Best Foot Forward
● By Christina Freeman
Ben Wetzel heads up Hahn's Peak Trail at sunset. Photo by Noah Wetzel.
Steamboat Springs is a hiker’s paradise. Walk every day and never cover the same trail twice. Opt for an in-town short walk or clamber off the beaten track seeking an afternoon of solitude. Top 10 locals’ favorites start from slow and sedate to full-scale scrambles.
Yampa River Core Trail
Bustling with activity, the Yampa River Core Trail offers a scenic 7-mile paved walk, with must -see stops including the Yampa River Botanic Park along the way. Soak up the atmosphere of river life while strolling at your own pace from one end of town to the other.
Vista Nature Trail
Perfect for those seeking a low-impact, short hike on Mount Werner with views at every turn. The trail is less than 1 mile long starting and ending at the top of the gondola. Little hikers can keep their eyes open for wooden nature signs along the way, and don't forget to pack a picnic to enjoy at a scenic stop.
Start downtown and finish in the national forest on this 5.2-mile, hugely popular multi-use trail. The hike starts out going uphill gradually on a dirt road to Spring Creek Park with a covered rest stop, pretty lake and option for a short loop walk around the water. The creekside trail continues through a narrow canyon on single-track, climbing up to Dry Lake Campground, off Buffalo Pass Road. Kids love the park, and the lake loop is ideal for young families.
Getting there: From Lincoln Avenue turn north on Third Street, turn right onto Fish Creek Falls Road for 0.3 mile, go left on Amethyst Drive for 0.4 mile to trailhead on right at Spring Creek Road. Parking is off street.
Fish Creek Falls
The jewel in Steamboat's scenic crown is a 283-foot waterfall pouring out of the Zirkel Wilderness. Three hiking options allow hikers of all abilities to access views of the falls. The overlook is a ½-mile, fully paved trail with rest stops and informational boards highlighting native plants and wildlife. A 1/4-mile, steep dirt trail leads down to the base of the falls with a pathway to the Overlook trail if hikers wish to make a loop. A 6-mile hike continues up from the falls following steep switchbacks through dense evergreen forest and aspen groves opening into a lush valley. The trail leads to the second falls, Long Lake and the Continental Divide Trail.
Getting there: From Lincoln Avenue, turn north on Third Street, then right on Fish Creek Falls Road. Follow to the end. $5 daily parking fee.
The biggest challenge hiking on downtown’s Emerald Mountain is choosing which path to take. The most popular option is a 4-mile round trip to the quarry, up Blackmere Road. The climb is relatively steep but nowhere can such panoramic views of the Yampa Valley and Mount Werner be found.
Getting there: Turn down 13th Street off U.S. 40, cross the railway line, left onto Gilpin, then left again on Saratoga. Park in designated areas along the loop.
Only 5 or so miles outside of town, this hike feels surprisingly remote despite the popularity of the trail. A steep ascent up a gravely track has one huffing and puffing but that's soon lost by the sound from the roaring creek below and the more gentle terrain that follows. Large grassy meadows, the old barn by Mad House and fishing spots by the creek make ideal picnic stops. Various other trails can be accessed from Mad Creek Trail.
Getting there: from U.S. 40 take Routt County Road 129 towards Clark for 5 1/2 miles. A small fenced-in parking area on the right is marked Mad Creek Trail.
A hike to the rocky landmark dubbed Rabbit Ears for its distinctive dual pillar formation is a must. During peak flowering months the initial walk takes hikers through a patchwork quilt of color ascending gently to a short, challenging climb at the end. Views abound, but be warned: so can mosquitoes, so be prepared and it'll be worth every step.
Getting there: From Rabbit Ears Pass take the turn for Dumont Lake for approximately 1 mile to an old stone monument. Turn left onto dirt road FSR 131 and almost immediately look for marker 291 on the right. The hike begins at the marker.
Sarvis Creek Trail
Surrounded by dense forest in parts, the trail follows Sarvis Creek before entering a valley framed by rocky terrain. A haven for wildlife, the trail allows hikers to marvel at the geology, mixed flora and fauna, typically in relative solitude. A steep ascent starts the hike for almost two miles.
Getting there: From U.S. 40, take Colorado 131 south for little over 4 miles. Turn left onto Routt County Road 18 and drive approximately 3 ½ miles. At the Y, turn left and drive 3 miles to the Sarvis Creek Trail #1105 sign, turn left to the parking area.
The Zirkel Circle
An 11-mile loop that starts from the Slavonia trailhead takes hikers past Gilpin Creek to the magnificent Gilpin Lake, over to Gold Creek Lake, down Gold Creek trail and back to Slavonia Trailhead. Views are incredible, but the terrain is steep. Be prepared for water crossings along the way.
Getting there: Take Routt County Road 129 to Clark from U.S. 40 for 18 miles until just past Clark. Go right on Seedhouse Road, FDR 400 for 11.9 miles to Slavonia. Parking is at the end of the road. Several trails begin from this point.
Little compares to the sheer adrenaline rush of crossing Devil's Causeway in the Flat Tops Wilderness. At an elevation of 11,800 feet and only several feet wide in places, the sheer drop can set most hearts pounding. Beautiful wild flowers and picturesque Little Causeway Lake reward hikers with spectacular vistas.
Getting there: From Yampa, take County Road 7 south for 6 miles, then continue an additional 9 miles on FSR 900 to the parking area on the north side of Stillwater Reservoir. Take East Fork Trail, No. 1119.