehicle day use fee. It’s cash or check only. Also accepted are the Interagency “America the Beautiful” or Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest annual day use passes.
AAA/Jennifer Broome

2. Visit Historic Barns

Old barns are historic symbols of Steamboat’s ranching heritage. The More Barn is the most famous one. It’s in Barn Park near Mountain Village. Lena Yock purchased her 160-acre homestead in 1903. A son built the log barn around 1926 to shelter dairy cows and store hay. The Yocks sold the land to neighboring rancher Jerry More in 1957. It’s free to visit Barn Park where there are several structures.
If you want to hike to a barn, the Mad Creek Barn Trailhead is about ten minutes from town. This hike is 4-miles round trip and is fun for families as you hike above and near the creek. There’s a beautiful aspen grove right before you get to the picturesque meadow that’s home to Mad Barn. The two-story log barn was originally an U.S. Forest Service cabin homestead. Rancher James (Harry) Ratcliff purchased the property in 1904 and built the barn around 1906. The land adjacent to Ratcliff’s property became part of Routt National Forest in 1905 and Ratcliff was its first Forest Supervisor. The historic barn was restored in 2001. You can explore around and in it. On the first floor, there’s old equipment, stalls, and animal troughs. If you’re feeling adventurous, carefully climb the wooden ladder to the big open room on the second floor. Soak in the view from the big barn window listening to the hinges creak as the wind blows. Before leaving, hike a little beyond the barn for easy access to Mad Creek where you can fish, skip rocks, have a fall picnic or dip your feet in the cold mountain stream.
AAA/Jennifer Broome

3. Take a Scenic Drive

East of Steamboat Springs on Highway 40 is Rabbit Ears Pass. It has lots of fall foliage and some pull-off spots to enjoy the views. Dumont Lake is a great area to fish, camp, bike, or hike. If you want to hike to the rock formation that the pass is named after, make sure you’re prepared for fast changing weather including gusty winds, cold temperatures and snow as peak elevation is over 10,600 feet.
For even more gorgeous fall foliage and a scenic drive without crowds, cruise along the Elk River on Routt County 129 north of Steamboat. The aspens and cottonwoods along the river are beautiful and so are the expansive ranches you pass on the way to Clark, which was established in 1889. Pop into Clark General Store for a burrito and coffee or picnic provisions. This is a great turn around spot. Otherwise continue north, keeping an eye out for free-range cattle along with deer and other wildlife.
Just past Clark, turn off on Seedhouse Road to go through what looks like a tunnel of golden aspens. Back on Routt County 129, continue through Hahn’s Peak Village and on to the Cabins at Historic Columbine. Officially established as a town in 1897, some of the historic cabins date back to the 1880s after the gold was found east of Hahn’s Peak prompting the “Columbine Stampede” in 1881. Past Columbine, the road turns into a rugged dirt road to the state line. From Columbine, it’s 29 miles back to Steamboat Springs.
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4. Spend Time at Two State Parks

North of Clark along Routt County 129, there are two state parks a couple of miles apart. When you turn off for Pearl Lake, it’s a two-mile drive on a dirt road to a super scenic wakeless lake near Farwell Mountain. It’s excellent for outdoor fall activities like fly and lure fishing. It’s also great for kayaking, canoeing and paddleboarding since motorized boats aren’t allowed. Colorful aspens surround Pearl Lake making it a perfect stop for solitude at a breathtakingly beautiful lake. Cell service is nonexistent, so enjoy the dazzling display of quaking golden aspens as you disconnect. You can stay overnight in one of the 36 campsites or two yurts with reservations.
Drive three more miles past the Pearl Lake turn-off to Hahn’s Peak Village and Steamboat Lake where you can go fishing, camping and boating. The view from the lake of Hahn’s Peak and Park Range should be on your fall bucket list. The scenic 1,100-acre lake sits at 8,100 feet in elevation. Fall colors are stunning, and the birding is excellent. You could see geese fly south or spot sandhill cranes, ospreys and bald eagles. There are also 7 miles of trails for hikers and bikers with easy access to more in the surrounding Routt National Forest. Passes are required to visit state parks. Daily passes are $9 or annual passes are $80-120.
AAA/Jennifer Broome

5. Shop, Eat, Stay and Soak

Along with enjoying the colors on the banks of the Yampa River, spend time exploring downtown Steamboat. Giddy up to F.M. Limelight & Sons. You’ll see the yellow signs for the iconic western store for miles as you head into Steamboat. The family-owned store opened in 1905 and is now run by the fifth generation. Lincoln Avenue is lined with a plethora of fun boutiques, cute shops, and art galleries.
For museum goers, the Steamboat Art Museum is housed in a historic bank building and has rotating exhibitions by living artists portraying the cultural and heritage of the West and the Tread of Pioneers Museum is a 1908 home filled with local history.
Creekside Cafe is a cozy cafe that’s a favorite of locals and tourists for breakfast and lunch. Go for their Eggs Benedicts or rancheros and pair with a Bloody Mary. Get a burrito or pastry at The Drunken Onion, a locals’ favorite for grab-and-go food. Freshies is another great option for breakfast or lunch.
For a quick sandwich head to Yampa Sandwich Company or for a sit-down lunch, go to Yampa Valley Kitchen. Their veggie burger is delicious.
Take advantage of AAA discount and stay at AAA Three Diamond Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas in Mountain Village. Holiday Inn Steamboat Springs is a pet-friendly hotel option. If a condo is more your style, stay at AAA Three Diamond Trappeur’s Crossing Resort.
Steamboat has more than 150 natural mineral springs. The Utes considered the springs sacred places with physical and spiritual healing properties. For a rustic relaxation experience surrounded by an aspen grove, Strawberry Park Hot Springs is about 15 minutes from downtown.
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6. Take A Garden Stroll

On the east side of town, take a self-guided walking tour through a palette of fall colors at Yampa River Botanic Park. It’s open through the end of October, weather dependent. It’s free to visit, but donations are appreciated. The six-acre botanic park has over 60 gardens with ponds, pathways, sculptures, and quiet spots to enjoy fall’s splendor in Steamboat Springs.
AAA/Jennifer Broome

7. New Biking Tours & What's New for Winter

You can go on a fall bike ride and get instruction on the Emerald Mountain Trail Network thanks to first-ever permits being issued by the City of Steamboat Springs. Both Ride Workshop and Steamboat Powdercats have mountain biking tours through the fall and will offer fat biking tours in winter. Steamboat Powdercats will also offer backcountry ski tours this winter.
If you’re already dreaming of skiing or riding, Steamboat Resort has some big changes for the 2022-2023 ski season including the lower leg of the new 10-person Wild Blue gondola that will take you to the Greenhorn Ranch Learning Center with four magic carpets, a new chairlift, and slopes at various angles for terrain-based learning for skiers and riders. In the Base Area this winter, there will be a new Mountain Stage, Skeeter’s Rink will open for ice skating, and The Range Food & Drink Hall will be filled with new dining options.

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