The best part of living in a gorgeous mountain town with beautiful weather and clean air? The hiking! (At least, when snow season’s over, it is.) Stretching your legs, working your heart, and being rewarded with a stunning view given only to the worthy—that’s the thrill of hiking. Hiking can be done solo, with family or friends, and be lovely each time. So, if you’re dreaming of new trails, come to Steamboat Springs and discover our fantastic trails for hiking in Colorado!
Know Before You Go
Hiking is fun, but there are some things you should keep in mind so you’re ready to hit the earth when you arrive. First of all, remember that Steamboat Springs is over 6,700 feet, so if you aren’t used to high altitudes, maybe give yourself a day after you arrive before taking on any strenuous hikes. Or, get started with an easy trail. Also: sun screen is very important! Even if you normally have no problem with the sun, people burn quicker at higher altitudes, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. You will also need plenty of water!
Aside from that, just remember the usual: some bug spray, and a good pair of hiking boots! Here are some of the Steamboat Springs hiking trails we recommend:
Fish Creek Falls
Fish Creek is one of the most popular Steamboat Springs hiking trails thanks to its accessibility and gorgeous views. Its appropriate for all ages and there are two trails in which to view the beautiful water fall. There is a short, wheelchair accessible trail that takes you to an overlook with a view of the majestic 283 foot waterfall, the perfect place to take photos and have a picnic. Or take the 1/4 mile dirt trail down to the falls and a picturesque wooden viewing bridge. For those who seek a little more adventure, you can continue on the trail to the upper falls (2.5 miles) and on to Long Lake (6.5 miles) and eventually to the Wyoming Trail.
There is a paved parking lot and restrooms at the trailhead, on nice summer afternoons the spaces do fill up so carpool if you can. Remember to bring some cash, its $5 to park. Well worth it for such a beautiful scene with minimal effort. The trail is open year round.
You can check out the Forest Service’s Trail Map here.
If you visit, share your favorite falls photos with us!
Getting There: From Lincoln Ave (US Highway 40), go north on 3rd street and make a right on Fish Creek Falls Road. Continue for 4 miles to the parking lot and trailhead.
Rabbit Ears Peak
Another popular hike close to Steamboat is hiking to the Rabbit Ears that give Rabbit Ears Pass it’s name. The hike is about 6 miles roundtrip at a high elevation and passes through open meadows (filled with wildflowers in the summer and golden leaves in the fall) with views of the peak most of the way. The trail is actually an old jeep road so it’s pretty easy until you get to the end, where it is a steep climb up to the ears, but the views from the top make it all worthwhile. The ears are remains of pyroclastic materials and are crumbly, so do not climb on them, in fact a piece of the iconic ears eroded and fell off in the late winter/spring of 2017.
There are no restroom facilities at the trailhead but there are at nearby Dumont Lake. Hit the trail in the morning as afternoon thunderstorms can roll through quickly during the summer. Take plenty of water and sunscreen, there isnt much shade on the trail itself. There is no fee to park.
Getting There: Take US 40 East up the pass and turn left for Dumont Lake Campground. Continue past the campground and turn left at the Rabbit Ears Pass monument and follow signs for NFSR 311. Continue approximately 1/4 mile to NFSR 291 on the right. Park and hike on the road which bears to the right.
Vista Nature Trail
This is an easy loop with beautiful views of the valley that is easily accessed from the top of the Gondola. It begins as a wide gravel road and becomes a singletrack trail about 1/2 way through. Its a .86 mile loop perfect for bringing a picnic lunch or grab something at the restaurant above the gondola.
Getting There: Ride the Steamboat Ski Area Gondola to the top. Exit the building and follow the signs for the Vista Nature Trail. You will need to purchase a gondola ticket to ride or bring your Steamboat Ski Area season pass.
Thunderhead Hiking Trail
For those serious about hiking in Colorado, Thunderhead is a fabulous trail. This hike starts at the base of the ski area and winds up the mountain to the top of the gondola. The trail is 3.81 miles one way and gains about 2000 feet of elevation. Meander through groves of Aspen trees and open meadows (ski slopes) while taking in views of the Yampa Valley. A local tip: If you find yourself short on time (or energy), take the gondola to the top and hike down the trail to the bottom or vice versa.
Emerald Mountain Quarry
This hike is known for its spectacular views of the Steamboat Ski Area and downtown Steamboat. The trail is 4 miles roundtrip, be sure to bring your camera!
Getting There: Drive West on US 40, turn left onto 13th street then a left onto Gilpin. Take the first left onto Saratoga and a quick right onto Routt Street, the trailhead is at the end of the street. The trail is within city limits and there is no fee to park.
Howelsen Hill bears mentioning as it, combined with the Emerald Mountain Trail, are located in downtown and as such easily accessible. The views are highly recommended as well.
Mad Creek Trail is a popular hike that follows the Mad Creek as it makes its way to the Elk River. Climb up along a canyon, meander through wildflower filled meadows, explore a historic barn and take a dip in the creek. This hike is great for familes, dogs and anyone looking to get out into nature. Most hike up to the Mad Barn which is a historic barn built by homesteaders in 1906 and restored in 2000. Stop here for a snack and turn around to go back to the trailhead or make it a loop by connecting to the Red Dirt Trail or on to the Hot Springs Trail.
The trail is 4.5 miles roundtrip, bring plenty of water and sunscreen and be aware of mountain bikers. Its free to park at the trailhead and there are restroom facilities.
You can check out a video on the trail and the history of the barn that is a part of the Explore Colorado Series by Fox 31’s Jennifer Broome here
Getting There: Take US 40 West to Routt County Road 129 N. The trailhead is on the right about 5 miles after you get on 129.
Hike to the top of this dormant volcano for incredible 360 views! The steep trail is about 3.6 miles roundtrip with an old fire tower at the top. You will be rewarded with views of Steamboat Lake, Hahns Peak Village and Zirkel Wilderness Area. The end of the hike is a scramble up a scree field and it can be difficult. Do not attempt the hike when there is bad weather in the forecast.
Getting There: From Steamboat, head west on U.S. 40 and turn north on Routt County Road 129 (Elk River Road). Follow past Steamboat Lake State Park to Columbine, and make a right across from the Columbine General Store onto Forest Service Road 490. Veer left onto FSR 410 to the parking area.
Mt Zirkel Wilderness Area:
The Mt Zirkel Wilderness Area is located in the northern part of Routt County. The wilderness area is named after it’s highest peak, Mt Zirkel, standing at 12,182 feet. The peak is named after a geologist, Ferdinand Zirkel who lived near the base of the mountain while studying local geology of the area around 1874. Most of the wilderness is covered in dense spruce-fir forests, alpine tundra, montane forest, meadow and riperian habitats. The southern portion is made up of a unique ribbon forest habitat which forms when large amounts of snow and wind keep tree growth restricted to north-south bands of trees that are about 20 feet wide. Nearby Buffalo Pass and Mad Creek regions receive more snowfall than anywhere else in Colorado.
We like the wilderness area for it’s many hiking trails and outdoor activties. See below for a few of our favorites.
Hike to one of the most photographed lakes in the Mt Zirkel Wilderness area, Gilpin Lake. The trail is 8.5 miles roundtrip or continue on to Gold Creek Lake and do the “Zirkel Circle” for a total of 11 miles. The lake is pristine blue and surrounded by amazing peaks, everywhere you turn you will see postcard worthy views. The hike itself goes through forest, open meadows and there is a stream crossing or two. Be careful during spring runoff. The hike starts at the Slavonia Trailhead where several trails break off.
Getting There: Drive west out of Steamboat Springs on Hwy. 40 approximately 2 miles and turn right on Elk River Road (County Road 129). Follow CR 129 about 18 miles to Seedhouse Road (NFSR 400; also CR 64) and turn right. Continue for 11 miles to the end at the Slavonia trailhead parking area, where the Gilpin Lake trailhead begins.
Gold Creek Lake
Starting at the Slavonia trailhead the hike takes you up and through the forest to Gold Creek Lake. It is also a beautiful blue lake surrounded by peaks. Some say the fishing is great here. We say its definitely a good spot for a picnic! The trail is 8 miles roundtrip or you can continue on to Gilpin Lake and complete the “Zirkel Circle” which is 11 miles total.
Getting There: Drive west out of Steamboat Springs on Hwy. 40 approximately 2 miles and turn right on Elk River Road (County Road 129). Follow CR 129 about 18 miles to Seedhouse Road (NFSR 400; also CR 64) and turn right. Continue for 11 miles to the end at the Slavonia Trailhead parking area where the Gold Creek Lake trailhead begins
The Zirkel Circle
See descriptions above of Gilpin and Gold Creek Lakes. An 11 mile circle hike that passes Gilpin Lake and Gold Creek Lake. We suggest heading to Gilpin first and then to Gold Creek but it can be done in either direction. Start out very early in the day, take plenty of water and food and be aware of any weather in the forecast. Not for the faint of heart.
Getting There: Drive west out of Steamboat Springs on Hwy. 40 approximately 2 miles and turn right on Elk River Road (County Road 129). Follow CR 129 about 18 miles to Seedhouse Road (NFSR 400; also CR 64) and turn right. Continue for 11 miles to the end at the Slavonia Trailhead parking area where the trailhead begins
Three Island Lake
Another beautiful lake hike in the Mt Zirkel Wilderness. The trail climbs through Aspen groves along the Elk River which feels like you are in a fairytale. The view from the top spans a pristine lake and streams that flow out from it. A wonderful payoff for your efforts. The trail is 7 miles roundtrip and well worth it.
Getting There: Drive west out of Steamboat Springs on Hwy. 40 approximately 2 miles and turn right on Elk River Road (County Road 129). Follow CR 129 about 18 miles to Seedhouse Road (NFSR 400; also CR 64) and turn right. Turn right past Seedhouse Campground on NFSR 443 and continue approximately 3 miles to trailhead on left side of road. Turn right at intersection of trail #1163 and follow to lake in Mount Zirkel Wilderness. No bikes Allowed. This trail follows the south fork of the Elk River.
Flattops Wilderness Area:
The Flat Tops Wilderness Area is the third largest wilderness area in Colorado and is located in the southern part of Routt County near the town of Yampa. It gets its name from the Flat Top Mountains which are high mesas soaring 10,000-12,000 feet high that were formed by a combination of volcanic and glacial forces.
The Flat Tops is known as the “cradle of wilderness” because its where the idea of wilderness was first applied to public lands. Trappers Lake located within the wilderness is the second largest natural lake in the state and was the spark that ignited Arthur Carhart to plead for wilderness preservation. It was set aside as a Primitive Area in 1932 and then incorporated as a wilderness area after the passing of the Wilderness Act of 1964. You can find out more history on the area and information here.
There are some great hikes and lakes to visit in the area as well as a scenic by-way that we recommend for golden leaf viewing in the fall!
The infamous strip of land is located in the Flat Tops Wilderness, an area of flattened basaltic domes that rise up from the landscape as vast tabletops — anomalies in a part of Colorado more commonly known for its jagged, pyramidal peaks. The Devil’s Causeway itself is a narrow ridge of running between the drainage of the William Fork River and the White River. It is accessed only by hikers, usually via a trail that begins at Stillwater Reservoir, east of the small town of Yampa and south of Steamboat Springs.
It is a six-mile round-trip venture to the causeway or 10 miles round-trip if you continue on a loop that returns back to the reservoir. Along the rigorous route are several spectacular sights, including the peaceful Little Causeway Lake and meadows sprinkled with bright splashes of wildflowers in the summer.
But nothing compares to the thrill of crossing Devil’s Causeway. At 11,800 feet and just four feet wide in places — with sheer drops of several hundred feet on either side — this venture is not for those prone to vertigo. It is said that nearly everyone who attempts the crossing is quite literally brought to his or her knees, scrambling across the rocky path in a low squat.
But for those who conquer Devil’s Causeway, victory is sweet — and rewarded with unparalleled views of the surrounding high mesas and the valleys below.
Getting There: Take US 40 East to 131 South to Yampa. From Yampa, take County Road 7 south for about six miles, then continue an additional nine miles on Forest Service Road 900 to the parking area on the north side of Stillwater Reservoir. Take East Fork Trail, No. 1119.
Resort Lodging Company: Steamboat’s Finest
Whether you’re looking for summer fun or winter thrills, Resort Lodging Company has you covered. Return from your hike to a charming, restful condo where you can soak in a hot tub, kick back with some TV, or snooze on a plush, king-sized bed. Browse our properties and book today!