You hear people all year talk about Steamboat’s summers – how beautiful, temperate, and sunny they are for three months straight. It’s all true. But in my opinion, autumn is the secret of Steamboat Springs. During September and October, the days are just as lovely as summer – although the nights require a heavier jacket. The trees start to turn colors on the mountain first, and before you know it the town is alive with golden aspens. Roads are quieter. It’s like the mountain is listening to everyone’s laughter before the snow falls.
In the fall, you’ll definitely want to head up to Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Golden aspens surround the pools, so if you go up for the sunset then you will get to drink in the colors and the starlight. It’s not too cold, so getting in and out of the pools won’t be brutal – it’ll just be refreshing.
Don’t miss the mid-September Yampa Valley Crane Festival, a five-day celebration of the Greater Sandhill Crane in Steamboat Springs and Hayden. The festival features artwork, talks, nature walks, and naturally, crane viewing in their Yampa habitats.
The end of September closes out the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, and leads into a tranquil October. There are plenty of free Saturdays to climb in Butcherknife Canyon, run 5ks, and work on creative projects like the kids’ Cardboard Classic Boat Race. All the while, the summer tourism has quieted down, making each and every visitor to the valley feel like the weekend was made-to-order just for you.
Once you get free of September, that’s when the valley opens up. Go for a country drive up Buffalo Pass (or “Buff Pass” as it’s affectionately known by locals), and if you’ve rented a 4WD car with a decent clearance, the trek up to Summit Lake is worth it in the autumn sunshine. You may see deer, foxes, and elk on your way up and back, and getting five miles into the middle of nowhere to a lake surrounded by golden trees is as close as Steamboat gets to paradise. There are plenty of pull-offs along the way for those of you who forgot to fill up the gas tank or didn’t think to get a 4×4 truck for your visit, and you’ll still get a beautiful view of the valley.
The Mad Creek Barn hike is an ideal trek for anyone looking for a lazy day or bringing the kids out of Denver for the weekend. The easy to moderate hike opens up to great fields at the edge of the Zirkel Wilderness. It’s perfect hiking weather in October: just comfortable enough that you won’t get sweaty. Elect someone to put a picnic lunch on their back and spread out next to the 100-year old barn. While the day away, if you will. After all, you’re on Steamboat-time now.