Cool off on Colorado’s Yampa River in this ranch- and ski-friendly town
Why go in summer: People are catching on to this cow town turned ski resort and its summer charms—fewer crowds, bargain digs, and riverfront adventures.
Say it like a local: The ’Boat
Elevation: 6,695 feet
The scene: Spurs-and-chaps-clad cowboys (there are more than 400 working ranches in the area) mingle with laid-back ski bums, mountain bikers, and river runners.
Main drag: Lincoln Avenue is scattered with home-decor shops, galleries, restaurants, and hippie-ish markets.
Spring fever: More than 150 natural mineral springs dot the area, with eight in downtown alone.
You haven’t been here until you’ve tried: The elk sausage burger at Rex’s American Grill & Bar ($$; 3190 S. Lincoln Ave.; 970/870-0438).
The big cheese: Pick up a wheel of handmade sheep’s-milk cheese from Sunny Breeze Farm at the farmers’ market (9–2 Sat through Sep 11; Sixth St. at Lincoln).
Best paired with: A bottle from the Steamboat Wine Festival (Aug 5–8; from $45).
Ride the river
A silvery ribbon winding through town, the Yampa River’s snowmelt waters pick up warm pockets from hot springs near its banks. The best swim spots are the C-hole, down the bank from the library, and the lesser-known D-hole, farther downstream.
Play in the bubbles
Splash around in the newly spiffed up Old Town Hot Springs, with eight mineral pools (including the hot, naturally bubbly Heart Spring), two twisty water-tube slides, and a climbing waterfall wall.
For lunch, grab a hummus plate or fresh-fruit parfait from the on-site Dreamboat Cafe ($) and camp out on the deck or flower-lined lawn. $15; 136 Lincoln Ave.
The creations from the new Café Sweet Pea in the Sweet Pea Market take the smoothie to new heights. We’re fans of the tamarind-papaya-lime and the banana-guava-pineapple smoothies.
To go more substantial, order a local-farm-to-table sandwich or salad like the Quinoa Big Bowl, made with fresh corn, kale, and homemade pesto. $; 729 Yampa St.; 970/879-1221.
Hit the trail
Great hikes or rides on Emerald Mountain are a short walk from downtown, with 10 miles of trails you’ll have pretty much to yourself. It’s a quick 2 miles up the moderate Quarry Trail for awesome valley views. Start at Howelsen Hill Recreation Area; at Fifth St., head across the river to Howelsen Pkwy., two blocks south of Lincoln; 970/879-4300.
Make it a weekend
On the edge of town, Mariposa Lodge Bed & Breakfast is a homey ranch house on the banks of Soda Creek, with bentwood rockers on the wraparound porch and homemade quilts on pine-log beds.
Owners Bob and Cindy Maddox live next door and arrive early to cook, say, gruyère omelets or oatmeal waffles topped with fresh peaches. From $139, including breakfast; 2-night minimum.
4 more wild rides in the ‘Boat
- Cheer on cowboys at the night rodeo: The Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo is a must. Go early and enjoy a rib-busting barbecue dinner (from $14). Avoid post-event crowds by parking downtown and walking. Fri–Sat through Aug 21; $15; Fifth St. at Howelsen Pkwy.
- Bike a mountain: Let the gondola ($20) at Steamboat Ski Area haul you and your wheels up to midmountain (9,080 feet), the starting point for 50 miles of biking trails under the bluest sky you’ll ever see. Through Sep 6.
- Join a cattle drive: No nose-to-tail horseback plodding at Saddleback Ranch; on a four-hour cattle drive, you’ll participate in chores of cowboy life, including moving herds and rounding up strays. Closed Sun; $90.
- Crush it: Dig This, the country’s only “heavy equipment play arena,” may be pricey, but this could be your only chance to don a hard hat and drive a full-size bulldozer like a grown-up kid in a giant sandbox. From $200.