Steamboat Staycations: Close-to-home travel ideas
April 25, 2016
Who says you have to go to Botswana for your getaway? Summer or winter, countless adventures await closer to home, from renting cabins with a crackling fire to soaking in hot springs or taking the train to Glenwood. Read on for close-by vacations that let you stretch your legs and pocketbook while having you back home Sunday night — tan, rested and ready for the week ahead.
Soaking north of the border: Saratoga Resort & Spa
Strawberry Park Hot Springs may have a teepee as a changing room, but Saratoga Resort & Spa, two hours away in Saratoga, Wyoming, has that beat — four of its six hot springs are enclosed by 12-poled teepees, providing private pools for soaking. Combine that with a 70-foot-long spring for swimming, and you've got a warm, weekend retreat.
Known for their high mineral/low sulfur content, the springs — named for such famous Indians of the region as Sacajawea and chiefs Washakie, Red Cloud and Crazy Horse — invite Goldilocks-like sampling, with digital thermometers outside each displaying their temperatures.
And it's not just the pools that are warm. You're greeted with warm, Wyoming-friendly hospitality the moment you arrive. Custom touches include homemade chocolate chip cookies, trophy mounts adorning the lodge's barn wood walls, a gigantic, rock-walled fireplace in the lobby and 50 Western-themed rooms with such embellishments as feather top beds, branding irons, Indian blankets, elk horn chandeliers, photos of cowboy boots and wall mirrors framed with saddles.
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Then there's Healing Waters Spa in the old State Bath House building, offering everything from massages and manicures to exfoliating foot spas.
You'll soak in history as well. Originally known as the Indian Bath Tubs, the springs are located close to Grand Encampment — named by French fur traders in 1838 for a trade camp on the Encampment River. They were visited by such mountain men as Jim Bridger and Ben Holladay, who built the road for the Overland Stage Company, and drew ranchers, railroad workers and loggers who floated logs down the North Platte to Fort Steele.
In the 1870s, the Hugus and Chatterton Log Store was built onsite and after that came the Saratoga Hotel in 1884, named for a famous spa in New York. Serving as everything from drugstore and barbershop to a "ladies gathering place," the hotel burned down in 1902, with the state then turning it into the State Bath House, charging 50 cents per dip.
It was converted to an inn in 1949, with a nine-hole golf course added in 1958, and it's now owned by Denver spine surgeon Dr. Mike Janssen, 55, winner of the lifetime achievement award from Switzerland-based AOSpine. He's renovated the rooms and, best yet, added the Snowy Mountain Brewery.
When not soaking, come summer you can fly-fish area lakes or the blue-ribbon North Platte River, hike or golf; in winter, throw snowmobiling and cross country skiing in the Snowy Mountain Range into the mix.
But one thing's for sure — one meal at its Silver Saddle Restaurant, whose pot roast melts in your mouth like icicles in the springs, and you'll certainly want to do something.
To get there, take Colorado Highway 230 north from Walden and turn right at Riverside. Rates: $150-180 per night. Info: 800-594-0178, saratogaresortandspa.com.
Rustic comfort: Columbine Cabins
We're on the saddle below the summit of Hahns Peak, taking our skins off leeward of a wind-scoured pine. Far below to the west, a few hundred powder turns away, sits the quaint hamlet of Columbine Cabins nestled into the hills like the village of Whoville. Like the Grinch and his dog Max atop their sled, our skis will take us straight to our accommodations for the next two days.
That's the beauty of the former gold mining settlement of Columbine, founded in 1897 with a general store, post office, saloon and a few dozen gold miners' cabins. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it's like a hut trip you can drive to, letting you skin, cross country ski, sled and snowmobile right from your front porch. Add a gameroom-topped bathhouse, wood-fired sauna, commercial kitchen for larger gatherings and rustic cabins with everything you need, and it's tough to come home.
Linking wide-open glades to a centuries-old aspen forest with bear-clawed trunks, we ski down to the general store, where a note on the door says our cabin is ready. Without cell reception or wifi, next to it is our only contact with the outside world — a landline for local calls.
Our cabin is the Caron House, one of 14 with varying kitchen, bedroom and bathroom layouts. With three bedrooms and two bathrooms, it perfectly fits our party of six, which includes our Alaskan in-laws and their 7-year-old daughter. We figure this is as Alaskan an experience as we can give them.
We unload the car, fire up the wood stove in the cabin and sauna and settle into our quaint accommodations. Hooks are hung in all the right places for our gear, and the couch and corner table create a perfect nook for our guitars.
Unloading the cooler into the fridge and procuring our quarters, we kick up our feet by the fire and get into Columbine mode. The late afternoon sun coming through the window silhouettes my profile on the wood stove door. Outside the front window rises Hahns Peak harboring our tracks.
Soon, there's a knock at the door. It's Columbine's new owner, Todd Zvorak, who recently purchased the "resort" with his wife, Tammy. They're in their second month of operation, and he's making sure everything's OK. "It couldn't be better," we reply.
It's an uncrowded weekday, but he says last weekend all 14 cabins were booked by a Nederland group that's been coming here for 20 years.
We relax with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres before rallying the troops to the sauna, which has a mudroom for changing and chopping wood and a giant, horizontal cast iron barrel for a stove. Soon, hisses of water-splashed steam wisp off the stove, accompanying our ghost stories. A few snow-angels later, we feast on elk spaghetti before game room time, where we play pool, Bananagrams and Truth Be Told before returning to the cabin to play guitar and read in the rocking chair.
While we're here during the winter — enjoying its backcountry and cross-country skiing, skate skiing at Steamboat Lake and snowmobiling at Big Red Park — it's also a prime spot to visit in the summer. The cabins are located near Steamboat, Pearl and Hahns Peak lakes, offering vast tracts of the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness and national forest to explore.
Combined with its rustic elegance, Columbine Cabins are perfect for a romantic getaway as well as family or group gatherings. For now, however, it's hard to think too far ahead beyond the next log on the fire.
Info: Columbine Cabins are a 45-minute drive from Steamboat Springs; follow U.S. Highway 40 west and turn right on Elk River Road (Colorado Highway 129). Rates range from $90 to $180 per night year-round. Info: 970-879-5522, http://www.historiccolumbine.com
Soaking Steamboat-style: Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Walking down the stone steps and manicured gravel path, the oasis of Strawberry Park Hot Springs beckons travelers, skiers and hikers to relax in one of Steamboat Springs' most heralded amenities.
Few places have Strawberry Park's historic, rustic charm. Here, life is simple. The frenzy of a work week or non-stop vacation is a distant thought. Cue the wine and watch meteorites streak through the sky as you make your way from your cozy cabin to the springs.
When we arrive, we feel like we have booked a room at the Ritz Carlton of rustic hotels. We get a prime parking spot near our room and the use of a newly remodeled, solar-powered private bathroom for overnight guests. The quaint Covered Wagon cabin where we're staying comes with a double mattress, two benches and outdoor kitchenette area with grill and picnic table — all just a five-minute walk to the springs.
More of glamping than hotel outing, all we had to bring was our sleeping bags, headlamps, lantern, food, warm clothes, swimsuits and towels.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs offers overnight stays year-round in six cabins that sleep two to four each, including the Caboose, which comes with a small kitchenette, and three Covered Wagons. All of the cabins and wagons have a grill for cooking, or you can bring your own stove (the Caboose has a stovetop). Come summertime, four campsites are available near the creek.
According to manager Joe Stepan, Ute Indians were the first to soak in the springs, followed by homesteaders in the 1880s. Its current charm is owed to owner Don Johnson, who first discovered the springs cross country skiing with a friend before buying the property in 1981.
Settling into our quarters, we toast with wine and nibble cheese before heading down to the springs as stars begin to blanket the sky. Aware of its "clothing-optional-after-dark" policy, we plunge in and sample Strawberry Park Hots Springs' many different pools, each a different size and temperature, divided by stone walls and waterfalls. A private pool is used for watsu warm water massages, and the facility also offers Swedish massages.
Conversation flowing as easy as the rising steam, on a dare, we jump into the coldest pool before warming up again and eventually heading back for hors d'oeuvres in our little kitchenette.
As the evening crowd dwindles, we make our way back for the best part of the night when we are seem to be the only people there (overnight guests can also enjoy a solitary soak before the pools open to the public at 10 a.m.).
With worries melting away along with the soreness of our muscles, we sit and stare up at the sky, finding it hard to fathom an oasis so close to town that feels so far away.
Info: Strawberry Park Hot Springs is located seven miles from downtown Steamboat Springs at the end of Routt County Road 36. Cabin rates range from $65 to $175 per night year-round, including springs admission (note: BYO bedding, cookware, stove and towels; no pets). No glass or alcohol in the springs. In the summer, you can also hike or bike to the springs from the Mad Creek Trailhead, just six miles out of town on Routt County Road 129 (U.S. Forest Service Trail 1169). Info: 970-879-0342, http://www.strawberryhotsprings.com
Other close-to-home getaways
Steamboat Lake Cabins
While these quaint little cottages might not offer a lot of living space, their spacious views make up for it. Nestled around Steamboat Lake in 2,820-acre Steamboat Lake State Park, and perfect for a summer lake holiday or winter cross-country skiing retreat, the log cabins come with hand-crafted or built-in beds as well as electric heat, coffee makers and refrigerators/freezers. There are 10 in all, sleeping four to six people, with two heated, coin-operated shower houses with flush toilets and running water. While they don't offer kitchen facilities (bring a stove or grill to cook on the porch), they include a campfire ring and picnic table, so bring the s'mores. Info: $80/night, steamboatlakemarina.com.
Horse & Hen Bed and Breakfast
Looking for a home away from home on an actual real live farm? With ranch roots dating back to 1934, Hayden's Horse & Hen Bed and Breakfast serves up four, cozy two-person rooms in an authentic farmhouse complete with resident farm animals (you can even rent to whole house). When not indulging in farm-fresh meals — crafted from a backyard of free-range chickens, cows, pigs, produce and more — guests can collect eggs, help garden and irrigate, plein air paint and bird watch. Come winter, add snowshoeing and cross country skiing to the list. Regardless of the season, the visit will bring out the country spirit in anyone, down to the sun coming up and cakes on the griddle. Info: $109-$149/night, horseandheninn.com.
Three Forks Ranch
While a tad high-end (hot stone spa and infinity pool, anyone?), you get what you pay for at Three Forks Ranch, located 75 minutes north of town. Featured in askmen.com, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, the resort is known for its world-class fly-fishing on the Little Snake River (the river's North, South and Middle forks join onsite), as well as its luxury accommodations and dining. Rates include meals, house wines and liquors, evening cocktail and hors d'oeurves, exercise room, steam rooms, pool and hot tubs, silver platter coffee service, afternoon tea, recreation equipment and more. As far as non-snow activities, 50,000 acres of private land serve up world-class fishing, hunting, horseback riding and hiking, while winter adds snowmobiling, snowshoeing, skiing and ice fishing to the mix. Info: $695-$845/night, threeforksranch.com.
Glen Eden Resort
Eighteen miles north of town, Glen Eden Resort blends modern and rustic — mustic? — for a welcome escape from the grind of "the big city." Thirty-five cabins sleep four to eight and come with fireplaces, mini kitchens and more, with an array of onsite amenities to keep you busy 'til the nearby cows come home. In the winter, soak in its hot tubs after a sleigh ride, snowmobile tour or cross country ski. Come summer enjoy a heated swimming pool, tennis courts, BBQ area, campfire circle, volleyball court, horseshoe pit and private fishing access on the Elk River. An onsite restaurant provides grub if you don't want to cook your own but hit the nearby Clark Store for locally raised beef to throw on the outdoor grill. Info: $132-$272/night (depending on season), glenedenresort.com.
Pearl Lake Yurts
Thoreau can have his Walden's Pond. For a similar lakeside getaway close to Steamboat, check out the Yurts at Pearl Lake. The round, platformed tents offer electric heat, ceiling fans, screened windows, skylights, tables and chairs, two sets of bunk beds, picnic tables and fire pits, providing a camping experience with added luxuries. In the winter, the yurts are accessible via snowshoe, ski or snowmobile, with the same amenities. The only knock is that there is no cooking set-up, meaning you have to bring your own stove and cook on the deck outside. But that's a small price to pay for bunk-side, out-of-the-elements access to thousands of acres of national forest and beautiful Pearl Lake. Info: $80/night, cpw.state.co.us
Hahn's Peak Roadhouse
At 8,128 feet in Hahn's Peak Village, Hahn's Peak Roadhouse adds elevation in altitude and adventure. It offers lodging ranging from hotel-style rooms to two-bedroom, rustic-feeling cabins, all equipped with modern luxuries. But its main selling point is its location and activities. In the winter, rent its snowmobiles to sled some of the best terrain in the country, or horseback ride and sleigh ride right from your door. In summer, throw in wagon rides, ATV/Ranger tours and rentals and recreating and fishing on Steamboat Lake. Add a great on-site restaurant, bar and live music, combined with a homey fireplace/living room, and the Roadhouse lives up to its motto — "Where Fun Never Ends." Info: $109-$219/night, hahnspeakroadhouse.com.
While Guest Ranch County USA might sound contrived, it could ring true for Routt County. Offering luxurious longer vacations for the whole family, the wilderness north of Steamboat is rife with ranches providing all-inclusive packages combining fine dining and lodging, guided activities and genuine Western hospitality. All offer such activities as yoga, horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing and more, as well as kids' programs designed to give parents time to relax. Top it off with gourmet meals and warm cozy cabins and it's a mountain heaven you won't want to leave. Info: Vista Verde Guest Ranch (vistaverde.com); The Home Ranch (homeranch.com); Elk River Guest Ranch (elkrivergr.com).
Tired of your own home décor? Located in the heart of downtown Steamboat Springs, Mariposa Lodge offers a great change of scenery. The Western-style home with a Southwestern interior can be rented out by room bed-and-breakfast style or, for bigger parties, the entire home. Bed-and-breakfast guests get the chance to know their fellow visitors over gourmet breakfasts in the kitchen and relaxing in the living room. Rooms are outfitted with varying king and queen beds and private bathrooms. Whole lodge rental comes with or without the service of the hosts, locals Bob Maddox, Danielle Steeves, Flint Teitsworth and Annie Kavanaugh. From $160/night; steamboatmariposa.com.
Seedhouse Guard Station
Although constructed in 1933, the Seedhouse Guard Station has stood the test of time and become an easy-access cabin perfect for adventuring staycationers in winter or summer. Situated along the North Fork of the Elk River with the Mount Zirkel Wilderness in view, summertime trailheads are a short drive away, and, come winter, backcountry skiing is right out your backdoor. The station is furnished with two sets of bunkbeds with mattresses, sleeping up to four people, and includes a propane range, refrigerator, lights, heater, table and chairs, utensils and cookware. Drinking water and electricity are not provided, but the cabin does have a campfire ring outside and accessible firewood, as well as grills. Guests may also bring their own horses and keep them in the on-site corral or pasture. Info: $65/night, http://www.recreation.gov.