There are times of the year that even our little town of Steamboat Springs gets so busy you want to escape to the outskirts for a breath of fresh air and cool lake breezes. Last Saturday, we packed a picnic and headed for the hills of North Routt County and beautiful Steamboat Lake with our visiting extended family in tow.

Before heading north, I woke to the sound of the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo announcer’s voice at about 6:30 am. It was easy to doze off until we heard the balloons being fired up practically in our backyard. I threw on my sweats and grabbed my camera to catch some of the colorful spectacle. The ReMax balloon was relaunching with a bunch of kids running behind screaming “Higher! You need to go higher!” Hot air balloon piloting is a delicate art relying heavily on wind directions and conditions and spurts of flames fired at just the right moment.

Balloons and spectators in Whistler Park

We stopped at Backcountry Deli on our way out of town and stocked up on delicious sandwiches, picked up some paddleboards from friends and were lakeside in no time. A scenic 40-minute trip out Routt County Road 129, we traveled on winding roads through ranch lands and blissfully away from the action. We passed through Clark on the way to the small satellite community of Hahn’s Peak Village, which always feels like an escape from life as usual. Slightly cooler temperatures and wide-open space with panoramic views of Hahn’s Peak were a welcome change-up.

Nieces Freya and Nina paddleboarding like pros

Renting a pontoon boat on Steamboat Lake is one of the most memorable things to do with a group of friends or family. Ours accommodated 12 people quite nicely. They have grills on board, which would be great for a sunset float. With the heat, we were happier with cold sandwiches. Contact Steamboat Lake Marina in advance to reserve. Boats are rented by the hour, and three hours felt like the perfect slice of time to explore the lake and paddleboard to our hearts’ content. If you don’t have your own, the marina rents paddleboards on a first-come, first-served basis.

Exploring the lake

Lake traffic was sparse and the cruising peaceful as we viewed Hahn’s Peak from different angles and watched the changing pillowy cloud formations. The cool, refreshing water was the perfect antidote for the hot sun and the light ripples on the water made for relaxing paddleboarding. We cranked up some music — smooth jazz for our multigenerational group — and took turns swimming and paddling the afternoon away.

Chillin’ in the pontoon boat

If you have time to explore, you can sample some of the local fare and fun. Try Hahn’s Peak Roadhouse for the friendly, lively atmosphere, restaurant, activities and live music. The Hahn’s Peak Cafe also has a great menu, and you can sit outside and take in the lake views from the deck. On the way back to town, visit one of our longtime favorite pit stops The Clark Store for ice cream.

All said, after the day’s adventures, we were happy to come home to Steamboat to host a Saturday barbecue and spend Sunday on the town, tubing, walking around Art in the Park and stopping for a yummy, fresh lunch under the willow tree at Sweet Pea. Ah, if weekends could only be a few days longer.


Jessica Berg is a freelance writer and Suzuki Violin teacher. She first moved to Steamboat after college in the mid ’90s and, after a long hiatus, is happy to call Steamboat home again. She runs a private violin studio out of her Steamboat home and teaches violin with Boulder Suzuki Strings. She holds a degree in magazine journalism from Ohio University and loves blogging about mountain life.

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