Best Time To Visit Steamboat Springs
Published on 08/21/2020 by Brad Luth
Located in Colorado’s Yampa Valley, in the northwestern region of the state, Steamboat Springs is a town rooted in mining and ranching history – two traditions with a heavy influence on the development of America’s “Old West”. Located just 157 miles west of Denver, Steamboat Springs, Colorado is an ideal destination for those in search of breathtaking sights and outdoor adventures in the Rocky Mountains. Though Steamboat vacations tend to center around the allure of the Steamboat Ski Resort in the winter season, those in-the-know will tell you that anytime is a good time for a Steamboat getaway. In fact, some may say that the off-season is the most appealing time of year to make a break for “The Boat”.
Steamboat At Its Peak
So, when exactly is the best time to visit Steamboat Springs? Well, that entirely depends on what you hope to see and do during your stay, as well as what you may prefer to avoid. Technically, Steamboat’s peak periods fall in winter and summer – more specifically from December through March and then again from June into August. The winter months usher in ski season, while summertime events and festivals are a huge draw each year.
As a ski town, it’s no surprise that Steamboat-bound travelers with their eyes on the slopes prefer to steer for a winter visit when skiers are sure to enjoy prime mountain conditions and the best ski experiences, as well as February’s annual Winter Carnival – the oldest event of its kind west of the Mississippi. Steamboat Springs sees a yearly average of 350 inches of snowfall at mid-mountain.
Nature lovers who opt for warmer weather will find another use for the mountain landscapes as they hit the trails for hiking and mountain biking or take on water sport adventures on the area’s lakes and rivers. Both the winter and summer seasons will see increased crowds, and fewer available accommodations (typically at peak pricing). So if you’re looking to avoid the masses and hoping to keep your budget in check, you may want to ponder the possibilities of the “shoulder” seasons, when you’ll find fewer visitors and plenty of deals on dining, shopping, and accommodations
Shoulder Seasons In Steamboat
Summer crowds tend to start appearing around the Fourth of July, thinning shortly after Labor Day, while the resort’s ski season spans from November-April. These tend to be the indicators of the seasonal transitions. The non-peak seasons of fall and spring are often referred to as shoulder seasons, and in the case of spring – mud season. Though the phrase “mud season” lacks a certain appeal, a spring break in Steamboat Springs is uniquely attractive, and a favorite time to visit for many Steamboat regulars who appreciate the local vibe and culture. One of the best things about mud season is the opportunity for a truly versatile experience that blends the best of both warm and cold-weather amusements. You can conceivably enjoy snow-centric activities in the morning and be mountain biking through the aspens by the afternoon! Pack accordingly!
Spring In Steamboat Springs
Early season thaw in spring may leave the ski mountain trails a bit wet and unpleasant, but in short order they will be accessible and even inviting. There are more than 150 trails covering hundreds of miles, ranging from short, easy nature loops to extensive, challenging routes for more experienced hikers.
Spring is a great time to sneak in some last minute skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing on Rabbit Ears Pass. There is no need to purchase lift tickets, and the snow is still excellent for winter sports. For those that want the winter experience of flying down the side of the mountain without the snow Howelsen Hill, normally a mecca for Nordic sky jumpers in the winter, becomes The Howler, an alpine slide, in the spring.
While there is some rain to be expected in the spring, temperatures stay nice and cool in the 50s and 60s. Those spring showers help to produce a dramatic bouquet of wildflower blooms that blanket the area surrounding Mount Werner. With an elevation of only 6,700 feet (considerably lower than many other Colorado mountain towns), the snow recedes more quickly offering an early bloom display that is sure to stun.
Bring your fishing gear because in the spring the high water comes and the weather is perfect for catching gigantic rainbow and brown trout. Recommended fishing spots include the famous tail-waters of Stagecoach Reservoir and Downtown Steamboat Spring on the Yampa River. Late spring is when the rivers peak and the weather is warm enough for rafting. Offering a wide range of experiences from gentle Class 2 conditions all the way to adrenaline pumping class 5 whitewater adventures, there is surely something for everyone. There are an abundance of knowledgeable guides and outfitters located along the Yampa, Eagle, Elk, North Platte, and Colorado Rivers to help you make a safe journey.
Fall In Steamboat Springs
Even though the snow is melted, there are plenty of activities for the true adventurer in the fall. Sheer the cliffs at Dome and Box Canyon, or fly above the trees with Steamboat Zipline Adventures. This may be the most unique way to take in the colors of fall, and it certainly gets the heart pumping. Fall trail blazers are rewarded with warm sunny weather during the day and cool comfortable nights. This is the time of year to catch the technicolor display only Mother Nature can provide. Soak in the fall colors on foot trails and bike trails or take a scenic drive. Some of the most traveled routes are Buffalo Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass – both a short drive from town. Guided horseback riding truly takes you back to nature and lets you explore the fall foliage in a way that can’t be reproduced.
For those that can’t get enough of the water, opportunities abound. In fall, the trout are still running and the Yampa is raging along from springs snowmelt. For a more peaceful fishing experience, Pearl Lake, Stagecoach Lake, and Steamboat Lake offer some of the most serene locations for anglers. Casey’s Pond is the perfect location for families to enjoy an afternoon picnic while taking in the picturesque views and enjoying the tranquility of nature. Of course Steamboat Springs is named for its famous natural hot springs, which are a must-do. Old Town Hot Springs is located right in the middle of town and offers eight pools, water slides and even a children’s play area. For over 100 years, travelers and locals alike have taken advantage of this year-round natural attraction. For a more pristine hot spring experience, Strawberry Park Hot Springs boasts a more rustic setting with picnic areas available.
It’s no secret that many like to enjoy nature out on the links. Steamboat Springs offers two public and one private 18-hole golf courses. High-elevation golfing is an adventure of its own and offers a challenging, yet rewarding, round of golf. Be prepared – it may take a little longer to get through 18 holes because the views are absolutely breathtaking. The Rollingstone Ranch course is laid out along Fish Creek, and along with a great round of golf, you can expect to be delighted by fine dining and fabulous resort facilities. The Haymaker Course offers amazing views of the Flat Tops and is nestled among rolling hills, making this a wonderful day out and a great 18 holes. Catamount Ranch is a private course, but it does offer a lakeside restaurant that is open to the public. This is a fantastic location for a delicious fall lunch.
Not everything has to revolve around outdoor activities. Steamboat Springs offers an abundance of indoor activities for young and old alike. From museums to breweries, there is literally something for everyone. Everyone loves the Tread of Pioneers Museum. Take a journey through Steamboat Springs history and learn about its Native American past, enjoy the history of the wild west, and find out more about the local ski heritage. Tracks and Trails Museum is dedicated to the mining and railroad history while Hahns Peak Museum showcases a 100-year-old schoolhouse. Art lovers will enjoy the Steamboat Art Museum which offers constantly-changing exhibits by some of the region’s top artists and even hands on workshops for those that want to express themselves. Now, let’s talk about beer. The Yampa Valley Brewing Company is located a short 27 miles outside of town and is ready to stimulate the hops lover in everyone… and there’s more where that came from!
Temperatures in September can shift greatly from the mid-30s to low 70s, making outdoor activities in the daytime quite pleasant, but certainly providing a justification to dress in layers at night. Leaf-peeping is at its best in October before daytime temperatures begin to dip into the 40s.
No matter when you arrive, you’re sure to find something to make your visit worthwhile, making memories that can only be made in Steamboat. If you have yet to try Steamboat in the shoulder season, perhaps this will be your year to try something new!