Life on the Yampa: Some of the Best of the Boat winners are deeply tied to the river

The Yampa River is widely regarded as Colorado’s last free-flowing river, a symbol of the character of the Yampa Valley. The unbridled body of water is just one part of the wilderness that makes Routt County such a desirable place to live. 

The Yampa River winds 250 miles through Northwest Colorado, providing water to communities and serving as a monitor for area climate trends.

It’s the centerpiece of Steamboat, the overlap between entertainment and environment. It makes happy hour sweeter, and summer days cooler.

Best of the Boat voters seem to agree that anything having to do with the river rocks.

Best Park

The Yampa River Botanic Park was voted Best Park in the 2022 Best of the Boat contest.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Yampa River Botanic Park, 1000 Pamela Lane

The Yampa River Botanic Park, situated on the banks of the Yampa River, was deemed the best park in Routt County as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. More than 35,000 visit the six-acre park annually — with its 13 garden neighborhoods — free of charge. Not only is it a colorful, peaceful place to take a walk, but the park works with nonprofits and hosts events and programs such as live theater, yoga and storytime.

Best Hotel

Rabbit Ears Motel was voted Best Hotel in the 2022 Best of the Boat contest.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Rabbit Ears Motel – 201 Lincoln Ave.

Nothing says Steamboat more than cowboy hats, barns, and a glowing pink bunny. The Rabbit Ears Motel, named after the peak that marks the arrival into Routt County, is impossible to miss in its location across from Old Town Hot Springs. Its pink neon sign is a symbol of Steamboat, routinely depicted in paintings, photographs and ice sculptures that characterize the city.

Perhaps what makes the Rabbit Ears Motel special is its resilience, having stood the test of time since 1955.

Owner and General Manager Greg Kohler said he’s lucky to be in such an “iconic” spot in town along the river. 

“It’s the lifeblood of our community. The river makes Steamboat, Steamboat,” he said. “In the summertime especially, people love to be on the river.”

Best Outdoor Dining

Voters selected Aurum Food and Wine as Best Outdoor Dining space in the 2022 Best of the Boat contest.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Aurum – 811 Yampa St.

Riverfront property is a hot commodity in Steamboat and Aurum has a lot of it, offering guests a chance to eat and drink on the banks of the river in what people deemed the best outdoor dining space. Massive windows and a clear barrier outside offer guests a nearly unobstructed view of the river during meals. 

Phil Armstrong, founder of Destination Hospitality, said the Aurum building has been on Yampa Street for more than 100 years and has been a restaurant for about 40 years, making its space on the river even more special.

“There’s a lot of river frontage here. You could never build anything like this again,” Armstrong said.

Best Mural

Jill Bergman’s The Yampa is Wild was voted Best Mural in the 2022 Best of the Boat contest.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Yampa is Wild – 911 Yampa St.

Showcasing the love for the valley and the river, The Yampa is Wild mural by Jill Bergman has been named the best mural in the valley. 

While Bergman led the charge to design and paint the mural, the community had heavy involvement in the creation and installation, which is perhaps why people love it so much. 

The mural depicts the entire river, from the headwaters in the Flat Tops, through the Carpenter Ranch in Hayden, past the wild horses of Sand Wash Basin to its meeting with the Green River.

Best Bike Shop

Orange Peel Bicycles is one of Yampa Street’s most unique-looking buildings. It was voted Best Bike Shop in the 2022 Best of the Boat contest.
Scott Franz/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Orange Peel – 1136 Yampa St. 

Right on the river, on the far end of Yampa Street, is the weirdest looking building in Steamboat. Orange Peel has inhabited the cone-shaped building on the Yampa River Core Trail for almost two decades. 

The odd-shaped shop offers services, bikes and gear and in 2022, was named the best bike shop in the valley among a slew of competitors.

Owner Brock Webster thinks Orange Peel sticks out because it’s solely a bike shop that specializes in service.

“Our service department is another reason that sets us apart,” Webster said. “It’s our main focus more than retail. I started as service-only and grew into retail, but with the pandemic it’s gone back to service with people trying to keep their stuff rolling.”

Best River Sport

Tubing was voted Best River Sport in the 2022 Best of the Boat contest.
John F. Russell

Disclaimer: tubing is probably more of an activity than a sport. However, it was indeed voted best river sport.

Tubing is the most accessible way to get on the river as opposed to rafting, paddleboarding or other options that may be more expensive.

It’s also one of the best ways to see the Yampa Valley, drifting past wildlife, floating through downtown and experiencing small helpings of adventure and adrenaline with every rapid.

This was originally published in the 2022 Best of the Boat magazine.

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