Colorado is famous for its outdoor activities. That’s especially true in winter, when the state’s mountain towns fill up with skiers, snowboarders, and those who just generally love snowsports of all kind. Steamboat Springs is one of the top destinations in the state when the winter months roll around, and for good reason. The natural hot springs and slopes speak for themselves. But for a side of the region that the hordes of downhill skiers and snowboarders don’t get to see, you should hop on a snowmobile with Colorado Sled Rentals, a Polaris Adventures Outfitter.
@visit Flying through the mountains with @polarisadventures 🏔 From the scenic views to the thrilling rides, snowmobiling is definitely a must-do at Steamboat Springs, Colorado 🙌 #steamboatsprings #snowmobiling #visitcolorado #winteractivities #adventuretravel ♬ original sound – Visit
Polaris Adventures is the travel and tourism arm of Polaris, and offers vehicle rentals (snowmobiles, off-road vehicles, pontoon boats and Indian motorcycles) through its network of 200-plus independent outdoor outfitters across the United States, allowing people to experience the outdoors in new and exciting ways whatever the season.
In winter and in Steamboat Springs, the journey starts at the shop in town, where you’re shown a safety briefing and are provided with equipment and winter gear to keep you warm and safe during your ride. I brought plenty of warm gear along with me — a parka, snow pants, snow boots, heavy gloves, and a balaclava — but I ended up swapping out my parka and snow pants for the jumpsuits Colorado Sled Rentals provided because they’re made for adventure. That said, heavy gloves and a gaiter to keep your neck warm will make the experience more comfortable.
From there, it’s about a 45-minute shuttle ride north to where the snowmobiles are parked and ready to go. The drive from town into the mountains is absolutely stunning as you head to the launching point. Once at the designated spot, a guide gives another tutorial on how to drive a snowmobile that includes some practice riding that gets anyone new to snowmobiling up to speed. Then you’re off to the races.
I had never driven a snowmobile before I went on this adventure recently, but I had zero issues figuring it out. If you’ve ever driven any sort of small vehicle like an ATV or a jet ski, riding a snowmobile will feel familiar. However, even if you’re a total novice the practice and guides can help you beforehand and while out on the trip so you’ll be ripping around in the snow in no time like you’ve been doing it your whole life.
Once the group is comfortable on their snowmobiles, everyone heads out onto the trails for the next few hours. The trails run through gorgeous alpine forests and out to incredible viewpoints where you’ll hop off your snowmobile and go take in the snow-covered mountain views. The views on the snowmobile the entire time are like driving through a snowglobe, but it is nice when you get to pull over (and the guides will do so at any point) and just soak it all in.
It’s somewhat of a choose-your-own-adventure once you’re riding. The guides will accommodate your requests as long as it’s safe to do so. Do you want to find the most picturesque spots for a gorgeous photo? They’ll take you to the best mountain vistas. Do you want to just kick it in gear and drive fast down the mountain? They’ll pick trails with some great straightaways for you. You’ll have a guide with you the whole time and they know these trails like the back of their hand, so feel free to tell them what you’re most interested in seeing and they’ll take you there.
Once you’re finished riding, you’ll head back to the takeoff point where it all started, park your snowmobile, and get back on the shuttle to return to Colorado Sled Rentals.
Other Steamboat Springs activities to round out your trip
Any winter weekend guide to Steamboat Springs would be remiss without recommending skiing or snowboarding. There are multiple mountains, ski hills, and ski-in/ski-out resorts to choose from, but Howelsen Ski Area stands out for its varying trails (as well as ski jumps for Olympic training) and for the fact that it’s the oldest ski hill still in operation in North America.
All of the adventure to be found in Steamboat Springs is best complemented with a soak at Strawberry Park Hot Springs. These natural hot springs are beloved in Colorado because they’re totally secluded in the mountains and have pools of varying temperatures, from super hot to an incredibly cold plunge. They are about a 30 minute drive from Steamboat Springs, and you can get to it with your own vehicle (note that the road requires a four wheel drive and snow tires) or one of the two shuttles that take guests to the springs. Just remember that you have to make a reservation online first (though if you take a shuttle a reservation isn’t needed), and they book out fast so plan ahead. If there aren’t any reservations available, check the day of in case of cancellations. Be aware that the springs are adults-only after dark when they become clothing-optional.
Where to stay, eat, and drink in Steamboat Springs
O’Neils Tavern & Grill is Steamboat’s Irish pub, and it’s the perfect place to catch a game for a drink and a broader menu than what you might expect from a pub — I particularly recommend the lobster roll with fries. Mountain Tap Brewery has a lot of great beers and food service as well. If you’re coming for dinner, reserve one of the ski gondolas out front for a dining setting unlike any other for parties of up to six.
If you don’t have a vehicle, plan on staying somewhere closer to town so you can easily walk. It’s easy to get stuck otherwise, as there aren’t reliable cabs or rideshare options at all times.
The dog-friendly Gravity Haus will center you close enough to town and has direct ski-in, ski-out access. It has a heated outdoor pool and hot tub area for when you want to relax without going far from your room, and the on-site hotel has cocktails and reliably delicious food.
How to get to Steamboat Springs
If Steamboat is a stop on your Colorado winter road trip, it’s about a three hour drive from Denver. If you’re not driving you’ll want to fly directly to the Yampah Valley Regional Airport, located about 30 minutes outside of Steamboat. Once you arrive at the airport, either grab a rental car you’ve reserved beforehand or hop on one of the shuttles into town. I used Ski Town Transportation and had an easy experience.