For this family of four, we like the short and sweet scenic drives (the operative word in this scenario, being SWEET).
1. Elk River Road
We happily pile in the car, buckle into boosters and travel north for about 30 minutes on Elk River Road (Routt County Road 129) from Steamboat Springs proper to the Steamboat Lake area.
We take quick and easy walks in nature around the lake, or just soak up the gorgeous views of Hahn’s Peak from the roadside. And we always try to spot a deer or elk or moose. Before we had kids, our North Routt area drives would take us up Seedhouse Road to the many hiking and biking trails located in the Zirkels. The area is incredibly quiet and cell service can be spotty (making it even more peaceful) - which made for an interesting situation the one year when we forgot to fill our tank up with gas. Luckily, these days, you can gas up in Hahn’s Peak Village.
When we’re operating on all cerebral cylinders, we circle back to Steamboat with a mandatory stop at the Clark Store to make good on the sweet part of the promise. The Clark Store has a from-scratch on-site deli with the most delicious breakfast and lunch options, but the real draw for this crew is the notorious ice cream stand outside. If the fall air is a bit too cold for ice cream, then we take a few delicious swigs from the espresso bar and help ourselves to the store’s big array of homemade baked goods to satisfy our sweet cravings.
2. Buffalo Pass
If you’re panning for gold (golden aspen leaves that is) Buffalo Pass is the perfect spot for full on fall color immersion. Head up Routt County Road 36 to 38 then 11 miles up to Buffalo Pass. Stretch your legs a bit around Summit Lake or Fish Creek Reservoir. The road is a bit bumpy, but the views are worth it (as long as you’ve got a 4WD vehicle). Buffalo Pass is only open for driving from July - November and make sure your camera battery is charged and you’ve got plenty of room on your SD card. Photo opportunities are everywhere up there.
3. Yampa and Flat Tops Scenic Byway
And last but certainly not least is a leisurely drive on Colorado 131 from Steamboat over to Yampa. I particularly love seeing some of the old historic barns along the way at the beginning of this tour, and you’ll probably be treated with wildlife sightings once you’re closer to the Colorado Scenic Byway Flat Tops Trail. From Yampa, you can stop for a bite to eat at the historic old western Antler’s Hotel or continue onto Routt County Road 17 and look for the Scenic Byway sign. Climb over Dunkley and Ripple Creek Passes and then take a hike down to Trappers Lake. At the end of the byway (Colorado Highway 13 intersection), turn right and head north to Craig and then right on Highway 40 and return to Steamboat. This 168 mile loop takes about 5 to7 hours depending on how many times you stop to check out the bald eagles or hear “are we there yet?” along the way.
These are just a few of our family favorites. There are plenty of other TomTom worthy drives around Steamboat, such as California Park to Wyoming and back down via Routt County Road 129. Or head towards Stagecoach Reservoir over to Lynx Pass, and take it all the way to Gore Pass in the summer months.
Weather conditions do change quickly in Colorado, which means you might switch from blasting the A/C to cranking up your seat warmer in a matter of 10 minutes, so bring a few extra layers for the pit stops and check all road conditions at CDOT’s website.
Buckle up, put the pedal to the metal (within the speed limit of course) and enjoy some amazing Steamboat Sunday driving any day of the week.
View All Scenic Drives around Steamboat Springs, Colorado.