Lower Spring Creek
(about 1.0 miles round trip, Lake Loop Trail adds 0.4 miles)
This popular hike trailhead is right in town at Maple and Amethyst near Steamboat Springs High School. (You can start lower on the trail behind the high school and add on the portion called Sailor’s Way.) The first portion starting at the trailhead follows a road with a side-by-side narrow trail meandering closely to Spring Creek. It is a very gradual ascent to the picnic table area.
This is a great spot to stop with the kids before turning around. If you follow the short path on the right at the shelter, it will take you down to the small pond. Follow the trail just to the left of the picnic shelter and you will find a loop around the second larger pond, which adds 0.4 miles. This hike is great in all seasons.
Lower Fish Creek Falls/Overlook Trail
(0.3 miles to bridge each way, 0.5 miles on overlook path each way)
No visit to Steamboat Springs would be complete without seeing Fish Creek Falls. If you drive up Fish Creek Falls Road, you will reach the USFS kiosk where there is a $5 fee to enter the area. Then keep following the road until it ends at the Upper Parking Lot (during busy times you may have to park along the road or in the lower lot). After parking there are two options to take, and they do connect together. Take the short ¼ mile walk downhill to the waterfall and bridge or follow the overlook paved path on the left along the ridge with amazing birds eye views of the waterfall and surrounding valley.
This hike is very doable with kids although they might need help climbing back up from the bridge. Fish Creek Falls is splendid in the Spring when it is roaring from snow melt and in the Winter when it is mostly frozen. Depending on the water flow, kids love to play on the rocks under the bridge.
Vista Nature Trail
(1.0 mile loop)
This nearly level trail is found at the top of the Steamboat Resort gondola, a short walk from Thunderhead Lodge. Only thing to note about this hike is that it requires a pass to ride the gondola, which is a lovely and scenic bonus that kids love! There is a large sign that shows the start of the Vista Nature Trail past the large lawn at the mid mountain of the ski resort.
This trail has educational signs and provoking nature questions posted. It also has amazing views of the surrounding valley and ski area. The beginning of the hike is a little more exposed to the sun on a ridge but then it enters a tree-covered area for the second half.
(1.1 mile loop)
The Tombstone Trail is found about a 50 minute drive from Steamboat Springs to Steamboat Lake. The state park does require a parking fee. Follow the road 200 yards past the visitor center to the Tombstone Trail Trailhead on the left. This trail is an absolute favorite of my kids because it is very interactive. At the trailhead sign, grab a pamphlet with notes of flowers and readings assigned to the 11 markers you will find along the trail. There is a tombstone of local homesteaders, the namesake of the trail. This trail also boasts awesome views of Steamboat Lake and Hahn’s Peak.
Panorama and Fiddlehead
(Panorama 1.0 mile loop, Fiddlehead 2.0 mile loop)
These last two trails are found off Buffalo Pass at the Dry Lake Campground, about a 20 minute drive from town. They are great for kids because they also have little change in elevation. The Panorama Loop is found just off the Upper Spring Creek Trail as can be seen on the map located at the trailhead.
As its name indicates, the Panorama Trail gives expansive views of the surrounding valley and area as well as offering a fun narrow trail in the trees for kids to run on and enjoy. This area is best in the summer and Fall when leaves start to turn.
The Fiddlehead Trail is found near the Dry Lake Campground just across the road from the Spring Creek trailhead. This one is a bit longer but a very cool trail to hike around. The views change often between clusters of trees, epic views, and ridges above nearby valleys. There are also two wooden bridges to cross that add an element of fun. Of note, these last two trails are quite popular with mountain bikers so be on the lookout! Bicyclists should yield to hikers but it’s always a good idea to be extra aware. If you have a budding mountain biker, these are great trails to start trail riding on!
I have tested all of these trails with my own kids, and when it comes to hiking, they are rather high maintenance. When we first moved to Steamboat Springs, they did not like to hike for more than a few minutes and lost interest quickly, but I didn’t waver!
I am determined to foster their love of being outdoors so I have cultivated a few tips to make it more enjoyable for everyone! If your kids are troopers, don’t complain and can hike for 5 miles, bless your heart. If your kids are more like mine, here is some advice:
2. Scavenger hunt! There are several nature scavenger hunts you can find online. If I plan far enough in advance, I will print it out but often a screenshot of it on my phone works just fine. Having things to look for on the trail (ie. spider, purple flower, Y shaped stick, etc.) really helps to keep them excited and engaged.
3. Flower ID! My kids have also loved carrying along a small book on local wildflowers. They are enthralled with all the different colors and shapes of the flowers that blanket the surrounding area. Identifying them in the book has been something they really enjoy. Of note, wildflowers are peaked in late Spring to mid-late Summer.
4. Animal tracks! Be on the lookout for different animals as well as their tracks and scat. Wonder together about what animals could have caused the findings you see. Also, talk about how you would safely interact with different animals if you come across any!
5. Sketching! Bring along a notepad for kids to draw different things they might see. It’s fun to see how they interpret nature and what stands out to them.
Of course, don’t forget sunscreen, water, and hats. A way to comfortably carry younger kids should they not be able to walk further (or at all) is also helpful. We used to have a backpack carrier when our kids were younger. Now we wear or pack something called the Piggyback Rider in case our youngest, who is 3 years old, needs a break.
Now get out there and create some memories!