Steamboat is no Aspen or Vail, which is to say that Colorado's most genuinely Western mountain town has Rocky Mountain beauty and unpretentious authenticity. Beneath Sleeping Giant mountain, the 12,000-foot Flat Tops, and the sharp, solitary summit of Hahns Peak are working cattle ranches spread over undulating green hills that give the town a feeling of big-sky spaciousness.
Downtown, with its century-old red-brick buildings, has an old-school soda fountain (complete with cream sodas and a jukebox) and shops like F.M. Light & Sons, a 100-year-old Western-wear store that sells 6,000 cowboy hats a year – in a town of 12,000. The main drag, Lincoln Avenue, is still wide enough to accommodate a cattle drive, as it regularly did a century ago. Locals head to the pro rodeo Friday and Saturday evenings to eat barbecued ribs and watch big names from all over the country compete in bull riding and rope handling. The town's local orthopedic surgeon is also a pro bull rider.
And your local fly-fishing guide might be an Olympian, as Steamboat seems to breed athletes: The town sent 17 locals to the last Winter Games. Johnny Spillane, a three-time silver medalist in Nordic combined, does summers at the Steamboat Flyfisher shop. "What I love about Steamboat is being able to get outdoors without having to drive," says Spillane. "Within 15 minutes, you feel like you're in the middle of nowhere."
During the mild summer months, athletes like Spillane cross-train with road riding, lift-assisted mountain biking, hiking or trail running on Howelsen Hill, roller skiing the country roads, and paddling the Yampa River. Local athletes in the know soak sore quads afterward at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a series of secluded, natural-stone pools full of 104-degree mineral water.
Getting There: Fly to Denver; drive three and a half hours northwest.