With a moniker suggesting a vast lake or river nearby but adjacent to neither, Steamboat Springs is an oddly named place. A quick Google search will inform any amateur historian that the name comes from the sounds emitted from the area’s numerous hot springs which early settlers likened to a steamboat.
History aside, our trip (sans Crosby) to Steamboat Springs actually began with two days in one of our favorite cities, Fort Collins. We spent two days running errands, shopping, eating, relaxing, and exploring more of Poudre Canyon. Highlights included a hike to a picnic spot in the Red Feather Lakes area, an excellent pizza dinner at Otto Pint, and sleeping in past 6am. The rough itinerary for the second leg of our journey included 3 nights backpacking, 2 nights at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, and a free day or two.
We had never ventured over the Front Range via CO-14 and the drive proved beautiful, but the views were hampered by persistent rain and clouds. Luckily, the rain abated as we arrived in Steamboat and made our way north to the Slavonia Trail Head where we were going to strike out for either Mica or Gilpin Lake (we hadn’t decided yet). Speaking with some helpful locals in the parking area, we decided Mica sounded a little more up our alley with a shorter approach, camping closer to the lake, and perhaps most importantly, fewer people.
The hike up was short, but steep and we made good time as a result of the brooding thunderheads building overhead. Soon after arriving at the lake, these thunderheads turned into a high altitude thunderstorm complete with hail and high winds. We set up camp in the midst of the squall, the wind bending one of our aluminum tent poles in the process. Our gear secured for the moment, we shared a beer in the tent and napped until the storm passed.
The next morning was bright and crystal clear. We spent the morning fishing and the afternoon climbing an easy saddle north of Mica Lake and up the shoulder of Little Agnes Mountain for a picnic. The view back down into the valley was spectacular and well worth the time and effort of the climb.
Our original plan was to camp in the backcountry for three nights, however, the forecast for our final day was not ideal and neither one of us relished the thought of packing up wet gear. We decided to enjoy our second morning and then head down the trail in the early afternoon. Another, smaller storm had passed through in the wee hours of our second night and finally brought us some fishing luck. Molly and I fished away the morning, both catching some decent brookies and cutthroat.
The hike out was cake and upon returning to our vehicle, we decided to drive north to the Hahn’s Peak area to see if we could find anywhere decent to camp in our 4-Runner. Although the Hahn’s Peak Roadhouse was an interesting diversion after a few days in the backcountry, we didn’t see any decent camping spots on the numerous 4WD roads in the area. Damn, we would just have to find a hotel… Equipped with the reasoning that it would be our 10-year anniversary in September we booked a night at the Steamboat Grand. The hotel was well-appointed with beautiful outdoor pools and we savored our evening in 5-star accommodations after two nights in a tent.
Our check-in at Strawberry Park was not until 5pm the following day so we spent the morning and most of the afternoon exploring Steamboat. The shopping was plentiful and the fly fishing in the Yampa River running through town was exceptional.
After a successful day depleting our bank account and catching hefty trout, we checked into Cabin 4 at Strawberry Park Hot Springs and were completely blown away. Our one-room cabin was tucked back privately into a mountainside overlooking a valley with a great view of the sunset. The pools themselves were a masterpiece blending engineering, art, and nature together in perfect balance. We spent the days at Strawberry soaking in the many pools, playing in the icy stream, and grilling at the cabin.
As with all good things, our time at Strawberry Park had to end and we reluctantly took one last morning soak before pointing the car southeast toward Denver and our patiently waiting son at his grandparents’ in Iowa. Not wanting to tackle the entire drive from Steamboat to Iowa in one day, we decided to give the vanlife a try. Since we didn’t own a van, we had thrown a futon mattress in the back of our 4-Runner in hopes we would find some good (and free!) camping in a national forest. As luck would have it, we found a great spot along a 4WD road in Arapahoe National Forest about an hour outside of Denver. We cooked dinner, piled our gear into the front seats and on top of the truck, and cozied up with a book. On the drive east the following day, Molly and I both agreed that this version of camping was much faster, cheaper, and warmer than the tent option.
On our somewhat truncated drive back East, Molly and I reflected on our trip. This had been the first vacation she and I had taken alone since the birth of our son over a year and a half prior. As much as we missed Crosby, it was a genuine treat to spend 10 days away from the real world with each other reconnecting.