Both Steamboat Springs and Aspen are popular resort towns located in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
I’ve been to both Steamboat Springs and Aspen so today I’d love to share with you which one I preferred!
This post will look at the differences between them to help you decide where to visit on your next trip! It covers hotels, activities, atmosphere, ski resorts, nightlife and more!
Table of Contents
Summary – Steamboat Springs vs Aspen
|Rustic, laid-back feel
|Smaller mountain &
smaller skiable area
|Larger mountain &
more skiable area
|Real, authentic town
|More commercial &
I loved the authentic, laid back feel of Steamboat Springs however overall I preferred Aspen as it just felt a bit more premium.
I definitely spent way more in Aspen which is something to consider but it was worth the money for a larger ski area, more upmarket facilites and a higher end feel.
Top Picks For Steamboat Springs
Best Hotel In Steamboat Springs: Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas
Top Activities In Steamboat Springs:
- Hot springs
- Hiking & biking
Top Picks For Aspen
Best Hotel In Aspen: The Little Nell
Top Activities In Aspen:
- Maroon Bells
- Horseback riding
Steamboat Springs is an authentic mountain town nestled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It is famous for its Western hospitality and wonderful ski resort.
Aspen, on the other hand, is an upmarket ski town that features 4 mountains, a historic glamorous downtown full of shops, restaurants, luxury hotels, art, music and much more.
Whilst Steamboat Springs is a laid-back, rustic Western style town filled with charm and an excellent ski resort, Aspen is more upmarket and fancy with a fantastic ski resort, lots of high end shops and fine dining.
Aspen definitely had more of an upmarket, luxury feel compared with Steamboat Springs. In Aspen, there was tons of excellent fine dining options and high-end shops.
One downside to Aspen was that it felt a lot more commercial and touristy which I didn’t like as much.
Steamboat Springs, on the other hand, had a real authentic Western feel and a small-town charm which I loved.
When it comes to skiing, Aspen has 4 separate mountains perfect for every level of skier. In contrast, Steamboat Springs has just one smaller mountain so there’s less variety in terms of slopes.
Aspen had way better options when it came to shopping and dining as it had a wider range of shops and restaurants. Both locations have lots of activities and things to do though.
I did find that Aspen was a bit busier than Steamboat Springs as it’s a more popular resort town and attracts tourists from all over. Steamboat Springs is a bit more isolated and less people bother to make the trip out there.
Which Is Bigger?
Steamboat Springs town is bigger than Aspen in terms of area. Steamboat Springs covers 25.6km2 whereas Aspen covers just 9.9km2.
Steamboat Springs also has a larger population of just under 13,000 people. Aspen has just 7,400 residents.
Despite the actual town of Aspen being smaller, you wouldn’t be able to tell when walking around as it’s always bustling, lively and is jam-packed with things to do.
If skiing is your thing then you’ll also find that Aspen has a much bigger skiable area compared with Steamboat Springs.
Which Is Better For Skiing?
Steamboat Springs tends to get a much higher snowfall each year on average when compared with Aspen.
I also noticed that the ski lift queues tended to be much shorter in Steamboat Springs and most of the time there was no queue at all.
I pretty much always had to wait in a queue for a ski lift in Aspen.
Aspen has a much higher overall skiable area compared with Steamboat Springs. Aspen has 4 separate mountains perfect for every level of skier including Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands & Aspen Mountain.
Snowmass alone features 3,342 acres of terrain, 98 trails and 20 chairlifts. Snowmass is big enough to offer up every type of terrain from serene to extreme and everything in between. There’s also 3 other huge mountains to keep you busy!
Steamboat Springs has just one smaller mountain so there’s less variety in terms of slopes but it’s still pretty fun to ski there. The mountain has 3,000 acres of skiable area across 6 peaks.
Steamboat Springs sits at a lower altitude of 6,900ft compared with Aspen which sits at 7,900ft. If you suffer with altitude sickness or are traveling with someone who isn’t used to high altitudes then Steamboat Springs may be a better choice.
Which Has Better Activities?
Both Steamboat Springs and Aspen have a wide range of activities available and I was certainly never bored at any point during the trips.
Whilst both locations are best known for their amazing ski resorts, there’s also a ton of other fun activities to keep you occupied.
Activities In Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs is an idyllic mountain town steeped in Western tradition. It’s the perfect place for outdoor lovers and adrenaline junkies.
From skiing & snowboarding to relaxing in a hot spring or biking through the valley, there’s something for everyone in Steamboat Springs.
Best Activities In Steamboat Springs:
- Hot springs
- Horseback riding
Skiing is by far the most popular activity in Steamboat Springs and I ended up spending most of my time doing it. The trails are super fun and varied.
You’ll find 169 trails with 3,000 acres of skiable area across 6 peaks filled with bumps, steeps, meadows and trees. Ski lift queues are also incredibly rare here.
You get experience real ‘champagne powder’ at Steamboat Springs – this refers to the incredibly dry snow that the area receives. Dry snow is the best for skiing.
They even have night skiing so the fun doesn’t have to end when the day does.
There’s also a huge range of other fun winter activities including snowshoeing, snowmobile tours, ice skating, tubing and more. Tubing was a personal favorite.
I also loved stopping off at one of the historic hot springs for a refreshing dip after a long day of skiing.
The Old Town Hot Springs which is located in the heart of downtown Steamboat was my favorite but I also loved the Strawberry Park Hot Springs at the edge of the Yampa Valley.
Steamboat Springs has many family-friendly activities like this super fun scavenger hunt whilst hiking along the Yampa River which is fun for both kids and adults.
Hiking is another popular activity in Steamboat Springs. Stretch your legs and take a walk to Fish Creek Falls where you’ll be greeted by some beautiful waterfalls.
I loved taking a ride on the gondola to enjoy the picturesque views of Mount Werner and the Yampa Valley from above. You can also enjoy a delicious lunch when you get to the top.
Another popular activity is to float along the Yampa River especially if you’re visiting during the summer. You can rent a tube and ride along the river, enjoying the scenery as you go.
Activities In Aspen
Whilst Aspen is super well known for its incredible ski slopes, there’s so much more to Aspen than just its mountains.
Aspen has a wide range of activities available for the whole family.
Best Activities In Aspen:
- Horseback riding
- Maroon Bells
- John Denver Sanctuary
- Independence Pass
Aspen is one of the best choices when it comes to skiing as it has 4 separate mountains and a good transportation system connecting them.
After skiing there, I don’t feel like I even touched the surface so I’d love to return again soon to try out some more slopes.
With 4 different ski areas there’s slopes perfect for every level of skier from beginner to advanced. Buttermilk is perfect for beginners. If you’re more advanced you’ll really enjoy skiing in Aspen Mountain (also known as Ajax).
Aspen offers incredible slopes and a fantastic range of amenities. Save time and avoid long queues for ski and snowboard rental by renting your equipment beforehand.
If you’re visiting in the spring or summer then horseback riding is a great activity. Ride through the Aspen Grove and get lost in nature.
Hiking is another popular activity. My favorite route was the one that leads up to the Smuggler Mountain Observation Deck. This 3-mile hike was totally worth the effort as the views from the top were amazing.
No trip to Aspen is complete without visiting the breathtaking Maroon Bells. These 14,000-ft high peaks are touted as the most photographed spot in the whole of Colorado and you can certainly see why!
These mountain-capped peaks are located just 10 miles west of Aspen and you can easily spend a full day hiking this stunning area. There are numerous trails and campsites surrounding the mountains.
Which Has Better Accommodation?
You’ll have a ton of options when it comes to hotels and places to stay in both Aspen and Steamboat Springs.
From cosy ski lodges to 5-star hotels – you’ll find it all in both locations however Aspen has a much wider range of 5-star, luxury hotels and accommodations.
I loved both of the hotels I stayed at but the one in Aspen definitely felt more luxurious (it was way more expensive though).
Accommodation In Steamboat Springs
There’s lots of great places to stay in Steamboat Springs, all within easy reach of the skiing slopes.
You’ll also find a good range of luxury hotels which will make your stay in Steamboat Springs just that little bit more special and memorable.
Best Hotels In Steamboat Springs:
Accommodation In Aspen
Aspen is known for being a luxury and exclusive vacation destination so its hotels and accommodation options reflect this.
If luxury, 5-star hotels are your thing then you’ll love Aspen.
Best Hotels In Aspen:
Which Is Better for Nightlife?
After a long day of skiing, it’s great to know that both Steamboat Springs and Aspen have a great range of bars, restaurants and pubs where you can spend the evening.
There’s a range of options whether you want to party and dance all night or sit back and relax with a quiet glass of wine.
Nightlife In Steamboat Springs
There are plenty of nightlife options available in Steamboat Springs but they all tend to offer a relaxed, laid back vibe.
If you want to dance and party all night long then head over to lively Lincoln Avenue where you’ll find an array of dance party options.
The Old Town Pub was my favorite place to spend the evening as was Schmiggity’s Dance Bar which has live music every day of the week.
If performing arts is more your thing then head over to Perry-Mansfield which offers weekend performances of classic plays and dance.
There’s also a great range of bars and breweries for a quiet drink after a long day of skiing. Some of the best include the Mahogany Ridge Brewery & Grill, Storm Peak Brewery and The Barely Tap & Tavern.
Nightlife In Aspen
Aspen has a vibrant and well known nightlife scene and I noticed that the town really came alive after dark. With more than 100 bars, night clubs and restaurants, you’re spoilt for choice!
There’s something for everyone, from jazz clubs to billiards and even dance clubs. Aspen also has an incredible live music scene year-round with both indoor and outdoor venues dotted around the town.
As Aspen is a very upmarket town, you’ll find a range of high end luxury bars and clubs. The Caribou Club is often considered to be the top private club in town and is a super prestigious venue.
Which Is More Affordable?
A trip to Aspen will cost more than a trip to Steamboat Springs. In fact, I think I spent almost double on my trip to Aspen with most of the additional cost being down to the hotel.
When it comes to hotels and accommodation, Aspen is significantly more expensive. Aspen is well known as being a vacation spot for the rich and famous so it’s filled with 5-star luxury hotels.
There aren’t really many budget options in Aspen. You’ll find much cheaper hotels and accommodation in Steamboat Springs.
I also noticed that food was a lot more pricey in Aspen compared with Steamboat Springs.
Steamboat Springs had tons of budget friendly options whereas Aspen had more fine dining options that came with a hefty price tag.
And that’s it!
Both Steamboat Springs and Aspen are fantastic ski resort towns and you’ll definitely have an amazing time whichever one you choose.
If you’re still stuck on where to go, I think you’ll find these guides useful: