DAY 1 – Travel day: flight from Madison to Denver, acquire rental van, drive to Steamboat Springs , CO and settle into rental home
DAY 2 – Hiked Mad Creek Trail in Mount Zirkel Wildnerness, checked out downtown Steamboat Springs for lunch and Steamboat Mountain Village for dinner
DAY 3 – Fishing on the Colorado River (dads) and hiking Rabbit Ears Mountain (moms + kids), Strawberry Hot Springs
DAY 4 – drove to Grand Lake, CO and explored the town from land and water (pontoon rental on Shadow Mountain Lake)
DAY 5 – Rocky Mountain National Park, then back to Steamboat for dinner downtown
DAY 6 – Fish Creek Falls hike, shopping downtown Steamboat, evening at Steamboat Mountain Village
DAY 7 – Pearl Lake State Park, dinner and activities in Steamboat Mountain Village
DAY 8 – travel day: drive from Steamboat to Denver, flight Denver to Madison
Interested in what we thought of some of the restaurants mentioned below? Check out this post, where we give more descriptions on the dining options and our honest reviews.
day 1 – saturday
Woke the kids up at the crack of dawn to leave the Madison airport and fly into Denver International. The Denver airport had a few logistics that were a challenge with kids – taking an underground tram to the baggage claim then a bus to the Avis rental car agency. Because we had reserved a 12-passenger van, which was considered a “commercial vehicle”, we had to wait longer than we would’ve had we rented a standard vehicle. The mood was good until two hours passed in the 90 degree heat and nobody had eaten any lunch…
(reality check – it’s during these times we question why we travel with our kids)
We finally got our van, grabbed quick Qdoba and Carl’s Jr. lunches and headed west to Steamboat Springs. It was a 3-hour drive, very pretty views and only a few small towns as we got closer to Steamboat. We arrived to our rental townhome, unloaded the van, let the kids run around, sent the dads to grab a few essentials from the grocery store, and ordered a pizza for an easy night in. Experience has shown us that expecting kids to sit nicely at a restaurant after a long day is an automatic fail.
day 2 – sunday
We woke up fairly early (on mountain time), ran to Walmart and City Market for groceries, then decided to head into Mount Zirkel Wilderness Park to hike the Mad Creek Trail. Water bottles and snacks were packed into backpacks and we headed out. It was beautiful with so many overlooks, waterfalls, and amazing views.
When the hiking was done, we swung through downtown Steamboat for lunch. We had drinks and appetizers (the popcorn was delicious for snacking on!) at Mountain Tap Brewery on the large outdoor patio, then moved along to the backyard patio along the Yampa River for tacos and margaritas at Taco Cabo.
Took advantage of the condo’s pool after lunch.
Later that evening, some friends who lived about an hour away came to visit. We all walked into the Steamboat Mountain Village – which was even better than we had seen and read about. It was a perfect summer night so we had drinks on the lawn of Slopeside Grill, listened to live music, and let the kids run around in the lawn and play in the creek.
day 3 – Monday
The visiting friends, Mark and Teala, had camped overnight at a nearby park (and woke up with frost on their sleeping bags!). They are an adventurous couple, with a long history of travels and tours across the world, including many rafting excursions. Mark brought his raft and took Justin and Travis fishing on the Colorado River. Unfortunately, the nearby Yampa River was too low to do any private river floats, otherwise we would’ve liked to take the whole family down the river on tubes and the raft (note: you can rent tubes and do commercial tubing from a few places in town, but they advised children be 6 or older).
Meanwhile, we took all the kids to hike Rabbit Ears Mountain. Most people we saw at the trailhead had a good 30+ years of age on us so we figured it was probably a good trail for us after the longer hike the day before.
Once everyone reconvened that afternoon, we made a spontaneous decision to head to Strawberry Hot Springs. At this point in the trip, we were already feeling like we had so many things we wanted to do and were going to run out of time. It was a pretty hot evening and considered that hot springs on a hot day maybe wasn’t the best choice, but were pleasantly surprised to find there were also many ice-cold pools as well. Driving into the Hot Springs was NOT for the nervous driver! It was a long, windy, uphill gravel drive with many ruts. We managed fine in our van but it would be a challenge in a smaller car, especially during bad weather.
It had been a long day, so we stayed at the townhome and grilled out for dinner (you can take the Wisconsinites out of Wisconsin, but we still like our brats!) and stayed up too late stargazing in search of a supposed meteor shower and talking that night in the backyard.
One thing to mention: Steamboat has the best weather in the summer! The days were hot (70-80s) but the nights cooled way down (40-50s) and stayed crisp into the morning – a perfect blend of the seasons.
day 4 – tuesday
When planning this trip months earlier, we wanted to take advantage of the mountains and decided we may as well try to visit Rocky Mountain National Park while we were in Colorado. After a bit of searching, we landed on Grand Lake, CO, a small town on the western edge of RMNP and near the park’s entrance known for it’s beautiful water surrounded by the Rockies.
That morning, we drove 1.5 hours to Grand Lake, CO. Our activities and dining in Grand Lake, plus the full recap of our day in Rocky Mountain National Park can be found here.
day 5 – wednesday
Everyone woke up early and spent the day exploring Rocky Mountain National Park before heading back to Steamboat Springs that afternoon.
We hadn’t tried the free Steamboat Springs city bus yet, so we used that for transportation into the downtown area that afternoon. The bus stop was a 5-minute walk from our townhome and was easy enough to figure out (and we’re certainly not city slickers used to riding public transportation). We had seen a restaurant called Salt + Lime when passing by earlier in the week that had an upstairs patio that looked enticing and had dinner there. It was misting outside but we were still able to enjoy the outdoor seating with the overhead screen awning.
After dinner, we wandered in and out of shops on the main street, Lincoln Avenue. A favorite by all was F.M. Light & Sons – an eclectic mix of clothing, western gear, and toys. The kids had a blast dressing up as cowboys and cowgirls and playing with all the toys…while our husbands did the same.
day 6 – thursday
Fish Creek Falls is one of the more popular hikes and something we saw often when researching Steamboat Springs activities, so we knew we wanted to get there early to avoid the inevitable crowds that come mid-day. See full post for more about this hike and location.
After exploring, our husbands took the kids home for lunch and naps and we headed into downtown Steamboat to do some shopping. Other than the gift shop at RMNP, we hadn’t even bought any souvenirs and this is a favorite pastime of ours! We spent a couple hours wandering in and out of shops and left with a few shirts and Christmas ornaments (something we always try to grab when on vacation).
After regrouping with the rest, we wanted some casual dining and decided on a sports bar with an upstairs arcade for the kids called Dude & Dan’s that the guys had gone into one night earlier in the week.
We wanted to take advantage of the Steamboat Mountain Village a bit more, so we walked into the Village that evening and were surprised to find that drinks could be ordered at nearby Timber & Torch and taken with to sit by the creek. Some signs nearby indicated that drinks purchased from the bar had to stay within marked areas, otherwise outside drinks could be brought in on opposite ends of the signage. (In Wisconsin, the rules on where you can carry your drinks are pretty strict so this was an added bonus.) The kids LOVED playing in the creek, splashing around and having mostly free reign to go wherever they wanted within sight, while we enjoyed our cocktails. It was a pretty sky that evening on our walk home, which is always the perfect end to a fun day.
day 7 – friday
The day before, we had spotted Yampa Sandwich Company and thought that would make for a good packed lunch for the day. We were able to order online, grabbed our cooler, and picked up on our way out of town that morning (they open at 6:30am on weekdays). More information on Pearl Lake can be found in this post – it certainly did not disappoint! The weather was hot and sunny, water was pristine, discovered stand-up paddleboarding as a new interest, and the sandwiches (don’t forget about the homemade cookies!) for lunch made for a perfect day.
The morale was high leaving Pearl Lake and everyone wanted to enjoy one last night in Steamboat Mountain Village before heading home the next morning.
The kids changed into their swimsuits, the adults mixed some to-go cocktails, and we walked to the Village. The kids played in the creek, made new friends, petted about 100 dogs roaming around with their owners, and we sat at the end of the creeks where outside beverages were allowed. Sara and Katie took the older kids on the Steamboat Mountain Coaster – which was later said to be a highlight of the trip by the kids. We ate outside on the patio of Slopeside Bar & Grill while the kids ran around in the grass, live music playing in the background.
Everyone enjoyed a good meal and laughed recalling all the highs…
- Big kids – the mountain roller coaster
- Dads – 1a) fishing on the Colorado River 1b) Rocky Mountain National Park
- Moms – 1a) Rocky Mountain National park 1b) all the sappy mom-moments we had making memories with our kids
…and the lows…
- someone sharting themselves at 12,000 ft elevation at RMNP (ooops!)
…and everyone walked home into the sunset, laughing together about our week. the end.
(*Full disclosure: if this post led you to believe we are perfect, happy-all-the-time families with terrific listening-all-the-time children, please know there were many timeouts, ear flicks, briberies, and empty threats by the parents to jump off mountainsides. Traveling with kids is never easy but always worth it to us. Cheers!)
day 8 – saturday
We woke up early, drove to Denver, returned the van, navigated the airport, and flew back to Wisconsin. About an hour after arriving home, we (Katie and Sara) started dreaming up next summer’s trip! Stay tuned! 🙂
Have you been to Steamboat Springs, Colorado before? None of us had, except for Justin as a kid who didn’t remember much. It is such a quaint little mountain town that has something for everyone – skiing, hiking, biking, fishing, cattle ranching, and so much more. Here is a great article on the History of Steamboat Springs if you’re a history buff wanting to know more about its’ early beginnings!
Feel free to ask questions or comment below! Would love to hear any of your favorites in Steamboat Springs as well. Our Instagram account has many video clips from the activities and sights mentioned above — check it out under the ‘Colorado’ highlights. Check out the posts below for our thoughts and reviews on some other aspects of our trip: