Because of the ranches surrounding the Yampa and Elk rivers, Steamboat is full of real cowboys as well as visitors trying to act the part. Horseback riding is popular here for good reason: seeing the area on horseback is not only easier on the legs, but it also allows riders to get deeper into the backcountry—which is crisscrossed by a web of deer and elk trails—and sometimes closer to wildlife than is possible on foot. Riding, however, isn't for everyone. There's usually a personal weight limit of 250 pounds, and children need to be able to handle their own mount. If you've never ridden a horse before, book a short test ride first. Allergies and sore muscles can turn a dream ride into an epic journey. Riding, instruction, and extended pack trips are offered at a number of ranches in the area, although some may require a minimum stay of a week.
Del's Triangle 3 Ranch. This facility can organize rides from hour-long tours to journeys lasting several days. It's about 20 miles north of Steamboat via Highway 129. Clark, CO, 80428. 970/879–3495. www.steamboathorses.com.
Howelsen Rodeo Grounds. Every Friday and Saturday evening in summer, rodeos are held at the Howelsen Rodeo Grounds. 5th St. and Howelsen Pkwy., Steamboat Springs, CO, 80487. 970/879–1818.
Sombrero Ranch. This ranch is right in Steamboat Springs and has one-hour guided tours that are perfect for novices. 835 River Rd., Steamboat Springs, CO, 80487. 970/879–2306. www.sombrero.com/steamboatsprings.