Steamboat Lake State Park features a 1,100 surface-acre reservoir lying at 8,000 feet in elevation in the Willow Creek Valley of the Park Range. There is plenty of geology, plants, and wildlife to explore in this beautiful oasis.
Routt National Forest helps to preserve large tracts of contiguous habitat in the region. Mule deer and red fox commonly occur in the park. Rare sightings of black bear and mountain lion are sometimes reported. Other mammals at Steamboat Lake include American marten, long-tailed weasel, northern pocket gopher, beaver, muskrat and several species of shrews, voles, squirrels and mice. Tiger salamander, striped chorus frog and western terrestrial garter snake also are present. Because dramatic late summer drawdowns do not occur at Steamboat Lake, the reservoir exhibits characteristics similar to a natural lake with more constant shoreline conditions and water levels for resident and migrating wildlife.
Over 200 species of migratory and resident birds are known in the park including northern harrier, osprey, great blue heron, western screech owl, western bluebird, hairy and downy woodpeckers and red-winged blackbird. Located in the Pacific Flyway, the reservoir attracts many shorebirds and waterfowl. Greater sandhill cranes return to nest in the willow carrs and marshes each spring. The park staff requests that visitors keep their distance when observing the cranes.
Steamboat Lake offers excellent cold-water fishing opportunities for rainbow trout, Tasmanian and bel-aire hybrids, cutthroat trout and brown trout. Occasionally a Brook trout is reported.
Native plant communities at Steamboat Lake are the following:
- Sagebrush shrubland
- Lodgepole pine forest
- Northern subalpine forest
- Aspen forest
- Willow carr
- Wet meadow
- Western slope grassland
Sagebrush shrubland is the most common community type at Steamboat Lake, growing on dry slopes and ridges and on slightly moister slopes. Shrubland species include big sagebrush, bitterbrush, rabbitbrush, needlegrass and lupine.
In open areas of the sagebrush shrubland, mule’s ears and prairie junegrass dominate a western slope grassland community. The dominant forest trees are lodgepole pine and aspen with interspersed stands of Englemann spruce and sub-alpine fir. Herbaceous understory species include geranium, strawberry, arnica and mountain brome.
Willow carr, marsh and wet meadow plant communities exist in and around the reservoir and its tributary drainages. Willow carr is a wetland shrub community dominated by a variety of willows including wolf, booth, geyer and shining willow. Marshes consist primarily of sedges, rushes and bulrushes in areas with permanent standing water.
Wet meadows are not obviously marshy but possess traits, such as moist soil and hydrophytic vegetation, suggestive of periodic wet conditions. Common native species include tufted hairgrass, elephantella, western bistort, shrubby cinquefoil and scouring rush.
The park is partially covered by Holocene alluvium on the west and north sides, which overlays Tertiary rocks of the Miocene Epoch. The principal Tertiary formation is Brown's Park Sandstone, sedimentary rock with silicic ash beds. A small area of intrusive silicic porphyry is present along the north shore.