Grand County Colorado: Hot Springs and Hot Strings

People enjoy the hot springs at Strawberry Springs in Grand County Colorado.
People enjoy the hot springs at Strawberry Springs in Grand County, Colorado. Photos by Sarah Freddie.

By Sarah Freddie

As my plane touched down at the Denver International Airport in Colorado I realized that all I knew about the Centennial State was that it boasts the Rockies, and is populated with people who love to spend time in the great outdoors.

I wasn’t sure what foods were native to the state, what industries provided Coloradans with the most jobs, and what exactly it was about Colorado that attracts so many tourists to places like Grand County and Steamboat Springs each year, but I was about to find out.

Simple Beauty

When I arrived in Grand Lake I was immediately struck by the town’s simple beauty. Grand Lake is snuggled in the base of the Colorado Rockies. Log cabins can be found everywhere in Grand Lake; they are not only people’s homes, but also house libraries, grocery stores, and restaurants. Out-of-state residents began building summer homes around Grand Lake in the late 1800’s, making the town one of the first in Colorado to become a resort community.

My lodging in Grand Lake was at the Western Riviera Motel and Cabins. My cabin had a cozy, rustic feel to it with a pervading moose theme that introduces guests to the spirit of Colorado.

After checking in at the cabin, three fellow travelers, our hostess Gaylene, and I headed downtown to the Daven Haven Lodge for dinner.

After dinner we proceeded to the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater in Grand Lake to take in a performance of “Singin’ in the Rain.” The cast was great; vivacious and full of talent! The theater is open during the summer and fall.

A tourist gazes at the view atop Rocky Mountain National Park.
A tourist gazes at the view atop Rocky Mountain National Park.

After a good night’s sleep in my cozy cabin I was up at 8 a.m. for breakfast at the Sagebrush BBQ and Grill. The Sagebrush offers a full breakfast menu with tex mex style choices such as huevos rancheros, and a cheddar and green chile omelet. There are lighter options as such as the yogurt topped with granola and fresh berries. I ordered strawberry pancakes which were delicious.

Harry chose to take us through the West side of the park which is the quieter side, receiving less than 10% of the total traffic into the park. Along the way Harry told us many interesting tidbits such as the fact that the park was created in 1915, and that the road we were driving on was constructed by prison labor.Interesting Tidbits

After our amazing breakfast we headed off to Rocky Mountain National Park where we would meet Ranger Harry at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, who would be our tour guide as we traveled by vehicle to the highest point on Trail Ridge Road at 12,183 feet.

When we finally reached our destination the view was breathtaking. We were surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and could gaze down upon a vast region of green covered with blue-dotted lakes and beige ribbon roads. After admiring the view we stepped inside the Alpine Visitor Center to look at their displays and warm ourselves with coffee and tea.

Rocky Mountain National Park provides plenty of activities for people of all ages. There are numerous hiking trails that also allow horses, authentic 1920s dude ranches to explore, campgrounds, great fishing holes, and beautiful scenery to admire. Don’t miss the great ranger-led programs!

Awesome View

After an invigorating morning filled with fresh air and wildlife, we headed down to the Grand Lake Lodge for lunch. A registered national historic landmark, this mountain resort is made of logs and has a porch on both the first and second stories, perfect for gazing at Grand Lake and of course the Colorado Rockies.

Houses along Grand Lake
Houses along Grand Lake.

We ate lunch in a large dining room that featured an awesome view of Grand Lake. The restaurant features an impressive selection of salads as well as seafood. They are open for the summer season, from June 9th-September 5th.

After lunch we headed over to Grand Lake to go on a guided boat ride. Our tour guide Steven told us about the families who live on Grand Lake, and about the sailboat races that go on every summer.

Grand Lake is great for boating and tubing, but can be chilly to swim in. Every Friday and Saturday there is a boat cruise offered by Boater’s Choice Inc. that serves coffee as customers sail around the lake.

Attention to Detail

Since it was our last night in Grand Lake, Gaylene took us out to dinner at The Rapids Restaurant (970-627-3707). The Rapids Restaurant is located directly on a gurgling river that is more melodic than music to the ears when eating dinner. This restaurant is on the pricier side but well worth the cost. The Rapids serves an abundance of seafood, but also poultry, vegetarian, and meat dishes as well.

The restaurant pays attention to detail and takes the expression “It’s all in the presentation” to heart. When our main meals came we were pleasantly surprised to find sprigs of wildflowers placed delicately in the fish. After our waiter had cleared our plates he passed out child-size dishes filled with a scoop of sorbet.

These horses are used for riding lessons at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp.
These horses are used for riding lessons at the Perry- Mansfield Performing Arts Camp.

The next day we were up bright and early to meet for breakfast at the Terrace Inn. After breakfast we met up with Pat Raney, a citizen of Grand Lake who led us on a historic walking tour the town. Pat pointed out interesting facts about Grand Lake such as tourists beginning to come in the 1890’s for the lake air that they thought to be therapeutic.

After our historic walking tour we packed up our belongings and headed to Kremmling where we would meet our new hostess of Steamboat Springs, Riley Polumbux, for lunch. Although I was excited about seeing Steamboat Springs I was sad to leave Grand Lake, a town so quaint that old fashioned telephone switchboards were still in use there are recently as 1975.

Morphing Mountains

I would miss my cozy cabin as well. A great benefit to staying in my cabin was that there were a multitude of quality restaurants and shops within walking distance.

Our drive from Grand Lake to Steamboat Springs took around two hours and it was interesting to note how drastically the topography changed between the two locations. While Grand Lake was encircled by fir and pine tree covered mountains with sharp peaks, the mountains going into Northern Colorado began to morph into flat-tops brimming with sage or sharp canyons with no vegetation at all.

We stopped for lunch at the Border’s Circle Saloon where we met up with Riley and said our goodbyes to Gaylene. The Border’s Circle Saloon gave us a taste of the true western territory that we were about to enter. The saloon served tex-mex style food and was decorated with stuffed and mounted animal heads as well as a set of longhorns for that extra flair.

F.M. Light & Sons sign carries lots of western merchandise.
F.M. Light & Sons sign carries lots of western merchandise.

You could almost imagine cowboys riding up to the bar on their horses waiting to be served. After our lunch we headed to Steamboat Springs to check into our condo at the Torian Plum. Our condo was beautiful, very spacious and decorated in a modern, ski-cabinesque style. The condo is great for sharing, with three bedrooms, each with an adjoining private bath, a kitchen, a living room/dining area and a balcony.

Fabric and Furniture

After depositing our luggage we headed to the Steamboat Wine Tasting Festival where more than 400 wines were featured. The wine tasting moseyed along a trail of seven destinations in Steamboat Springs. After the wine tasting we were treated to the opening of the Fabric, Furniture and Furnishings exhibit at the Eleanor Bliss Center for the Arts. Beautiful wooden furniture as smooth as marble was on display as well as other funky pieces of art.

We closed out the evening with a lovely dinner at Antares in downtown Steamboat Springs. The menu featured exotic dishes such as pheasant sausage with sundried blueberries. Vanilla bean ice-cream sitting atop the mixed berry dessert ended the meal on a tasty note with its interesting juxtaposition of sweet and tart flavorings.

We were up bright and early the next morning to fully experience our last full day in Steamboat Springs. After a quick breakfast in the condo we met Riley at the Tread of Pioneers Museum in downtown Steamboat. Half of the museum has historical artifacts and exhibits from Steamboat Springs, while the other half is a replica of how a Victorian-style home would have been decorated like in the turn of the 20th century. With all of the great artifacts and antiques of Steamboat housed in the museum, it is one not to miss. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Performers at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp
Performers at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp – photo by Richard Finkelstein

Maxing Out

After the museum we congregated at The Old Town Pub for a quick lunch before browsing the eclectic assembly of stores and shops in Steamboat, many located on Lincoln Ave. From upper end art galleries and antiques stores, to funky bookstores, to clothing and merchandise stores that house classic western gear such as boots and cowboys hats, there is a store for every shopper.

F.M. Light & Sons is one store that you literally cannot miss if you travel to Steamboat. The store has been around since 1905 along with its vibrant yellow F.M. Light signs that alert travelers coming from all directions of its existence.

After the credit cards had been maxed out, it was time to check out The Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp, and then soak in the relaxing Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

The Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp was founded in 1914 by Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield. With the mountains as a backdrop, this camp is in a perfect location to inspire creativity in students as well as to enable them to achieve their true artistic potential. The camp is still in operation today, making it the oldest, continuously run performing arts camp in America. The camp is open to the public.

After our tour of the camp, we headed to Strawberry Springs for a dip in a chain of pools that descended from the warmest at the top to the coldest at the bottom. The pools are fed by mineral springs and are open to the public every day of the year, with weekdays having lower admissions prices than nights and weekends. The springs are deliciously refreshing. You can bop around from warm pool to cool pool and at night only people 18 and older are admitted, swimsuits optional.

Basically Beethoven

A performance of Strings in the Mountains
A performance at Strings in the Mountains

We soon wound up back at our condo with time to quickly shower and change before our last night in Steamboat which would include dinner and a Strings in the Mountains chamber concert. We ate dinner at The Ore House at the Pine Grove. The dinner menu included many meat dishes and reminds one of a place to go to get a great “steak and potatoes dinner.” A huge salad bar is located in the heart of the restaurant where you serve yourself as many times as you like.

We completed our evening by taking in a performance of Basically Beethoven which was performed by a very talented group of musicians, including members of the New York Philharmonic. We heard music by composers Ludwig van Beethoven, Darius Milhaud, and Jacques Ibert.

Strings in the Mountains is an independent, non-profit organization that began in 1988 and attracts audiences of more than 30,000. The excellent performance coupled with the elegant atmosphere of the pavilion, makes Strings in the Mountains a tranquil activity not to be missed.

On our last morning in Steamboat Springs we walked to Gondola Square, to embark on a gondola ride that would take us to the top of Mt. Thunderhead where we would enjoy a leisurely brunch. Gondola Square at the base of the mountain includes such activities as mini-golf, a bungee-trampoline and art on the mountain.

If you desire, you can take a gondola ride to the top of the mountain. Hiking and biking are popular in the warmer months while skiing and snowshoeing is popular in the winter. Brunch is served atop the mountain every Sunday from 9:30-2:00 buffet-style. You have the option of eating outside on the patio which offers a great view of Steamboat sprawling 9,070 feet below.

After brunch Riley and I departed for the Denver airport where I would fly home to Massachusetts, promising myself that I would come back to Colorado to enjoy the majestic Rockies, the charming towns, and the terrain that evokes images the Old West.


Recreation and Education

Mountain Repertory Theater (summer: 970-627-3421; fall 970-627-5087)

Rocky Mountain National Park (970-586-1206)

Boater’s Choice Inc. (970-627-3401)

Eleanor Bliss Center for the Arts

Tread of Pioneers Museum

The Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp (800-430-2787)

Strawberry Springs (970-879-0342)

Strings in the Mountains (970-879-5056, email)

Gondola Square (970-879-6111)

Check our listings for budget hotels in Denver.


Sagebrush BBQ and Grill (970-627-1404)

Grand Lake Lodge (970-627-3185)

The Rapids Restaurant (970-627-3707)

Antares (970-879-9939)

The Ore House (970-879-1190)


Grand Lake Lodge (970-627-3185)

Western Riviera Motel and Cabins (970-627-3580, e-mail)

Torian Plum (800-228-2458)


F.M. Light & Sons

sarah freddieSarah Freddie spent a year teaching in Japan next year. She now lives in New York City.

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