A list of family, kid-friendly hikes and outdoor activities worth doing when visiting Steamboat Springs, CO in the summer.
Mad Creek Trail
Kid-friendly, stroller friendly(ish), dogs on leash, amazing views
Mad Creek Trail was the first hike we did in Steamboat and one of the favorites among the group. This hike is kid and dog friendly. The big kids (ages 3, 5, & 6) were able to walk all of it on their own. We used a Bob Revolution jogging stroller with the 1.5 yr old and was doable but would recommend a hiking carrier if able. If you don’t have one you can rent one here: Baby Gear Rentals
(The dads pushed the stroller and the trail is pretty steep in some spots)
The Mad Creek trailhead is about a 15-20 minute drive northwest from Steamboat, depending on your location. There is an obvious parking lot at the trailhead with plenty of parking, but the lot was filling up by the time we were done with our hike. There were outhouse toilets by the parking lot, if needed.
When we read about this hike, it was described it as a ‘moderate difficulty’ hike – we would agree. The hike starts as a steady incline, which is the hardest and steepest part, but then does plateau a bit.
The entire trail itself is about over 8 miles. We only went about 1.5 miles and turned around. If you go further, there is the Mad Creek Barn that seemed fun to explore. It was too far with our kids but seemed very attainable if it would have just been the adults. Check out this website for more information on Mad Creek Trail.
Speaking to the section of the trail that we hiked, it was wide enough to walk side-by-side with a child. However, we did have to move to the side with our crew to let other hikers pass (Hiker etiquette: stay to the right, yield to the uphill hikers when going down). There are portions of the trail with shade, but it was a mostly sunny hike. We took a lot of small breaks with the kids and found a shady spot that was wide enough to be off the trail for a snack. Overall, the kids did great but did require encouragement to keep trekking along throughout the hike (it was also our first full day in Steamboat and these Wisconsin kids had never hiked before on a real trail, especially in mountain elevation).
There were picture-perfect views throughout the entire portion of the hike that we did. A personal favorite about this trail, was that you could always either hear the creek below, or see it. (There’s just something about a creek through the mountains, am I right?) We loved the views! This is definitely not a hike for someone with a fear of heights, as the lookouts along the edge of the trail were pretty impressive. Lots of great spots to soak in all the pines, wildflowers, creek, and mountains. The first part of the trail is wooded but further in (maybe about a mile?) the trail opens up into a meadow on top of the hills. I’m not sure how many times we said, “it’s so pretty!” Overall, we definitely recommend this kid-friendly hike.
Tip: Get there early! We arrived by 9am on a Sunday. The trail was not too busy and the weather was perfect. Not too warm, not too cold. Towards the end of our hike, traffic was picking up and the parking lot was full. See our full week itinerary here.
Rabbit Ears Trail
Rabbit Ears was the second hike of our trip. We got a little lost on our way to Rabbit Ears and the trailhead is not easily marked from the road.
Tip: make sure you actually know where you are going before you start driving, cell service can be spotty :). We ended up stopping on the side of the road and asking some nice random people how to get there, which also works.
This trailhead is about 25 minutes southeast of Steamboat Springs, right off of Hwy 40. When turning off of Hwy 40, drive down a gravel road until you reach the trailhead. When you get to the end of the road – there is a parking lot that you can park in. This is where we parked. From this parking lot, you can walk a short distance to the start of the trail. The trail is very wide initially and shared with motorized vehicles. However, if you keep going down the trail, there is another parking lot on the right-hand side (these are very exact measurements and descriptions, I know). Just through this parking lot is the start to the portion of trail that we hiked.
Since we did a fairly substantial hike on day one, we wanted something easier for our second day – especially since it was just us and the kids while the husbands went fishing. This trail is also labeled as a “moderate difficulty” hike. However, this trail seemed much easier to hike compared to Mad Creek Trail with a less significant incline. We didn’t make it to the end of the trail, which is 5.5 miles out and back. From what we read, it is just over 3 miles to the peak. Our crew went in about 0.75 miles and then turned around. We saw a wide range of ages walking this trail – toddlers to senior citizens. Again, we had the jogging stroller which worked well on almost all of the trail. A few spots were rocky and a little bumpy, but we were still able to navigate effectively. For what we hiked, the trail was wide enough to walk side-by-side with at least two people. Compared to Mad Creek trail – this trail was more stroller-friendly.
WILDFLOWERS! This trail is known for the beautiful wildflowers, and that did not disappoint. Throughout the entire trail we had gorgeous views and rolling hills covered in wildflowers (at least in late July when we visited). There was even a small creek flowing through one spot on the trail. This trail was sunny – be prepared.
We didn’t get far enough along the trail to see them, but a sign at the entrance said there were sheep in some of the fields, along with their own dogs trained to protect the sheep. There are signs giving strict instructions about how to deal with the dogs and sheep, should you come upon them. No petting or interacting allowed – we had to explain this to our dog-loving kids.
The kids had a great time exploring and having a laid-back experience. They found “walking sticks” at the beginning which was fun for them, but then became a hazard and we made them put them down. After they got over that, they were able to have fun.
This trail was very different than Mad Creek Trail, in terms of views and landscape. Definitely recommend.
Side Note: This trail is named for Rabbit Ears Mountain, which has to rocks at the top of the mountain that look like Rabbit Ears. If you hike in far enough you can get to Rabbit Ears. In Steamboat Springs, there is the famous Rabbit Ears Motel. You can see the mountain from Hwy 40.
Strawberry Hot Springs
Strawberry Hot Springs is an activity that showed up everywhere when reading about things to do in Steamboat. It is a natural hot springs located just outside of Steamboat Springs. You can hike there but we drove.
We went the evening of our third day in Colorado. The drive to the springs is up a steep gravel road with a few switchbacks. This caught Sara off-guard and she got a little nervous driving our 15 passenger van up this bumpy road. While she was nervous, the rest of us couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. Being a good friend, Katie recorded her reaction of course – check it out in our CO highlights on instagram.
[There is an entrance fee, cash only. The cost per adult is $15 and $8 per child.]
There are restrooms and changing rooms inside the grounds. No alcohol is allowed inside the springs and they will check your bags upon arrival. We were able to bring in water bottles for the kids and there is a cooler to purchase non-alcoholic beverages from. Families are welcome here but our children were some of the youngest there at the time we visited. After dark, no children are allowed and clothing is optional. The lack of children may have been due to the fact that we were there in the evening, closer to dark.
There are a variety of different natural pools surrounded by multi-level patios with adirondack chair and log benches. The landscaping is alluring with rock encasements surrounding the pools. The pools are different temperatures ranging from cold to very hot. The bottoms of the pools are sandy and rocky in spots. We brought Puddle Jumper floaties for the kids, which was necessary because they could not touch in most places. One of the pools has a zero-entry beach into a cold pool. Otherwise, there are steps made out of stones into the pools. They do get slippery so be careful. While there is some beautiful landscaping, the whole setting felt very natural.
The atmosphere is meant to be relaxing. Our kids enjoyed the hot springs but I wouldn’t say they were calm and relaxed :).
We stayed a couple hours at the most and that was plenty for us. Overall the consensus was that we were glad we experienced it but wasn’t an overarching highlight of our trip.
Fish Creek Falls
Fish Creek Falls is a family-friendly short hike with additional trails to make it longer and more challenging if that’s what you’re going for. This is a must-do while visiting Steamboat Springs.
Tip: Get there early and go on a week day for a less-busy experience, and bring your selfie-stick 🙂
We went first thing in the morning after breakfast and this trail was already fairly busy. By the time we left, the parking lot was completely full with cars lining the road.
At the start of the trails, there are some picnic areas with multiple tables, outhouse toilets, and drinking water. We didn’t utilize this area but you could take advantage of it and pack a picnic lunch.
First, we hiked the Lower Falls trail which is not a paved trail but is wide and stroller-friendly until you get to the bridge to view the falls from below. The trail leading to the bridge is quick and easy for a variety of physical abilities. Maybe a mile or less? There is a bridge at the base of the Falls with spectacular views and a great spot for a photo. The Falls are impressive, picturesque, and serene all at once. Once you cross the bridge, the trail narrows and heads upwards. We kept hiking a little bit past this bridge and then turned around. We thought if we kept going a little bit we’d see some better views, but it is a mostly wooded trail and you don’t get views of the waterfall, although there are still great views of the surrounding scenery. This part of the trail is not stroller friendly (we ditched the stroller in the woods and kept going).
After hiking the lower trail, we went back towards the start of the trailhead to walk the Upper Falls trail which is a paved, quick, and easy walk. This part of the trail is stroller friendly. Along the walk, the scenery was peaceful with wildflowers and the sound of the rushing water in the distance. At the top, there are multiple overlooks with spectacular views of the Falls. This is a great option for a short walk, yet you’ll get the reward of great panoramic views. The kids were able to run around and explore along this path for a casual walk.
Pearl Lake State Park
Pearl Lake State Park was a pleasant surprise. This was a “day-of” decision to venture out here. It was a peaceful and beautiful oasis away from the bustle of Steamboat Springs, but it was hard to find a lot of information about it.
Pearl Lake State Park is about a 45 minute drive north of Steamboat Springs. The drive didn’t bother us too much because the views along the way are great and never got old. We went mid-morning after eating breakfast at home, packing a cooler, and picking up sandwiches from Yampa Sandwich Company. in Steamboat Springs.
[It is a state park so there is a small fee, cash only, to enter the park.]
There wasn’t any large beach areas along the shoreline but we found an area near the boat launch that had a sandy/rocky area and a picnic table and charcoal grill to set up at. Shortly after, we learned from a nice DNR warden that swimming is prohibited in the lake as an effort to conserve and restore the natural ecosystem. Wading in the shallow water was allowed.
In the parking lot of the boat launch, there was a trailer with stand-up paddle board rentals. Motorized boats are not allowed on the lake. Because of the “no swimming” rule, we ended up splurging and renting SUP boards. The cost was $23 per hour for the first hour and $17/hr for additional hours. The rentals did not start until about 11am. We learned after the fact that you can reserve the SUP boards ahead of time online through Paddle Board Adventure Company. We were able to rent them without a reservation, but it is on a first-come, first-serve basis. For our crew of eight people, we rented 2 paddle boards for 2 hours each and it was perfect. One hour would have seemed too quick for us. Life jackets were provided through the rental company and are required to be on the board at all times.
Being the sappy moms that we are, we both really enjoyed the quiet and alone time we got to experience with our girls on a SUP board in the middle of a beautiful lake in the mountains. It gave us time to try something new with our girls and reflect on life and our fun adventures, especially as this was our last day in Colorado. The two big girls spent some time learning how to use the paddle and steer the boats by themselves. For us, this experience was worth spending the money.
There is a trail that circles the lake. We did not go ourselves, but it looked like a great trail. From what we could see it looked narrow and not stroller friendly but seemed relatively flat. There were picnic tables scattered throughout near the entrance. We had some towels packed and were able to snag a picnic table close to the water. It would have been nice to have some lawn chairs or a blanket to lay down but we made the best of it. (tip: this area is pretty unpopulated and there aren’t many gas stations or shops around, so plan ahead when packing for your visit.)
The lake itself is crystal clear. The setting is serene, peaceful, and surrounded by beautiful nature. The reflection of the pines on the lake gave us all the feels. It is a great place to kick back, relax, and enjoy the mountains and nature.
It was a great place to wrap up one last adventure for our trip (itinerary).
Feel free to ask questions below!