Just because you're not out hunting this fall doesn't mean you have to miss out on Northwest Colorado's plethora of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. With cooler weather, smaller crowds and the vibrant turning of the leaves, spectacular chances to hike, bike and visit local attractions in the fall is one of the region's best kept secrets.
Yampatika, a nonprofit environmental education organization associated with the U.S. Forest Service, offers interpretive hikes and workshops throughout the fall that are inexpensive, informative and geared for all skill levels.
Angie KenCairn, an archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service, will guide a hike on several historic trails used by logging companies, tiehackers and ranchers north of Hahn's Peak from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 11.
Plant expert and outdoor educator Karen Vail leads an overnight, beginning backpack trip for women Sept. 18 and 19. The four-mile hike is designed to gently ease women into backpacking skills.
On Sept. 18, archaeologist Robyn Watkins Morris will guide a hike along the historic Wyoming Trail on Buffalo Pass from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Learn about the Yampa River, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the West, from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 9, during a "Yampa River Roll and Stroll" along the Yampa River Core Trail in Steamboat Springs. Interpretative stations and activities will be set up along the path between the U.S. Forest Service building on U.S. Highway 40 and Rotary Park, where a new wetlands boardwalk introduces visitors to this fragile ecosystem.
Yampatika is inside the U.S. Forest Service office at the corner of U.S. Highway 40 and Weiss drive, across from the Holiday Inn in Steamboat. Prices for the hikes mentioned above range from $5 per person for the Yampa River Core Trail walk, to $12 for the historic trail hikes, to $65 for the women's overnight backpacking trip. All trips start at the Yampatika office, which can be reached by calling (970) 871-9151.
In addition to deer and elk, there are plenty of opportunities for viewing other wildlife in Northwest Colorado.
Seventeen miles northwest of Maybell, Sandwash Basin is a designated wild horse herd management area encompassing approximately 160,000 acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Mustangs share Sandwash Basin's herds of elk, mule deer and pronghorn, and visitors touring the area's dirt roads are often treated to small gatherings of statuesque mustangs with long, flowing manes and colorful hides.
The Carpenter Ranch, a historic working cattle ranch east of Hayden that is owned and operated by The Nature Conservancy, is known as a birder's paradise and also is home to diverse wildlife such as bald eagles, beaver, fox, river otter, owls and sandhill cranes. Two workshops being taught there this fall include the art of field sketching with Marjorie Leggitt from Sept. 9 to 12 and an introduction to tracking with Marty Colon from Oct. 15 to 17. Registration and information is available by calling (720) 974-7057. Just down the road, The Nature Conservancy manages the 580-acre Yampa River Preserve, home to a two-mile walk that winds through the heart of a cottonwood forest and along the banks of the Yampa River. The preserve is open from dawn to dusk and visits are free of charge.
If you're looking for a leisurely way to explore the area's natural areas, consider a soak in the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. The natural springs are seven miles from downtown Steamboat at the end of Routt County Road 36, where hot springs flow out of the hillside at temperatures reaching 150 degrees, into the cold water creek and end up in stone-walled pools that are kept at varying temperatures from 104 degrees and lower. The park is open from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Satur-days. Admission is $3 for children 12 and younger, $5 for teens and $10 for adults.
There are also hot springs, cold pools and a heated water slide at the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association, on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat.
Other ways to take advantage of Northwest Colorado's unique natural and cultural heritage include a visit to Craig's Museum of Northwest Colorado, Steamboat Springs' Tread of Pioneers Museum or the Depot Art Center, where local artists will be on exhibit in the old train depot through Oct. 17, mixed media painters will be exhibiting from Oct. 23 to Nov. 7, and work by renowned ceramic artist Richard Notkin will be on display starting Nov. 12.
At Dinosaur National Monument, west of Craig, visitors can explore the scenic canyons or an interpretive excavation site teeming with dinosaur bones.
Fall is a good time to take advantage of a scenic hot air balloon ride, mountain bike rides, fishing in the abundant area lakes and hikes on Emerald Mountain, Routt National Forest, Mount Zirkel Wilderness and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. n