Steamboat Springs is one of Colorado’s many quaint and adorable ski towns. It is also home to the WinterWonderGrass music festival that John and I had been looking forward to since Christmas. I had heard nothing but great things about this little town, and it did not disappoint. Steamboat Springs and the WinterWonderGrass festival were much more fun than I could have expected!
We arrived Friday night after a dark, snowy ride from Denver. We were just in time to catch that night’s headlining act, Railroad Earth. As soon as we found a place in the crowd, it started to snow. The stage lights hitting the flakes looked like confetti fluttering around us, and the backdrop of mountains made this scene even more magical.
When they wrapped up playing, one more act, Pixie and The Partygrass Boys, started playing inside a tent on one of the smaller stages. We jammed out to a few hardcore hits like the Talking Heads's "Psycho Killer" before heading downtown to check out the nightlife.
We decided to go to the ‘Grass after Dark’ event hosted by WinterWonderGrass at Schmiggity’s. It featured the Jack Cloonan Band covering hit songs in a bluegrass fashion. We had a couple of beers and a few hot dogs while we danced around for the late-night tunes
Since ski towns are so popular this time of year, Airbnb’s and hotels can be expensive. We chose to take the less expensive route. We parked in The Routt National Forest and slept in our car camper. Park regulations state that campers’ vehicles must be two car-lengths away from the road. It didn’t take us too long to find a plowed parking space to back into comfortably. We pulled out our sleeping bags and called it a night.
Though we woke up stiff and chilly, the sleeping arrangement could have been much worse. Properly rated sleeping bags and lots of layers are critical. We were up early, so we decided to head into Steamboat Springs to find a bite to eat.
I had seen recommendations for Creekside Cafe on social media, so we luckily popped in before the morning crowd arrived. We enjoyed a hearty meal of waffles, bacon, eggs benedict, and espresso drinks with a little something extra from the bar. It was probably too much food before skiing, but we had yet to rent gear or buy tickets.
We walked down 11th Street to One Stop Ski Shop for our necessary rentals. It only cost us $25 each to get skis, boots, helmets, and poles for 24 hours. We loaded up all of gear and headed to legendary Howelson Hill ski area.
We had stopped in earlier to see how much lift passes would be. To our surprise, a single day pass was only $25. (Compare that to Steamboat Resort’s $199!) The face of Howelson Hill is dedicated to an intimidating black diamond run and several competition ski jumps. The back side of the mountain is low grade, green and blue slopes that wrap around to the front. These slopes were perfect for John and I, since we were beginners. We took almost a dozen runs from 10:30 am to 4:00 pm!
Our time on Howelson Hill did wear us out, but we weren't going to let anything stop us from dancing our tails off at the stages of Winter Wonder Grass. We saw Town Mountain, The Shook Twins, and The California Honeydrops before the headliners, Trampled By Turtles. We tent hopped and boot stomped throughout the night, but we left before the final show with hot plans in mind.
We wanted to check out Strawberry Park Hot Springs and have a good soak before the gates closed at 10:30 p.m. We meandered around different pools in the pitch black trying to keep an eye out for other bathers. After almost two hours of being steeped in piping hot water, we braved the cold and got out to find another place to sleep for the night. I couldn't help but go back to the hot springs the next day to document where we'd been.
It turned out that our parking spot from the night before was only one half mile from the springs. After another chilly morning, we made our way downtown to a warm breakfast as soon as we could. We found solace in a diner called The Shack Cafe where we both scarfed down hearty egg breakfasts and large cups of coffee before we even started planning our day.
Since Routt National Forest and the hot springs are so close to Steamboat Springs, we decided to go back to get a few pictures and explore more of the forest. We stopped at a spacey roadside shoulder with a wonderful view and a friendly snowman and decided to set up a recently purchased, compact table. We relaxed, enjoyed the view and played in the snow.
We were eventually joined by another couple who was also in town for Winter Wonder Grass. They gave us Klondike ice cream bars and went on to meet up with friends. The Klondike couple made for great company, and we decided to explore more of the forest after they’d left. We packed up and went up another snowy hill.
Little did we know, we were heading toward the Buffalo Pass Winter Backcountry Area. After parking, we grabbed a pass and took a stroll down the well-packed road. There are designated boundaries for motorized vehicles and non-motorized activities, but snowmobiling seemed to be the most popular hobby among visitors. John and I marveled at the pristine snow pack before making our way back to Steamboat for another night of strings.
Before we went to the festival, we stopped at a bar whose lights caught John’s eye. The Back Door Grill is a cozy, funky burger bar with annual awards. We had a quick beer, hot wings, and Cajun fries to fuel up for the festival’s finale.
We were greeted by tunes from Pickin' on The Dead before Billy Strings blew our minds. A shorter set of Town Mountain gave us a chance to warm up with coffee drinks from the tent’s bar before the big headliner of the night, The Infamous Stringdusters. We snagged some pizza before the All-Star, late night set, then we hit the road back to Denver.
Three hours and a few inches of snow later, we made it home safe and sound. We were exhausted, but we were in amazement at how incredible our weekend had just been. Winter Wonder Grass is a great reason to visit Steamboat Springs even if you aren’t hooked on bluegrass music yet. Dancing to the rhythm of a stand up bass with hundreds of joyous people can only add to the charm and opportunities of Steamboat Springs.
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read.