Labor Day weekend in Steamboat Springs is all about free concerts and courageous cowboys riding snorting bulls. But that doesn't mean you can't squeeze several quick outdoor adventures into your schedule, even if you brought the kids along.
Steamboat is a place where people go downtown to have an outdoor adventure. You can start a fishing trip no more than 50 paces from a restaurant table. The same is true of climbing an 8,000 foot mountain, or pedaling a mountain bike up a two-track leading to the top of Emerald Mountain known informally as the "Lane of Pain."
Here are some modest suggestions, in reverse order.
Climb a rock safely.
Experienced climbers can find some quick bouldering right on the edge of old town. Traveling west on Lincoln, turn right on Sixth, left on Laurel, right on Logan to Stehley Park and follow the creek upstream to the rocks.
If you don't know what you're doing, call Rocky Mountain Ventures at 870-8440. For $65 a half day, they'll provide beginners with gear, a shuttle to a nearby cliff and lessons.
Photograph a rainbow over Mount Werner.
We're predicting a short rain shower at 5:30 p.m. tonight. It will be immediately followed by a rainbow. The slopes of Emerald Mountain behind Howelsen Hill will be the ideal spot to get a photograph of the rainbow over the Thunderhead gondola terminal on the ski mountain. From the top of the ski jumps, continue climbing up the trail known as "Loop 1" to the "gas line." Merge with "Loop 3" and watch for the rocky overlook at the switchback. You'll have an unimpeded view of this evening's rainbow.
Catch an urban brown trout steps from Lincoln Avenue.
The most consistent fishing for large trout in the area is in the Yampa River in the city limits. The seasonal low flows mean the fish are congregated anywhere small waterfalls pour into deep pools. All you have to do is stop into any one of three fly fishing shops on Lincoln Avenue and ask them to show you their woolly buggers. They'll take it from there. Trust us on this one.
Head 'em up and move 'em out.
If Saturday night's screening of "City Slickers" inspired you to cowboy up, consider taking part in a cattle drive. Saddleback Ranch (879-3711) and Overlook Ranch (871-1427) offer roundups for greenhorns. Bring your own lariat.
Sniff the phlox at the botanic park.
The late summer blossoms at Yampa River Botanic Park smell better than any cattle drive we've ever been on. And the botanic park is free. Garden supervisor Gayle Noonan says the tall-stemmed garden phlox are a riot of pink, purple and white blooms. The water lilies are in full bloom and the annual beds are at their peak. The botanic park is an easy bike ride or walk from downtown Steamboat via the Yampa River Core Trail. A parking lot is available from U.S. 40 via Trafalger Drive and Pamela Lane. But you're missing the best of Steamboat if you don't take the trail. No bikes or dogs in the park.
Lose your blues at the Lithia Springs.
Lithium was once a common remedy for manic depression and some longtime locals swear by the calming effect of drinking the milky waters of the Lithia Spring. It looks just like a bubbling hot tub, but its water temperature is 78 degrees, and you're not allowed to bathe in it. The city cautions against drinking the water -- you can make up your own mind. Driving west on Lincoln Avenue, turn left at the stoplight at 13th Street. After a mile, watch for a left on Lithia Spring Drive. No thrills here, just a piece of Steamboat lore and a possible attitude adjustment.
Go mountain biking -- without the pain.
The Steamboat Ski Area will ferry you and a mountain bike to the 9,000-foot Thunderhead summit via the gondola. Tickets are $16 for people and $8 for bikes.
You can ride higher if you choose, but you paid for the luxury of cruising all that downhill, without any pain. Packages are available that include bike and helmet rental with a gondola pass. Call 871-5252.
Gaze down from the top of a World Cup ski jump.
Watching a field of international athletes flinging their skinny bodies off the top of the K120 ski jump at Howelsen Hill is almost commonplace in Steamboat. If you've ever wondered how those guys get the courage to do that, hike around the west flank of Howelsen Hill and confront your fear. From Lincoln Avenue, turn south on Fifth Street and take a quick right to the parking lot at Howelsen. With the skate park at your back, stare straight up Howelsen Hill at the takeoff of the "Graham Ski Jump."
Begin hiking to your right up the steep grade just beyond the softball diamond. The broad trail switches back onto a gentle ski run known as Mile Run.
After a half a mile, veer to your left toward the ski jump. Stay off the ski jump structure itself, but gaze down the track and try to imagine yourself going off the ski jump at 60 mph.
Don't do anything foolish.
Run to the waterfall -- the second one.
Every year many thousands of visitors gaze upon Fish Creek Falls, just outside town in the Routt National Forest. Only a relative handful ascend the hanging glacial valley to the second falls. Trail runners, this is for you. Driving west on Lincoln, turn right at Third Street, and right again on Fish Creek Falls Road. You can't get lost. Pay the government $5 to park. If you're ambitious, you can run all the way to the Continental Divide.
No. 1 mini adventure
Gaze into Wyoming.
Everyone spies the Rabbit Ears rock formation on their way back to Denver from Steamboat, but more people should slow down and plan to take a hike to the Ears. When you get there, the view to the north on a clear day reveals 11,000-foot Medicine Bow Peak. The mountain is just west of Laramie, in the next state to the north.
Driving east on U.S. Highway 40, begin to look for a left turn into Dumont Lake when the trip odometer says you've traveled 19 miles from Steamboat. Continue on Forest Road 315 for a mile until you get to a marker for the old route of U.S. 40. Turn left on Forest Road 311. Climb a series of switchbacks until you get a good view of the Rabbit Ears. Dump the SUV in an informal parking lot and set off on the 5-mile round-trip hike. You'll enjoy a close-up look at the volcanic formations that form the Rabbit Ears themselves, and when you glimpse Medicine Bow Peak in the distance, you may decide to make its summit your next adventure.