There’s no time like fall to get out and explore some of Steamboat’s trails.
Fall in the Rockies is relatively short compared to other places known for autumn foliage, but the fact that it’s so fleeting is part of what makes it special. Steamboat is known for its extensive aspen groves and expansive valley views, offering some of the best “leaf peeping” in Colorado. What better way to experience it than with the simplicity of a hike, where all you need are a good pair of shoes (and of course don’t forget to bring water, and enough layers to navigate fall’s fast-changing climate). With so many great hikes in the Yampa Valley, it would take a lifetime to explore them all (the reason why so many of us love to live here). But here are a few of our favorites:
Easy: Panorama Trail at Buffalo Pass
Touted as one of the Top 20 best hikes for fall color in Colorado by The Denver Post, the Panorama Trail is an easy 1-mile loop that’s appropriate for everyone in the family, from small children to their grandparents. Located up Buffalo Pass at the Dry Creek campground, this scenic trail is brand new and was funded by the Bike Town USA initiative. It’s an easy-going, 300-foot vertical climb to the view point where the trail lives up to its name, offering panoramic views of the Yampa River Valley, Flattop Mountains and Continental Divide.
Moderate: Sunshine Peak Trail
Hop on the gondola and then take Duster over to the Sunshine trail for a semi-steep 2.2-mile loop that can be hiked in either direction and offers tremendous views of the Yampa Valley that make it ideal for leaf peeping. The trail traverses across Sunshine Bowl on the front side of Mt. Werner. The grade is steep but manageable and the views make it all worthwhile. The trail starts at the junction with Pete’s Wicked Trail and Duster and the climb tops out just after Cathy’s cutoff. The trail rolls through pockets of pine and aspen with open slopes in between. You can add on to this hike easily by checking out Pete’s Wicked or Cathy’s Cutoff, but you might find yourself happy just sitting on a rock and taking it all in.
Challenging: The Zirkel Circle
What makes this hike a challenge is the distance—11.2 miles—but for a true wilderness experience away from the crowded trails near downtown Steamboat, you can’t get much better than the Zirkel Wilderness. It’s off the radar (literally, there’s no cell phone reception) which is why the rugged peaks, alpine lakes, open meadows and spectacular fall colors feel so pristine. This loop can be hiked in either direction, has a 2,400-vertical foot gain that will take you to Gilpin Lake and up over Gilpin Ridge to Gold Creek Lake. The expansive wilderness puts this at the top of any serious Steamboat hiker’s bucket list, but during fall colors, this full day on the trail can’t be beat.