Vail, Colorado is a wonderful and special place. Nestled deep in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, it’s hard to believe that this bustling vacation destination was only founded in 1966. It grew from nothing to so much in the past half-century, and today it’s the perfect place to visit at any time of year.
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Vail, then you came to the right place. In this informative post, we’ll tell you all about the best Vail points of interest and top Vail activities that you should not miss, so you can experience the best of Vail, Colorado during your visit. Read on!
- Best Historical Attraction: Camp Hale
- Best Developed Nature Attraction: Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
- Best Things to Do in Vail With Kids: Vail Epic Discovery (summer), Vail Ski Resort (winter)
- Best Low Effort Way to See Vail: Vail Segway
- Best Easy Hiking Trail: Gore Creek Trail
- Best Challenging Hiking Trail: Missouri Lakes Trail
- Best Outdoor Shopping: Vail Farmers Market & Art Show
- Best Indoor Shopping: Vail Village
- Best Place to See Music: Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
Vail History Attractions
Colorado Snowsports Museum & Hall of Fame
Address: 231 South Frontage Road East
It should be no surprise to anyone that the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame is in Vail, Colorado where snowsports are a part of everyday life for local residents throughout the entire winter, and reminders of them are so evident during the summertime. This museum started as the Colorado Ski Museum in 1976 and was updated in 2018 at a cost of $2.6 million.
This museum is not very big but it’s interesting, educational, and worth a visit. It includes exhibits on ski resorts, ski fashion, the history and evolution of snowboarding, skiing throughout history, winter sports competitions in Colorado, and more.
The Hall of Fame honors more than 200 Colorado athletes, coaches, patrons, and supporters. You’ll learn a lot here about snowsports and Colorado in general; the museum is open daily year-round.
Address: 10th Mountain Division Memorial Highway; Leadville
Camp Hale has been in the news a lot lately because although right now it simply has historic landmark status, there’s talk of elevating it to United States National Monument status, which it certainly deserves. Although only foundations and footprints remain, this space was once the site of an active military base. It’s about thirty minutes by car from Vail, but if you love history, it’s not to be missed.
This former military training facility was constructed during World War II to train the 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry unit that was formed for mountain warfare at high elevations and in cold climates.
The 15,000 soldiers stationed on this land were trained in mountain climbing, Alpine and Nordic skiing, and cold-weather survival. Interestingly enough, many of these recruits were from wealthy backgrounds, having had access to pursuits such as mountaineering and skiing that the average Joe couldn’t afford in the 1930s and early 40s.
The facility was decommissioned in 1945, but today Camp Hale is an important and interesting piece of Colorado history. Now, the area is used for hiking, camping, and other outdoor recreation; it’s in the White River National Forest, so it’s a lovely space for all of the above.
Outdoorsy Things to do in Vail
Address: 503 South Frontage Road East
This large and lovely park is a free public park in Vail, Colorado that has so much to offer both residents and visitors.
Named for President Gerald Ford who spent a lot of time in Vail after his presidency, this park includes sports fields, picnic areas, an excellent playground, a sculpture garden, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens (described below), and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater described later in this post.
This park is a wonderful place to bring a picnic to enjoy while you take in the marvelous scenery all around you. Parking and admission are free.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Estes Park, Colorado
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
Address: 522 South Frontage Road East
The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Ford Park are simply gorgeous. You’ll love this beautiful little mountain oasis and you’ll be amazed at how much beauty is stuffed into this relatively small space.
Wanna know something cool? It’s the highest elevation botanical garden in the US at 8,200 feet, and it includes numerous distinct gardens within it: the Alpine Display Garden, the Mountain Perennial Garden, the Mountain Meditation Garden, the Alpine Rock Garden, a children’s garden, and more.
Within this garden, you’ll find over 2,000 varieties of plants, and about a quarter of those are wildflowers and alpine plants that are, in most cases, native to Colorado. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is free and is open year-round.
Vail Recreation Path
If you want to enjoy Vail, Colorado without a car on foot or by bike, you can, thanks to the Vail Recreation Path System. This collection of multi-use paths can get you anywhere you want to go in Vail and in the closeby surrounding areas, and altogether it includes over fifteen miles of paved paths.
From these paths, you can connect to soft-surface hiking and mountain biking trails, too. The Vail Recreation Path System is maintained by the Town of Vail Department of works even in the wintertime. Trust me, you’ll love it.
West Vail Dog Park & Bighorn Park Off Leash Dog Park
Vail loves doggos, and doggos (probably) love Vail. If you’re looking for things to do in Vail, Colorado with your dog, you’ll be happy to hear that there are two excellent places to bring your dog in town for running, playing, and meeting other doggy friends in town.
The terrific West Vail Dog Park is in Stephens Park in West Vail. It’s not fenced in, so you’ll have to keep your dog under voice control, but there are lots of places to romp with beautiful scenery, and your pup can take a dip in the adjacent creek.
Bighorn Park Off Leash Dog Park is similar. There’s no fence there, either, but it’s big and open, too – plus it includes a pond for doggy paddling as well. In both terrific places, please pick up after your pets so everyone can continue to enjoy these special and beautiful parks without worrying about rogue dog eggs!
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Denver, Colorado
Vail Nature Center
Address: 601 Vail Valley Drive
Nature fan? You’ll love this pleasant and informative nature center. The Vail Nature Center is the perfect place to go to learn about the interesting fauna and flora that thrives in this high-elevation environment. The nature center building is a restored 1940s homestead in the middle of a mountain meadow on the banks of Gore Creek.
Inside, you’ll find hands-on educational exhibits and knowledgeable, enthusiastic staff. Check the nature center’s calendar for current events; you might sign up for a nature tour, a birdwatching hike, a class about wildflowers, or an evening program that includes stargazing and astronomy.
See Related: Best Breweries in Denver, Colorado
Vail Hiking Trails
Hiking in the Vail area is something that you must do while you’re in town if the weather is nice enough for it; if you’re looking for active things to do in Vail, hiking should be at the very top of your list.
This section of the Rocky Mountains is one of the very best parts of the entire mountain range, and it’s crucial that you make an effort to get out into it. Exploring on foot is the best way to do it. Here are a few trail ideas to get you started.
Lost Lake Trail
Address: 700 Red Sandstone Road
The Lost Lake Trail is long at seven miles out-and-back but it’s rated easy as the elevation gain is mild and steady. The trail meanders through alpine woodland, and even though it’s a popular trail, there will be lots of times when you feel like you’re a million miles from everyone and everything.
Lost Lake itself is a small and still lake that reflects the mountains around it. Words really don’t do it justice – it’s seriously stunning. Thinking of bringing the fur baby? Leashed dogs are welcome too!
See Related: Best Hiking Trails in the World
Gore Creek Trail
This short, 1.8-mile point-to-point trail is an easy one and it’s great for families with kids. It’s not far from the highway so you’ll hear traffic noise while you walk, but if you can block that out you’ll love this creekside hike through town. This trail is paved which makes it popular with bikers, runners, and walkers at any time of day. Still, it’s quite lovely – just be alert!
Booth Creek Falls Trail
Address: 3035 Booth Falls Road
Booth Creek Falls is a sixty-foot waterfall at the end of a 4.2-mile out-and-back trail. The hike is considered moderate and you’ll gain 1,358 feet of elevation along the way.
It’s worth it. Not only are the falls themselves beautiful, but you’ll be immersed in breathtaking scenery the entire time you’re en route to it, too.
Shrine Ridge Trail
This trail offers access to colorful fields of wildflowers and mountain vistas that you’ll never forget. It’s 4.3 miles in length out-and-back and depending on when you go, it can either be empty or very busy.
You can expect snow in early fall and into late spring, so the best time to try this one is in midsummer. Dogs on leashes are allowed and you may encounter some horseback riders along the way also.
See Related: Essential Tips for Hiking with Kids
Upper Piney Lake Trail
The Upper Piney Lake Trail is another moderate-rated hike that is not far from Vail. It’s an out-and-back hike that is three miles each way, but it’s not too steep in most sections; people even cross-country ski on it in the wintertime. There’s a waterfall to view if you stay on the upper trail. Expect to see lots of wildlife on this one.
Missouri Lakes Trail
If you’re looking for a challenging hike that’s absolutely worth the effort, the 9.2, out-and-back Missouri Lakes Trail is one that you’ll love. Along the route, you’ll pass by waterfalls, walk through thick forests, and marvel at the bright blue color of these amazing alpine lakes. This is a favorite local hike of many Coloradans and once you complete it yourself, you’ll understand why.
Pitkin Creek Trail
Address: 4040 Fall Line Drive
This challenging, 10.5-mile out-and-back trail leads to a beautiful lake at the top and even though it’s a very popular trail many days, there’s a good chance that you may not see anyone else out there the day that you choose to try it.
You’ll gain 2.975 feet of elevation on this hike so be sure you’re ready for the challenges that come from hiking in high altitudes and don’t be afraid to rest or even turn back if you need to.
Dogs are allowed but must stay on a leash. This is a wise rule to follow considering the vast amount of wildlife (including bears) that you may encounter in this area.
See Related: Most Beautiful & Best Running Trails in America
Adventure Activities in Vail
Vail Mountain Resort
Skiing and snowboarding are the main things to do in Vail, and they are the main draw for tourists to this area. It’s no surprise – Vail Mountain Resort is the cream of the crop when it comes to skiing and snowboarding in the United States, and people come from all over the nation and the world to give it a try.
This Vail resort is the third largest single-mountain ski resort in the country after Big Sky in Montana and Park City in Utah. Vail Mountain Resort offers 195 different ski runs and 53% of them are rated advanced, which makes this mountain more challenging than most. There are thirty-one lifts at Vail, two terrain parks, and the mountain’s longest run, Riva Ridge, is four miles long.
It’s easy to see why people who love skiing and snowboarding love Vail Mountain Resort. It’s huge, famous, and iconic, and everyone who participates in these types of winter sports wants to say they skied or snowboarded Vail at least once in their lives.
Most people, however, love it so much that once they’ve been once, they come back to it time and time again. You will, too.
See Related: Best Ski Resorts in the US to Visit
Vail Scenic Gondola Rides
Address: Eagle Bahn Gondola – 699 I-70 Frontage Road
Address: Gondola One – Vail Village
Vail Mountain Resort offers two scenic gondola rides up Vail mountain that you’ll love no matter what time of year you visit. Gondola One leaves from Vail Village and the Eagle Bahn Gondola departs from Lionshead; both will take riders to elevations of over 10,000 feet.
These scenic gondolas are usually open daily from mid-June to early September, and then are open on weekends until October. Not only is the ride on both of these gondolas breathtaking, but when you get to the top, you’ll have access to countless hiking and mountain biking trails.
You can weave your way back down on one of those, or get back on the gondola for your descent. Of course, both gondolas operate during the snow season as well, but you’ll most likely ski or snowboard back down then.
Vail Epic Discovery
Address: 520 E Lionshead Circle
Many people don’t think there’s much of anything to do at a ski resort in the summertime – but those people are wrong! There are plenty of fun and even “epic” things to do at Vail Mountain during the warmer, snow-free months!
In addition to the scenic gondola, Vail Ski Resort also offers other fun, summer activities. These days, most ski mountains offer these sorts of things which is wonderful. It was certainly a waste of many years when so many active ski resorts went completely dormant during the off-season, so it’s a relief to see this positive change happening everywhere in recent times.
At Vail, you can immerse yourself and your companions in Vail Epic Discovery any day of the week from mid-June to early September.
You and your companions can enjoy attractions and adventure courses like the Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster, two tubing hills, a kids’ zipline, a bungee trampoline, a climbing wall, mini golf, and more.
See Related: Best Vacation Dresses for Summer & Beach Trips
Grand Traverse Biking Trail
If you’re looking for active, thrilling things to do in Vail, then you’ll love the Grand Traverse Biking Trail. This trail is for mountain biking only and starts at the top of the mountain where you get off the Eagle Bahn gondola, which conveniently will haul your bike to the top for you as well.
It’s an out-and-back trail that’s about eight miles in length and is rated moderately challenging. On your ride, you’ll see lots of scenic vistas, wildlife, and plenty of wildflowers, too.
It’s a very well-rated biking trail; everyone who loves mountain biking loves it. If you’re someone who enjoys mountain bike adventures, this is a once-in-a-lifetime, very special trail that you absolutely should not miss.
Piney River Ranch
Address: 700 Red Sandstone Road
Piney River Ranch is a gorgeous, privately owned ranch at the end of a long dirt road, twelve miles north of Vai Village, at 9,350′, within the White River National Forest.
It’s open from late June to early September for weddings, retreats, and other events, but it also offers daily activities for visitors and outdoor enthusiasts including horseback riding, hiking, fishing, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding.
There’s also an excellent restaurant on site and if there is no evening event happening at the ranch, you can also stay there, in a cabin or a glamping tent. Fancy!
Address: 250 North Frontage Road West
Vail Segway is the only authorized segway tour in Vail Valley and the guides for this company are the best in the business. If you want to enjoy Vail Valley without exerting much physical effort, this is an excellent way to do it.
With your guide leading the way, you and your companions will ride segways in a 90 or 120-minute loop around Vail with plenty of stops for commentary and photos. You’ll learn a lot about the local area from your guide; you’ll roll past pine forests and through Vail Village and you’ll get local tips that you might not get a chance to know otherwise.
Enjoy incredible views of the Gore Mountain Range and ask all the questions you can think of – your guide can’t wait to meet you and he or she can’t wait to show you around his or her hometown in this fun and unique way. Here’s a link to a Vail Segway Tour from Vail Village from Viator!
See Related: Interesting Horseshoe Bend Facts: Colorado River Travel Tips
Sage Outdoor Adventures
Address: 41466 Us-6; Eagle-Vail
Sage Outdoor Adventures is a bit west of Vail in Eagle-Vail near Avon, but it’s only about ten minutes away and it’s well worth the trip. This well-rated spot is a winter and summer playground that offers a variety of activities that will greatly enhance your overall Vail experience.
In the summer you can enjoy whitewater rafting, horseback riding, fishing, and side-by-side ATV adventures, and in the winter you can explore the property’s 100+ miles of custom-designed, well-groomed trails by snowmobile.
There’s something for everyone here, including activities for people of almost all ages and certainly of all skill levels. If you’ve never participated in these types of activities before, your enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides will teach you everything you need to know and will be there to answer questions as they arise along the way.
Vail snowboard rentals can be of help if you can’t snow drive but use a snowboard.
See Related: Best Things To Do In Colorado
Whitewater Rafting & Tubing
Numerous places in Vail Valley offer whitewater rafting and tubing. Sage Outdoor Adventures, described above, is a great option, but it is only one of many.
All of the many guide companies available for this exciting activity will take you on an unforgettable trip along the Lower Eagle River, the Upper Colorado River, the Arkansas River, through Gore Canyon, or on any one of a number of other waterways in the area.
If you’re not feeling like an adrenaline-filled trip, there are simple float trips that are suitable for all ages as an alternative. Whitewater rafting is an excellent way to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of this very special part of Colorado.
If you’re visiting Vail Valley during the spring or summer months, spending some time on the water in a raft or tube is one of the things to do in Vail that you simply must do.
Ziplining is another exciting warm-weather activity that’s a great way to experience Vail in a unique way. There are plenty of providers offering ziplining in Vail Valley.
Whether you’ve ziplined before or not, ziplining in this mountain environment and seeing the ground below you like the birds and other tree-climbing wildlife does is something that you’ll never forget. If you’re afraid of heights, fear not – the staff at any of these zipline attractions will make sure you’re strapped in and will set your mind at ease. Just do it!
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Colorado Springs
Backcountry Snowmobile Tours
If you’re visiting Vail in the winter, you can’t skip snowmobiling. If you’ve never driven a snowmobile before, this is the perfect place to try it for the first time.
The guides in this area are used to showing visitors the ropes at a speed and pace appropriate to their desires. On a snowmobile, you’ll see parts of Vail Valley that you wouldn’t otherwise, and as soon as you’re done, you’ll want to do it all over again.
On the other hand, if you’re an accomplished and experienced snowmobiler, there’s no place else in the nation like Vail Valley for snowmobiling. This area is full of epic snowmobile trails and the world is truly your oyster when you set out on the trails here. Get out there and explore.
Vail is also the perfect place to try your hand at fly fishing. Gore Creek runs right through the center of town and you can step out into it anytime you’d like in your waders as long as you have a Colorado fishing license, which can be obtained easily at many places in and around town.
You’ll also find many other creeks and rivers in the area just teeming with fish, and you’ll return home with many successful stories that you won’t even need to exaggerate at all.
For those new to fly fishing, there are many outfitters and educators in this area that will teach you everything that you need to know to get started on this fun, exciting, and relaxing sport. You’ll love it.
Fun Things to Do in Vail
Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
Address: 530 South Frontage Road East
The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater is an incredible place to see a concert or performance of any kind. This 2,656 outdoor amphitheater hosts events throughout the warmer months and is one of the most beautiful venues in the entire nation. It also plays host to the popular Vail Dance Festival, a two-week dance event held every summer.
Whether you sit in the pavilion or on the grassy lawn, you’ll be surrounded by mountains and pine forests, and you may even see some hawks or eagles fly by during the performance to check it out.
Check the venue’s schedule to see who is playing while you’re in town, but even if you’re not a fan of him, her, or them, go anyway. This place is a bucket list venue for music fans all over the nation, so take advantage of it when you can.
See Related: Best Midwest Festivals Worth Traveling To
Shopping & Accommodations in Vail
There are two “villages” in Vail – Vail Village and Lionshead. There are also a few other neighborhoods on the outskirts of Vail that you may hear mentions or may consider for accommodations: West Vail, East Vail, and Cascade.
The great thing about Vail is that everything is close together, so no matter what you choose, you won’t feel isolated from everything else. Each place is different, though, so they’re worth discussing further.
Vail Village was the original center of town and, in many ways, it still is. This is where you can catch Gondola One to the top of the mountain, but even if you stay in town, there’s plenty to do. This area is packed with restaurants, shops, nightlife, and more, along with a vast choice of accommodations for visitors.
One of the best places to stay in Vail Village is the Austria Haus Hotel. It’s in the center of town and is very well-rated by all guests who stay there.
Lionshead is next to Vail Village and is another great place to stay in town. This is where the Eagle Bahn Gondola departs from, and there are no cars and buses allowed in the village itself.
You’ll love the Bavarian theme here and there’s an ice skating rink, bars, shops, and hotels galore in Lionshead. The Vail Collection at the Ritz Carlton Residences Vail is perhaps the best accommodations option in this part of town.
West Vail is a bit more residential than the villages and, because of that, you’ll find a lot more stores in this area that serve the local people like grocery stores, fast-casual restaurants, a hardware store, convenience stores, and more.
If you choose to stay in a vacation rental in this area, there’s a free bus system that will take you to Vail Village or Lionshead, so you won’t need a rental car.
There are lots of vacation rentals in West Vail from which to choose. This Plush Vail Home is right on the free shuttle route and is just seven minutes from the mountain. It sleeps six in three bedrooms and you and your companions will be able to walk to shops and dining.
East Vail is also served by the free bus system and is another nice away-from-the-action place to stay when visiting Vail Valley. The Vail Golf Club is on this side of town, plus there’s lots of access to hiking and biking trails in East Vail, too.
East Vail is also full of vacation rentals that you’ll love. This Roomy, Well Appointed Home is also on the free shuttle line and it even has a hot tub for you and your friends to relax in after a busy day. It sleeps ten in four bedrooms.
Cascade Village is only about a quarter-mile west of Lionshead and the free bus system serves this area as well, but there’s also a lift that departs from here so you may not even need it. In the warmer months, it’s a great place to fish in Gore Creek, too. The impressive Grand Hyatt Vail is the best place to stay in Cascade.
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Vail Farmers Market & Art Show
Address: East Vail Meadow Drive
The Vail Farmers Market and Art Show is a fantastic Sunday activity during the spring, summer, and fall. This farmers market has been happening for twenty-two years now. It started small, as farmers markets often do, and has grown massive in size; today there are nearly 150 different tents to check out each weekend!
Most of the vendors offer items made in Colorado, and you’ll get the opportunity to try and purchase some of the high-quality farm goods grown on Colorado’s Western Slope, and chances are that you’ll leave with some kind of artsy souvenir from your visit to the farmers market as well.
Best Things to Do in Vail at Night
10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company
Address: 227 Bridge Street
Although 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company’s small-batch distillery is in Gypsum, this fine spirit producer has a tasting room right in Vail Village. Named after the 10th Mountain Division, you can try its offerings in a comfortable setting overlooking Gore Creek and pick up some bottles of your favorites to take home with you.
This distillery is devoted to philanthropy as part of its mission, so you can be sure you’re spending your money somewhere where it will do a lot of good down the road.
See Related: Weird Food Combinations
Vail Brewing Company
Address: 141 East Meadow Drive #209
If you’d prefer a cold beer after a day on the slopes or the trail, stop by Vail Brewing Company, instead. This small, artisan, craft brewery is always making something good for its customers and you can sample its offerings in its Vail Village tasting room. It first opened in 2014 and has won numerous awards since then. You’ll love anything they pour for you!
Is Vail, Colorado safe?
Vail is safe and has little crime, but be alert about petty theft; tourists draw thieves who are looking for people who may be off guard. Keep your valuables close or out of sight in your car and you should be fine.
When is the best time of year to visit Vail, Colorado?
Anytime is a great time to visit Vail, Colorado! This mountain playground is lovely at any time of year. If you’re looking for things to do in Vail in winter, you can enjoy Vail Ski Resort, snowmobiling, and other indoor and outdoor activities in Vail Valley.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for things to do in Vail in summer, there’s plenty of hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and other adventures to keep you busy. Summer and winter are busy in Vail; you may also choose to visit during the less busy fall and spring seasons if you wish to avoid the crowds.
What other towns near Vail are worth a visit?
Vail is close to numerous other fun and welcoming Colorado towns and destinations, and while there are plenty of things to do in Vail, you may also consider heading to Avon, Beaver Creek Village, Aspen the famous ski resort town, Leadville, and Breckenridge (one of my favorites) to explore them, too, during your visit.
If you do decide to get out there and check out other nearby places, then you might like this Vail & Breckenridge Smartphone Audio Tour from GetYourGuide.com to guide you and narrate your trip.
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