The drive between Steamboat Springs and Steamboat Lake State Park meanders along the attractive Elk River through pine trees and open ranches. It’s a short drive that doesn’t take long, but along the way you can stop at an independent store that can sell you a deli sandwich, your favorite condiments, amazing meets, wine, cold beer, and bait. You will find far more than camping needs here, as is witnessed by the number of people who were shopping here when we arrived to buy bait for fishing at one of Colorado’s “gold medal waterways”, Steamboat Lake.
Our camping reservations were at Pearl Lake State Park, a short drive from Steamboat Lake and much smaller. We were too early to check in there, so we headed to Steamboat Lake and a ranger directed us to a great spot to stop for a picnic with a tow vehicle. The views were undeniably the northern Colorado; pine, open meadows, barns, and the lake. We ate our lunches on the banks of the lake as a summer storm began to roll in and the wind picked up. The parking lot, near Dutch Hill Campground, provided ample room for larger vehicles to stop for a quick picnic and easily turn around to exit.
We continued driving around the lake on the mostly paved road. Spotting various places we thought we wanted to fish, and looking at the biking trails on the map, we made a plan for the week to ride through the abundant blooming wildflowers and try to catch a fish. It was difficult to imagine that Pearl Lake, which I had heard and read so much about, could possibly be any more beautiful than Steamboat Lake. But it was.
Pearl Lake has a small campground with good gravel roads throughout. The sites are either directly next to the lake (with ability to kayak from the edge of your campsite), or on a ridge overlooking the lake with a short walk to the water. Despite trying desperately to get a spot near the water, I was not successful and was originally dismayed that our site number 8 was on the ridge. But when we arrived, the view was beautiful and the quiet in this campground was perfect. The campers here were also very friendly and the host was helpful.
Each site is equipped with a fire ring, tent pad and picnic table. There is no electricity and cell services is difficult, if not impossible. There is also no dump station, but campers at Pearl Lake can use the dump station at Steamboat Lake. Each site is also quite large with trees and underbrush. The sites on the ridge have views of the lake to the East, as ours did, or the mountains to the West with amazing sunset opportunities. After we set up camp, the pending summer thunder storm rolled in long enough to cool down the temperature. It was fast, as usual here, and were soon enjoying views of the rainbow that hung over the mountain behind the lake.
After dinner, we walked down to the small lake. While this lake is tiny (non-motorized boats only), its blue water and trees that grow to its edge immediately calm and embrace anyone who sees it. It was better than people had claimed. We tried fishing at dusk, but did not catch anything. The views of the quiet water, sounds of the birds, and genuine peace were relaxing.
We spent the following day at the lake taking turns in the kayak, hiking from the lake into the Routt National Forest (the trail is very well marked), and enjoying our campsite with views of the lake and mountains. Several day-use visitors arrived and were having fun on the lake and during the day, kayak and SUP are available for rent from a stand near the main boat launch. The hike we took was complete with all hues of vibrant wildflowers and towering aspen trees that were in a race with the pine to reach the sun. The entire experience made it difficult for us to decide to go back to Steamboat Lake to try fishing and bike riding the following day. But we wanted to re-fill the water in the camper and we had to use that bait we bought at the small, well-stocked store on our way to the campground.
We drove the camper to Steamboat Lake in the morning and pulled into Meadow Point, an area that the ranger told us was a great fishing spot. Cars were there and people, well-spaced, were trying their best to catch fish in this inlet. We approached and found a spot on the shore and began our quest to catch a fish in these beautiful waters. It was not particularly successful at first and, within the hour, the other people decided to pack up and leave empty handed. This was our activity until lunchtime, so we luckily decided to stay and continue fishing. My son caught a beautiful trout, but we decided to take a picture and throw it back. Then, on my last attempt (when my family was packing up to go back to the camper and make lunch), I felt that perfect tug and reeled in another beautiful trout. This one we kept and enjoyed later that evening for dinner.
After lunch, we drove to an area with a swimming beach and closer to the cabins. Steamboat Lake has numerous campsites, bays and small camping cabins. They also have great parking areas for people like us who wanted to spend time here and had our camper attached, but did not camp here. A well designated bike or hiking trail meanders around a large portion of the lake, then connects to the road and continues into a nearby town. We biked from the swim beach around the lake past the visitors center until the main bike path ended. This afforded us excellent views from various directions around this lake. The trail is reasonably consistent in elevation and rides by several campgrounds. Steamboat Lake has a marina where visitors can rent boats of varying types. They also have a store, camper services buildings, and well-maintained roadways.
It would be easy to spend many days at both of these beautiful lakes and campgrounds. The rangers and hosts were helpful and the abundance of activities to enjoy for all interests was present. I look forward to going back.