I am notoriously hard to buy for so this year when my birthday rolled around I asked Craig to please give me the gift of travel. To go somewhere we had not been. To have a nature filled experience for not so nature-y people that could be done in a long weekend since of course, we’re still parents to young children.
And he delivered! Can you tell? We had an amazing time in Steamboat Springs, CO with the perfect balance of nature, relaxation, exploration and good food. Flying into Denver and driving to Steamboat seemed to make the most sense financially and to take in more of that Colorado feeling.
KIA was kind enough to give us a Sorento for the weekend which I had briefly checked out at a work conference a while back. It seemed like a viable and more with the times replacement for my Highlander which will come off lease in a couple of months. I saw this as a chance to take a road trip and an extended test drive at the same time.
There are some features in the Sorento which I fell in love with and listed at the bottom of this post if you’re curious. Spoiler alert, I think I have some tough decisions ahead in the next month or two and it’s time to start calling dealerships.
If you want to see our full trip, I made this two minute video that chronicles the drive from Denver to Steamboat (we took the mountain roads) and our time in Steamboat. It gives you a good summary of the main attractions in Steamboat Springs and well, you get to see me make weird faces and attempt to wear athletic gear.
If you’re not a video person I totally get it and here are some of the highlights in photos.
The drive from Denver to Steamboat is picturesque to say the least. From winding mountain roads to beautiful river views and plenty of cows and horses for the kids to marvel at. You really should watch the video to get the full picture of how neat the drive is.
We stayed at the Sheraton in Steamboat which is right on the mountain and steps away from the Gondola and this neat little waterfall/beach area where tons of little kids were playing with their families. Of course I immediately longed for Kayla and Blake to be with us.
You can take the gondola up the mountain for their Sunset Happy Hour during the summer on Thursday and Sunday nights. We arrived on a Thursday so we had no idea and went with the flow. The Gondola starts running at 5pm. Tickets cost $15 and include a $5 food/beverage credit.
If you’re from a coastal city where everything costs more you’ll be delighted to know that most alcoholic beverages cost $5 up there so by my city math it was really a $5 gondola ride and a $10 drink. Suddenly a bargain!
There were tons of families as well as couples and large groups plus the view from 9000 ft is incredible. After some relaxing and a drink we were warned that a big thunderstorm was coming and that anyone who wanted to leave should probably do so in the next half hour or risk being stuck up on top of the mountain and driven down. I required no second warning to hop into the gondola and head out. We could see lightning striking far in the distance and soon enough there was a big time storm hitting the mountain.
When things calmed down a bit we headed into downtown Steamboat to have dinner at The Laundry which came highly recommended by a long time Steamboat resident and friend. The Laundry is a small plates, stylish decor, friendly service kind of place located right by the creek. We had an amazing panzanella salad, meatballs and brussel sprouts hash which is a nice update to the brussel sprouts craze of 2013.
The next day we explored downtown Steamboat and took in the neat buildings and tons of kid friendly shops. One of my favorites is In Celebration of Kids. It’s basically a child’s dream. There is a made from scratch bakery on site, a kids salon, a huge assortment of clothes and toys from harder to find brands and a scattering of arcade games to keep kids occupied while shopping. You can even host a birthday party there. Impressed.
Craig had signed us up for a 10am rafting run on the Yampa river with the folks from Bucking Rainbow. I can’t say enough good things about our guide, Nick. If you know me then you know I’m a wee bitty bit of a paranoid freak when it comes to water safety so I was pretty nervous and psyching myself out that morning.
Not only was Nick super experienced, hilarious and just a seemingly good human being he also revealed to us after our rafting trip that he is an EMT with the Steamboat fire department. I mean I wish I knew before because I wouldn’t have planted my foot so far under the emergency paddle that it had a nice bruise after but if you’re planning to raft down the Yampa or one of the other rivers see if you can snag Nick. You’ll laugh AND have someone who is used to saving people in dicey situations. A total win.
We celebrated not falling out of the raft at Creekside Cafe which at least 5 people told us to go to and order one of their benedicts. It’s located next door to The Laundry and you can brunch outside right next to the creek. There is often a little wait there because of its location and reputation for delicious food. However there is a nice sitting area with a perfect view of the creek to relax and sip a mimosa or a MANmosa which Craig had while you wait. And our 20-30 minute expected wait only turned out to be about 10 minutes.
After a nap (because, no kids!) and a stroll around the hotel property we decided to drive up to Strawberry Park Hot Springs while the Friday evening free summer concert was starting in downtown Steamboat.
If you have the time, visit the hot springs if only to see how beautiful they are. You can make a day of it or even camp there. We spent a little while in the pools which vary in temperature but mostly just took in the view and enjoyed the beautiful property.
For dinner we headed to Sake2U, again in downtown Steamboat. You can sit outside right against the river which was half of the appeal to me, having rafted past it earlier in the day. The food was good but coming from the coast we weren’t there so much for the food as we were for the view.
After dinner we simply crossed a bridge and walked a path to the free summer concert. Booker T. Jones was playing and it gave me a hint of nostalgia hearing music my parents played constantly while I was growing up.
The next day we headed to Fish Creek Falls at the recommendation of my friend Sara Hodge (go check her out, she’s awesome!) it’s a very short hike to the see the waterfall. So short I won’t even call it a hike. You can push a stroller down there if you want to. After that you can continue on a 5 mile hike up to the top if you’re up for the challenge. The path is narrow and had some new post-storm obstacles. Be prepared to climb over or crawl under fallen trees and navigate lots of rocky terrain.
With no real goal in mind we went somewhere about a mile and a half up before deciding to turn it around and hike down. The locals were outfitted with Camelbaks and quite frankly I was ready for some relaxing pool time before driving through some country roads to visit friends for dinner.
That’s our trip! In just a few days we put some serious miles on this KIA Sorento. Let me be honest. When it comes to cars I’m really not one to give a poop emoji about horsepower and towing capacity. I want a car that looks good and is filled with features that help keep my family safe and happy. Features that help me be more aware of what’s around me and help me up my defensive driving game.
Here are a few standout features for me on the Sorento:
- Gas mileage – Neither of us could believe that we drove all the way from Denver to Steamboat then all around Steamboat and still had about a half tank of gas left. While there was some highway mileage there were also plenty of inclines and slower driving through mountain roads.
- 360 degree view cameras – My current car has a backup camera which I’ve heard will be a safety standard soon on all cars but it doesn’t compare to this feature. You can see all around the car or zoom in specifically on one area if you need a second set of virtual eyes to help guide you. This became incredibly helpful in the tight parking structure at our hotel and this feature alone could make me reconsider my current choice in vehicles as a mom who is always paranoid about school drop off zones, the Target parking lot and all those places many of us frequent.
- Blind Spot Detection System – Our Sorento came equipped with this feature that alerts you to objects or vehicles which may be in your blind spots. You receive both audio and visual warnings and it came in handy a couple of times during our trip.
- Sloped front hood – If you drive an SUV odds are it gets you high up but then the hood takes away from the view you were excited about. My Highlander has a rise in the hood which reduces my ability to see directly in front of my car. If you have small children or drive through school zones this small detail makes a difference. The sloped hood of the Sorento gave me a more clear visual of the front of car. You know, the direction you’re driving in 95% of the time.
- Navigation that shows speed limit – this may seem minor but especially when you’re traveling outside of your own bubble it’s nice to have a reminder of the speed limits. Coming from California where the highway speed limit is usually 65 it was good to have a reminder of the general 55 speed limit in Colorado. I was curious to see how accurate this feature was and saw a speed limit sign down the road as Craig was driving and kept an eye on both the navigation and the sign. I couldn’t believe that as soon as we reached the point of the sign the navigation immediately displayed the drastically different speed limit.
- Panoramic Sunroof – True story, I hate long car rides and as a kid was always getting car sick. Our Sorento had a panoramic sunroof and it was such a nice bonus that made you feel like you’re in a room without a roof. I added a shot of it in my video if you want to check it out.
- Interior Illumination – This may seem minor but it really helps with kids, car seats and finding your stuff. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve searched around for a fallen sippy cup, beloved stuffed animal or my own stuff out of the front of the car after arriving home from an evening at grandma’s. Even Craig’s Lexus couldn’t compare to interior lighting in our Sorento. It was like the KIA folks invited a mom and her three kids to unpack themselves from this car at 10pm to decide which areas needed illuminating because it was spot on to my needs.
I could go on, but my goodness you’ve probably gotten the point. Basically, I’m having a hard time going back to my car which I have loved enough to lease 3 of the same model one after the other since moving to California.
And I’m totally annoyed because instead of marching into the local dealership and saying “give me the new one and I want a better deal than last time” I have to go and do the work of calling around and navigating a whole new car maker for this next car. But man am I excited!