One thing is sure about visiting Vail in the summer — you will be compelled to spend your time outdoors because of the spectacular alpine environment. The options of outdoor activities on a Vail Colorado summer vacation and fall are endless. The mountain environment offers maximum outdoor fun for families of all ages – from soaring up or down the mountain to exploring it on horseback or foot. Here are summer activities that you won’t want to miss!
While Vail and the Colorado mountains may be best known for epic ski slopes, the area has even more to offer during summer. With warm sunny days, cool nights, clear skies and the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, summer is the perfect season to enjoy outdoor adventures and nature at its best. As a local Vail area family ranging in age from five-years-old to 50-years-old, we are happy to share some of our favorite things to do in Vail Colorado in the summer.
Summertime in the Colorado Rockies can’t be beat. Vail summer activities range from adventurous to serenely taking in the natural outdoor mountain environment. There will be no shortage of things for you to enjoy during your Vail summer getaway.
Vail’s Mountain Playground: Epic Discovery
There really is something for everyone of all ages atop Vail Mountain at Vail Resorts’ Epic Discovery. Soaring slowly through the air up a mountain on the Eagle Bahn gondola while watching the green ski slopes and trees go by, surrounded by mountain peaks, is peaceful, relaxing and breathtaking.
Once you arrive at the top of Vail Mountain, the hardest decision will be what to do first. From speeding down the mountain on the Forest Flyer alpine coaster or tubing hill or flying through the air on a zip line, to testing your bravery on one of the ropes courses, there is something for kids and adults of all ages. I’d recommend taking a break from the excitement and challenges to cool off in the Nature Discovery Center while exploring wildlife exhibits.
The views atop Vail Mountain are always spectacular. But in my opinion, fall is the most beautiful. If you can make it up mid to late September, you may just get to take in golden Aspen leaves as far as you can see.
This is our top pick of things to do with kids in Vail as you really won’t find many other natural environments that combine an education of wildlife and nature with personal challenges, and just plain fun.
Take a Hike
Western Colorado is home to some of the most spectacular hiking trails in the country. There is really a hike for children and adults of all ages and ability levels. Our family has even managed to hunt down a couple that keeps young kids entertained with hidden caves and waterfalls.
If you are staying in Vail, you may want to stick close and take a vigorous hike up the mountain. You could also choose to ride the gondola up and take a leisurely hike around the top of Vail Mountain. Or perhaps a stroll through the beautiful Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, the highest botanical garden in the country, is more your speed.
The Vail valley offers many hikes of different levels. I think it is worth a drive over to the Glenwood Canyon, about 45 minutes west of Vail, for a hike up to the popular Hanging Lake. Or, if you have young kids, a drive out to Rifle Falls State Park for an easy loop to the top of the falls and around exploring caves as you go may be the ticket.
I don’t believe that there is a better way to slow down, enjoy nature and de-stress than taking a hike. Plus, there is no better time than the present to get your kids outside and into nature. If Vail hadn’t debuted Epic Discovery last summer and managed to uniquely combine nature, education, adventure, and fun, we might have made this our top pick of things to do with kids in Vail.
You might also like: Best things to do at Big Bear Lake in Summer
Play at the Parks
Visit the local parks! Every town has parks, and many much bigger than Vail’s. But I’d argue that these are special. Not only are they set in an idyllic outdoor environment, but they also encourage imaginary play and activity. Plus, it is one of the free things to do that kids will enjoy as much as the expensive activities.
Vail’s Sunbird Park, known as Nest Park by the local kids, was named as one of the world’s coolest by Travel + Leisure. Located in Lionshead Village, architects took inspiration from both the local ski culture and nearby nesting habitats to create “nest” tree houses with support structures that mimic the look of traditional wooden skis. Rope bridges, slides, a climbing wall and a spray park keep the kids moving and entertained.
In Vail Village, Pirate Ship Park is another favorite. The centerpiece is a large pirate ship with several levels with stairs up to an eagle’s nest at the top. From rowboats on the ground below to passageways through the ship above, this structure inspires all kinds of imaginary play. The swings and river access are bonuses.
All kids will be entertained for hours at the Children’s Fountain in Vail village. Children’s Fountain is more of a water play area than a park. It’s the perfect place to cool down on a warm day. Squeals of delight and laughter are non-stop. But beware, a candy shop is strategically placed right in front of the fountain. It will attract the kids like bees to honey!
Take a Horseback Ride
Coming from someone who was horse crazy as a kid, horseback riding is a special way to take in the Colorado mountain views and local flora and fauna. What an experience to ride atop beautiful, gentle animals with entertaining knowledgeable wranglers guiding you through the mountains. My daughter, one of her friends and I enjoyed a ride this summer at Beaver Creek Stables. At times we felt as though we were in the middle of nowhere. But then we’d come around a bend to take in miles of beautiful mountain vistas and ski runs.
Horseback riding is one of the things to do in Vail Colorado in the summer that might even be better in fall. The Aspen trees turn gold, the dust settles and the air has a hint of crispness. It is the perfect time to enjoy a family horseback ride.
For the more adventurous, get your heart pumping with a mountain bike ride up and then down Vail Mountain. Don’t want to work so hard with the uphill? For an additional fee, you can have your bike hauled up the gondola and just ride down. There are many additional trails spread throughout the Vail valley that could be considered some of the best mountain biking trails in Colorado.
For a scenic ride, take cruiser bikes along the Vail bike path. Take in the river along the way and then stop for a picnic or ice cream in Lionshead or Vail Village.
Go Paddle Boarding
This is my favorite new sport. Even if you don’t love being in the water, being on the water is serene. Our favorite paddle boarding location is Piney Lake, a few miles up a dirt road from Vail at Piney River Ranch. The ranch rents canoes, but not paddle boards, so if you’ll need to bring your own. The views of the Gore Range reflecting on the lake are unbeatable.
Nottingham Lake in Avon rents paddle boards. So, this could be a better options for visitors who can’t bring their own gear. You’ll find other water sports and a small beach here.
White Water Rafting
Local outfitters offer white water rafting for almost every ability level. There are age restrictions for many of the tours so be sure to check before you go. Our family likes to take the Father’s Day float on the Colorado River offered by Timberline Tours. This is a very easy float, so children can go.
Try Fly Fishing
The Vail valley offers excellent gold medal fly fishing waters. Many local outfitters will provide the equipment you need and take you to their secret fishing spots on Gore Creek or other nearby rivers.
Visit the Farmers Market
On Sundays the Vail Farmers Market offers not just produce, but art, music, food and more. Colorful vendors line the cobblestone streets and offer visitors the opportunity to take home a momento of their vacation.
Note: The Vail Farmers Market may start late summer of 2020 and look very different due to limitations on group sizes, so check before you go.
There are also farmers markets in Minturn and Edwards, just a short drive down the road from Vail village.
Relax in the Nearby Hot Springs
The Rocky Mountains of Colorado boast natural mineral hot springs. Not only does it feel good to soak in warm water, but the natural minerals in the water also have health benefits. Many of these hot springs have quite a history dating back to the 1800s. There’s even an official Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop. Head just west to Glenwood Springs for some fantastic soaking options!
What to Know About Vail Before You Go:
- Vail in Colorado sits at an altitude of 8,150 feet. To help prevent altitude sickness, drink plenty of water. Wear sunscreen as you are very near the strong sun rays.
- Vail boasts a large number of condos that are run as hotels, perfect for families. Rather than staying in a small hotel room, explore condominium options. Most will have the same services as hotels but with a full kitchen and more space.
- There are two connected villages in Vail: Vail Village and Lionshead Village. There’s a bit more going on in Vail village in terms of restaurants, shopping and entertainment. Lionshead is a little quieter and has the Eagle Bahn Gondola running up to Epic Discovery. As a family, we prefer Lionshead village.
- Vail is a two to three hour drive east of Denver. The drive is spectacular but traffic can be bad leading into and out of the weekend. Shuttles are available from Denver International Airport and a really good option to relax and enjoy the views.
- If you are staying in either Vail or Lionshead village you may not need a car, unless you plan on taking a hike a distance away, like Hanging Lake. The only reason you’d have for traveling into West Vail is to buy groceries. Check with your hotel to see what shuttle options are available to take you into West Vail. If they have one available, you probably don’t need a car at all.
- Explore other areas of Colorado. Vail has so much to offer families but if you have the time it is well worth a day trip to one of the many other beautiful mountain towns.