An August family reunion to the mountainside ranching town of Steamboat Springs in western Colorado (circa 1999) was my first trip where I flew on a plane. I distinctly remember cruising over the Rocky Mountains, jaw-to-the-floor, ogling the peaks and valleys and lushness below.
And while it was a trip that I took 20 years ago, what stands out most in my mind, to this day, is soaking in Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a natural hot spring about a 20-minute drive from downtown Steamboat. So, when I returned a few weeks ago for a ski trip, I insisted that the hot springs be one of the first stops. Once again, they did not disappoint.
Here's why you should book a trip to Steamboat Springs—and no matter what time of year you choose to go, pack a swimsuit and bee-line it to those hot springs.
Skiing at Steamboat Ski Resort
Home to trademarked "Champagne Snow," Steamboat Ski Resort is one of the best ski locations in Colorado—and the local winter sports club produces the largest number of Olympic skiers in the country, which is pretty amazing. If you're planning a winter trip to the area, getting some turns in on the slopes is a must.
On the mountain, you'll find terrain for beginners, experts, and everyone in between. As a beginner-intermediate skier, I opted for a six-hour lesson with a Steamboat instructor, and it was, hands-down, the best ski experience I've ever had. In short, you'll be in good hands with the on-site instructors, who are patient, expertly skilled, and a blast to hang out with.
For those in search of expert terrain, moguls, trees, and the like, Steamboat offers plenty of challenging and ungroomed runs on both sides of the mountain. Pro tip: make sure to purchase First Tracks for your lift ticket at least one of your ski days so that you can enjoy prime powder runs before the crowds arrive.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs
A quick drive from bustling downtown Steamboat (if you don't have a car with you, several bus services take guests out to the springs) you'll find Strawberry Park Hot Springs—in my opinion, one of the most special hot spring locations in the world. Here, locals and visitors come to soak in 104-degree mineral water, fresh from the earth.
The pools are surrounded by large slabs of stone and big rocks, and tiers of alpine trees rise up to the sky—it's truly fantastical, and in the wintertime, the Champagne Powder collects around the edges of the spring yielding a Narnia-like paradise.
At night, it's recommended that you bring a headlamp, as there is no outdoor lighting at the actual springs—just along the stairs down to the water. While Strawberry Springs isn't a large spa facility (it features a small, clean restroom and a charming changing room with a crackling woodstove), guests can book massages, available in little huts near the springs. You can even try watsu therapy in a private hot pool.
For those who want the most immersive experience possible, book a rustic cabin and enjoy the springs all to yourself before they open to the public at 10 a.m.
What to Do
Aside from skiing and soaking in natural hot springs, there's plenty to do in Steamboat Springs, which has the feel of an old-school western town, turned chic ski destination. The main drag in town is just a photogenic as the ski mountain and the hot springs, and the streets are dotted with little restaurants, cafes, bookshops, and retail stores for ski and outdoor gear. One of the most famous stores, F.M. Light & Sons, has been in town for over a century and sells quite the array of cowboy boots. Pick up a pair and maybe a super-soft flannel and you'll feel right at home. Off the Beaten Path has some of the best coffee in town, and you can peruse local books to cozy up with after a day skiing or soaking.
Where to Dine
Cafe Diva is the veritable piece de resistance of the local mountainside dining scene. The space is atmospheric and dim—in a moody, aprés-ski kind of way—and the food is some of the best in the state. It's the perfect date spot; consider this an ideal place to cozy up after a long day on the slopes with a few innovative appetizers, a craft cocktail, or a glass of wine.
For those who love delicious, unfussy, traditional Italian cooking, Mazzola's is a must. Be warned: it'll be packed on the weekend, so get there right when it opens at 5 p.m. You can enjoy a Happy Hour cocktail at the bar, and then head to the back to sit for dinner (pro tip: order the bolognese and fettuccine).
Where to Stay
If ever there were picture-perfect, idyllic mountainside accommodations, it would be—and is—the offerings from Moving Mountains, a local company that hand-selects residences in Steamboat Springs to rent out to visitors looking for luxury lodging. Look out the window of a slope-facing apartment at One Steamboat Place as you lounge on a king-sized bed backed with Aspen trees, and you'll see the gondola making its rounds up and down the mountainside. Or, if you've booked a larger lodge literally on the mountainside, you can gaze down at the skiers swooshing down around you as you sip your morning coffee.
Guests who want the royal treatment should opt for the VIP Package, which includes airport transfers and a chauffeur, as well as a private chef to cook all your meals so that you can focus on skiing and soaking the very best of Steamboat Springs.