I always pictured Steamboat Springs as a cozy ski resort town nestled beneath white powder slopes. However, my first weekend in Steamboat Springs was doused in sunny weather and rainbow hues.
I went to the Yampa Valley to check out the annual Steamboat Springs Hot Air Balloon Festival and I was not disappointed. Balloon teams from around the country descended on the town to share their passion for a slow, yet beautiful air travel.
In the same weekend, Steamboat also hosted a Pro Rodeo, Farmer’s Market, and Art in the Park. With so much to do, I couldn’t imagine a more colorful place to be in Colorado.
My friend and I rolled into town just before noon on Saturday and headed straight to Art in the Park. We walked through the vendor stands, admiring the shimmering crystal decorations, unique cooking supplies, and the intricate jewelry. More than 150 artists displayed their work at the event.
My favorite booth belonged to the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program (RMRP). Volunteers from RMRP allowed visitors to get a close-up view of some of their rescued birds, including a hawk, a screech owl, and a golden eagle.
Next, we wandered down to the farmer’s market near the base of the historic Howelsen Hill ski jumps. The market was much larger than I expected and hosted vendors selling everything from artisan cheese to paleo treats and fresh produce. I even grabbed an ice coffee and a bag of beans from the Steamboat Coffee Company.
The Balloon Glow and Pro Rodeo started later in the evening, so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon visiting the breweries in the area. Seems like time well spent, right?
Steamboat has 3 breweries: Mountain Tap Brewing, Storm Peak Brewing, and Butcherknife Brewing Company. All three had excellent beers but Butcherknife was my favorite. Their seasonal Mango Hefeweizen was a solid summer brew.
After our brewery detour, we arrived back at Howelsen Hill ski jumps just in time for the Balloon Glow. While the band jammed to 70’s tunes, the propane flames flickered above wicker baskets and the balloons began to inflate. Hundreds of curious people began to fill the park, watching as the balloons inflated across the field.
If you’ve never been close to a hot air balloon, you might be surprised by their size. At about 80 feet tall and 50 feet wide, the balloons are massive!
We walked halfway up the ski jumps so we could get a better view. From the side of Howelsen Hill, we could see all six of the balloons as they inflated across the field. It was such a colorful sight that I barely noticed the building clouds in the sky.
While the view of the Balloon Glow was lovely, it was unfortunately short-lived. A storm blew in, so the balloons deflated quickly. We darted back to our car and decided to call it a night.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the balloons glow after the sun went down and we missed the Steamboat Pro Rodeo. Even though our day was cut short, it still felt like we managed to pack a lot of activity into one day.
There’s just one catch with balloon festivals – you have to get up early. Like really early. We left for the launch field around 6:00 a.m. on Sunday.
The morning of the balloon launch could not have been more picturesque. The balloon launch takes place in a field next to Bald Eagle Lake. While the sun illuminated a gentle pastel sunrise across the sky, people wandered in around us, sleepily sipping coffees and snacking on donuts.
We watched as teams unfurled the balloons and began filling them with air. By about 7:30 a.m., the first balloons gently began to lift off the ground.
We stayed on the launch field talking to balloonists and taking pictures until about 8:30 a.m. Then, we went up the side of the mountain, near Steamboat Resort, to get a better view of all of the balloons in the sky and on the launch field.
The sight of a gauzy morning sky filled with dots of technicolor was totally worth the dawn wake-up call. Even my friend (who is decidedly not a morning person), agreed that it was one of the coolest things he’s seen in Colorado.
If you have the chance, be sure to get out to Steamboat Springs for this annual festival. The morning Balloon Launch and evening Balloon Glow are the perfect bookends to a weekend in the mountains. We are already planning a hike to Fish Creek Falls and a stop at one of the hot springs with next year’s festival.
Katie is a graduate student studying International and Intercultural Communication at the University of Denver. Originally hailing from the Midwest, she still remembers her first-time laying eyes on the Rocky Mountains and falling in love. In addition to exploring mountain trails, Katie enjoys checking out Colorado’s craft breweries and scouting the Front Range for the best scoop of ice cream.