As we really only get to steal our youngest daughter away for a week in the summer (due to summer jobs and school activities), this year, we decided to escape the Atlanta heat and humidity (#drippy!) and head to the mountains of Colorado- specifically Steamboat Springs and Estes Park. I have always wanted to soak in the hot springs somewhere and our daughter has wanted to show us Rocky Mountain National Park since her 8th grade school trip.
We started our trip in Denver, for a quick overnight at our cousin’s house- it’s always wonderful to have time with family you don’t see too often! And boy, she makes a mean french toast- so we were spoiled silly.
We have this cool luggage digital scale – it’s been very helpful to make sure don’t overpack, especially with a teenager in tow…
Steamboat Springs / Idaho Springs
Our first journey was from Denver to Steamboat Springs. Quite a scenic drive and took us about 3 hours; granted we were behind a few campers and folks pulling boats, so couldn’t quite drive the speed limit. The road grade got a little steep in places (6-7%), but was a fairly simple drive. During ski season, you can fly directly to the airport in Steamboat springs, but this time of year, a Denver flight and drive made sense to us.
Our trick is to setup an alert on Airfarewatchdog to watch for low fares 🙂
We stopped in Idaho Springs for lunch (see below under restaurant listing) and as we weren’t in a major rush, we decided to check out a couple of the stores; and of course my daughter saw “hippie shop” and couldn’t resist. This was a cute little western town and we all found some type of souvenir.
Steamboat Springs, CO: Our Steamboat Springs rental was thru Pioneer Ridge Properties (See VRBO link below), and we had a condo right in the heart of Steamboat Springs. We couldn’t have picked a better location, since we love walking, eating and shopping!
Check out this Condo, it’s gorgeous:
The couch pulls out into a full bed- and our daughter said it was very comfy. We could easily see ourselves staying here for a few weeks, so may do this again someday. Check out the views from the patio (there are two rooftop bars right in line of sight, so that was kinda fun). We sat on the porch with a glass of wine and felt like we were part of the party. I can imagine being here in the winter and having a direct view of all the skiers coming down that mountain! There are a few groceries available at the Sinclair gas station across the street, as well as a liquor store right next door. You can also catch the free bus that will take you to the other end of town (~2 miles) to the Safeway.
Estes Park, CO: We found a cute condo at the end of the main street to town (so just about 10 minutes walking distance to the center of town, which we LOVE walk-ability!) Airbnb Elk’s Meadow The owner was super responsive, gave us restaurant recommendations and had all sorts of thoughtful things in the condo- coffee, variety of containers for food storage, backpack, wonderful soaps, citronella candle on the front porch.
Consider bringing some good bug spray as well!
The condo was comfy and cozy and would be excellent in the winter as well as it had a fireplace! There was a brand new pull out couch that my daughter said was super comfortable. We were able to get some groceries at the Safeway (~1/2 mile walk) so we could have breakfast on the cute front porch each morning. There is a trolley that comes by every 30 minutes or so to take you to town- that is VERY nice!!! There is a stream that runs on the edge of the property and it was quite peaceful to watch.
There is a cute bunny on property as well who was ALWAYS waiting for us to come outside to play
And we had Elk in the yard the last evening we were there!
Westbound and Down: Idaho Springs; (stopped in while driving between Denver and Steamboat Springs. The place was hopping and the food was pretty good. Yeah, this was one of those times where I forgot to take the pictures when the meal arrived. Hubby had a Buffalo Burger (said it was good), and daughter and I split a Salmon Patty burger and a salad. Glass of wine for me and a beer for the dear and we were all set. Cute spot, western ambiance and good service.
And a picture of the menu:
Mambo: Steamboat Springs: We ended up at a wonderful Italian restaurant called Mambo. Their outdoor patio is beautiful, and they have a garden (herbs and such) that they use in all their cooking. The waitress, Karen, was fantastic and took the time to explain what was homemade, what was locally provided, etc. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the patio was PACKED. Very popular spot. While we were greatly tempted by the pizza, we decided to go for the homemade pasta choices:
And if you’d like a peek at the menu:
Mahogany Brewery, Steamboat Springs: This place was recommended by our flyfishing crew, so how could you turn it down? They told us it had the best happy hour in town! Check out Mahogany Ridge Brewery They had live music and a wonderful patio. Their happy hour specials were $1 each- picture below. We weren’t too hungry after the happy hour plate- so we shared a chicken sandwich 🙂 Best priced meal we had all trip!
Ed’s Cantina, Estes Park: I’m going to skip the link, this just wasn’t all that great. Go for a margarita, save your calories for elsewhere. This town doesn’t know how to do Mexican, check out yelp reviews and run. There are tons of other great spots 🙂
Mavericks, Granby; We stopped in to Mavericks Grill for a lunch while we were midway between Steamboat and Estes Park. This a little country mountain town and the food was homey and portions were huge. Try the buffalo chicken sandwich (minus the bun, all those carbs were too additive) and hubby said the specialty green chile was really good – but not very spicy). The steak fries were FANTASTIC!
Antonio’s Pizza, Estes Park; DO NOT MISS Antonios Pizza, oh my word it was amazing. It’s very small inside, but large outdoor picnic table style seating, or take it to go. Boy the pizza was tasty; we had BBQ chicken and Buffalo Chicken (we have a thing with Chicken)…
Rock Inn, Estes Park: While on our Rocky Mountain National Park Green Jeep Tour (boy that’s a mouthful), our driver, Pete, suggested that we check out this restaurant that has live music and fresh food. It is not in the downtown portion of Estes, but was next to a hotel, but still felt like it had more locals than not (which we like). Rock Inn served up a happy hour from 4-5p, but we didn’t arrive until 5:15p so missed it! Anyway, I had the Honey-almond salmon (added some salt as it was pretty sweet), and hubby had a burger- said it was good. Our service was very good, other than a forgotten salad, which I didn’t need anyway. Portions were large, and overall was kinda pricey, but it was nice to listen to live music and enjoy the country ambiance. We would definitely return.
Things to Do:
Steamboat Flyfishing, Steamboat Springs: Steamboat Flyfisher When we think about all the fun things we did on vacation, this one may just top the list. We had reserved a full day (6-7 hours on the water) fly fishing trip; which may have been kinda crazy since we hadn’t been before, but it was SUCH a fun day. We left around 8:45 am on a Sunday- so it was super quiet in town. We were suited up for our waders (sexy!) and boots and headed out to a beautiful stream in the country.
Check out these views:
If you ever need to just listen to nature, here you go…
Our guides, Keith and Billy were SO patient with us; showing us different techniques (and each of us were a little different, so they adjusted accordingly until we found a method that worked for us). We caught some beautiful Rainbow Trout and Whitefish. It was all catch and release, so we were kind to the fishies. They brought a wonderful deli lunch; and we were all sore at the end of the day from all the hard work! Definitely put this one on your agenda.
Pro Rodeo, Steamboat Springs Steamboat Pro Rodeo If you’d like to truly experience the “wild west”, then here is a show for you. Yeah, it’s a little cheesy, but first, the talent required to actually rope a calf, or ride a bucking bronco, is no small thing. These kids (for the most part), are working very hard at their trade. The rodeo team was pretty good about explaining things too, including have detailed descriptions in the programs, as they know they gets tons of visitors. As it was a Saturday nite, they were having a big BBQ, so we went early to get some dinner and grab some good seats. Seating is pretty much first come/first served, so go early.
My daughter found this video strangely satisfying… lol…
They even had a kids event where they were trying to get the ribbon off the sheep (poor guy!)
Strawberry Hot Springs, Steamboat Springs: If you are going to take the time to visit any springs area, you should take the time to give one a try. A friend recommended Strawberry Hot Springs it was about a 20 minute ride from town. We went during the day, as were told it’s adult only and clothing optional after dark. It was a bit chilly at the higher elevation, but the springs themselves were nice and warm. You could be in hotter/cooler pools depending on what you want. There are restrooms and changing areas as well, but bring your own towels unless you want to buy a couple. Other than me, my family was not a fan of this entire experience… beautiful flowers tho, and we did see a dear stumble out into the clearing. Tons of people here tho…
Farmers Market, Steamboat Springs: Now THIS is how a farmers market is done! Lots of tents, tons of food to eat/walk, natural products, amazing smells, yummy fruits and veggies and live music. This is a winner and is every Saturday smack dab in front of our condo. (Link to VRBO above, Howelson Place). And that CREPE! Wow. Buffalo Chicken crepe with jalapeno… unbelievably good.
People are funny here, I like it!
Green Jeep Wildlife Tour, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park. Now I normally do not like off-roading of any kind, so I hesitated a bit. But after reading a few yelp reviews and sending a few messages, Green Jeep Tour was our choice. Pete picked us up at our condo right on time, and we let him know that we were mostly interested in seeing wildlife. We spent three hours at a variety of stops in the park, including these gorgeous waterfalls:
We also went to some pretty high elevations and yep, there was still SNOW up there. Pete was full of funny stories, jokes, and all sorts of educational tidbits that we didn’t know…
More stunning views:
Pete even educated us on the flowers:
and lastly, wait for it… YEP, we did see some wildlife 🙂
Rocky Mountain National Park on your own: Seriously, take the time to go to the park on your own, hike, take a picnic, or just drive around. You will be at a variety of elevations, it may rain when you get up to the highest points and then be super hot below. Stop and stroll along a stream or waterfall. We found this little spot at Bear Lake and wow… just wow, we packed some deli sandwiches and drinks and sat on a bit flat rock and just enjoyed the quiet.
Don’t laugh, but we were told to bring some bear spray, bug spray and a compass. We used the bug spray; but it felt good to have the other items along for the ride.
And lastly- and end to a perfect vacation- the Sunset view in Steamboat:
And the Sunset View in Estes- both Perfect!!