Vail Travel Guide

USA  #5 in Best Ski Vacations in the USA
Credit

Courtesy of None/None

Best Things To Do in Vail

The majority of Vail's visitors come to tackle the slopes. The Vail Ski Resort boasts 5,289 skiable acres, making it one of the largest single-mountain resorts in the country. If that's not enough powder, head to neighboring Beaver Creek, which is quickly moving up the list of popular ski retreats. However, summer travelers shouldn't rule Vail out. With the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area and the Holy Cross Wilderness Area just a short drive from town, the region boasts ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in balmy temps, too.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated June 28, 2017

  • #1
    Things to do in Vail
    View all Photos
    #1 in Vail
    Hiking, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Though Vail's ski terrain receives much of the spotlight, the area's many hiking trails are just as impressive. If you've got a car, you may want to consider driving to Eagles Nest or Holy Cross – two wilderness areas with impressive trails well-suited for backpackers. If you're hoping to trek closer to town, you'll find several trails on Vail Mountain, accessible from the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. Here, you'll find trails ranging from short 1-mile hikes (Eagle's Loop and Fireweed) to more intermediate treks (Berrypicker and Ridge Route). Though you will have to pay for the gondola ride ($36 for adults; free for children accompanying a paying adult), the hiking trails won't cost you a thing to access.

    If you'd rather not pay the gondola fee, you'll find several hikes on National Forest Service land that are accessible via Vail's free bus system, including Bighorn Creek, Booth Creek, Deluge Creek, Gore Creek, and Pitkin Creek, among others. Recent visitors especially liked the Booth Falls Trail, which sits a little more than a mile from Interstate 70 in East Vail. It's a steep trail, but a favorite among travelers for its wildflowers, waterfalls and view of the Gore Range. You can also sign up for a guided hike of the area with an interactive hiking expert. For more details, visit the Vail resort website.

  • #2
    Vail Ski Resort
    View all Photos
    #2 in Vail
    Skiing
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Skiing
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Boasting 5,289 skiable acres, a vertical drop of 3,450 feet and 31 lifts, the Vail Ski Resort is massive. And Vail's 195 trails cater to a wide variety of skiers, with well-tended slopes for novices and rugged runs for experts. But what's even more impressive is that all of this primo powder is found on one mountain, making this one of the largest single-mountain resort in the country. Across its terrain are four parks that range in difficulty from beginner to advanced, along with several upper alpine areas called bowls. After the snow has melted, the resort offers a bevy of summer activities, including hiking, biking, zip lining, alpine coasters, and the perennial traveler favorite, gondola rides up to Vail Mountain's summit.  

    Most recent skiers praised Vail's size and quality runs and its diverse range of mountain activities, including tubing, ski biking and snowshoeing – perfect if you've got travelers in your group who aren't up for skiing. Though reviewers lamented the high price tags for everything, they do concede that the experience is worth the money. To cut down on costs, recent travelers advised purchasing your lift tickets online (at least seven days in advance) and investing in a multiday pass to score a discount.

  • #3
    Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
    View all Photos
    #3 in Vail
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    It's no secret that Vail was the preferred vacation spot for former President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty. In fact, Betty Ford became known by locals as the "First Lady of the Vail Valley" because of her efforts to help this mountain community flourish. In honor of her generosity, the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation created this beautiful botanical garden in her name. Visitors to the garden can enjoy stunning views of the Rocky Mountains while strolling through brightly colored flowerbeds, streams and waterfalls. 

    Recent visitors raved about the gardens, complimenting their well-maintained plants, stunning mountain views and the Education Center's interactive opportunities for children. Some visitors warned that those prone to altitude sickness may suffer some symptoms here as the gardens are located 8,250 feet above sea level, making it the highest botanical garden in the United States. Drinking plenty of water (which is available to purchase in the on-site gift shop), will help combat the effects.

  • #4
    Holy Cross Wilderness Area
    View all Photos
    #4 in Vail
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Straddling the Arkansas River about 30 miles south of Vail, the Holy Cross Wilderness Area makes for a great daytrip during the warmer months. Encompassing an impressive 122,797 acres of rugged Colorado scenery  including jagged mountains, lush valleys and verdant aspen forests  the park is home to 164 miles of hiking and biking trails. Just make sure to bring your camera: You're sure to come in contact with a few elk. 

    Recent visitors recommended the 7-mile Missouri Lakes/Fancy Pass Loop, which offers a scenic route through alpine lakes and towering evergreens. Start your trek at the Missouri Creek Trailhead, just down the road from the Fancy Creek Trailhead. The Vail Recreation District also offers a variety of guided hikes through Eagles Nest and Holy Cross. You can make reservations in advance on the Vail Recreation District website

  • #5
    Beaver Creek Resort
    View all Photos
    #5 in Vail
    Skiing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Skiing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Located about 13 miles west of Vail in Avon, Colorado, the Beaver Creek Resort is the newer kid on the block. Still, since it opened in 1980 Beaver Creek has earned a reputation as a premier ski destination that rivals the heavyweight Vail Ski Resort (even though they're both owned by Vail Resorts). Today, Beaver Creek offers winter travelers 1,815 acres of skiable terrain (about half of which is devoted to novice and intermediate skiers), 150 trails and 4,040 feet of vertical rise. Plus, the renowned ski and snowboard school makes this venue a great place to spark your kids' love of snow or to refresh your own skills. Past visitors also recommend stopping by just to stroll around Beaver Creek's three villages, which are known for their contemporary atmosphere and wide variety of shops and restaurants.

    Although the Vail Ski Resort still reigns supreme, recent visitors strongly recommend a change of scenery. Those traveling with young children especially appreciated the ski school and the excellent conditions. Similar to Vail Ski Resort, Beaver Creek also hosts a variety of summer activities, including hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and scenic chairlift rides, among other outdoor adventures. 

  • #6
    Eagles Nest Wilderness Area
    View all Photos
    #6 in Vail
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Covering nearly 133,500 acres of the Gore Mountain Range just north of Vail, the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area is not for the faint of heart. This park's 180 miles of trails traverse rugged mountainsides and can expose hikers to a whopping 5,684-foot change in elevation. But those who do take on Eagles Nest's intense terrain will be rewarded with spectacular photo ops of alpine lakes, snowcapped peaks and towering evergreens. There are several multiday backpacking hikes along the Gore Range Trail, but if you're looking for a more moderate and shorter trek, heed the advice of recent travelers and consider the 7-mile Upper Piney River Trail, which takes visitors to Upper Piney Lake, with waterfalls along the way. The Vail Recreation District also offers a variety of guided hikes through Eagles Nest and Holy Cross. You can make reservations in advance on the Vail Recreation District website

    Eagles Nest Wilderness Area is open to visitors year-round, although winter travelers should be cautious when hiking in heavy snowfall. The best hiking weather usually occurs between June and September (higher elevation passes may not be accessible early or late in the season thanks to heavy snowfall). There is no entry fee required to explore the park. For more information, visit the White River National Forest website.

  • #7
    Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame
    View all Photos
    #7 in Vail
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Before hitting the slopes, consider taking a quick tour of the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame. This small facility in central Vail pays tribute to the region's reputation as a winter wonderland. The museum's exhibits focus on the development of the area ski resorts (and the evolution of the sport in general), as well as other favorite slopes found throughout the state. Visitors also learn about how the U.S. Forest Service  particularly the 10th Mountain Division, the ski troopers of World War II  has worked to ensure the safety of skiers for decades. Afterward, take some time to honor the people that have helped make Colorado a skiing haven at the hall of fame.

    According to recent travelers, the Colorado Ski Museum is a must-see for powder hounds and history buffs. Reviewers particularly praised the artifacts on display (specifically the Olympics memorabilia) and the on-site gift shop. Though you'll breeze through the exhibits in less than an hour, visitors say it's worth a stop. 

  • #8
    Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
    View all Photos
    #8 in Vail
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Named for former President Gerald Ford, this outdoor performance venue plays host to some of Vail's most popular events, including the Vail Dance Festival and the Bravo! Vail music festival. However, according to previous audience members, what makes this amphitheater special is its setting on a hillside in the Rocky Mountains.

    Recent visitors recommended bringing a blanket to sprawl out on the lawn in front of the stage, which reviewers say is the perfect spot to set up a picnic. You can bring your own food and drinks (except alcohol, which must be purchased on-site). Another upside to sitting on the lawn: the tickets are cheaper than those for the covered section of the amphitheater. A few other tips from past visitors: arrive early to score the best parking and the best spots on the lawn; bring a coat since it can get chilly once the sun goes down; and prepare for rain – the show goes on either way.

  • #9
    River Rafting
    View all Photos
    #9 in Vail
    Recreation, Sports, Tours
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Recreation, Sports, Tours
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're looking for an adrenaline-fueled, warm-weather activity, you may want to heed the advice of recent visitors and book a river rafting and tubing trip. Not only does Vail Village boast its own whitewater park, but there are also a variety of Class I to Class V river trips on the nearby Eagle, Colorado and Arkansas rivers.

    If you're traveling with kids and looking for a mild ride that doesn't require much skill, stick to Vail's Whitewater Park or the upper Colorado River. For a little more action and maneuvering, consider the middle Eagle and upper Colorado rivers. Experienced paddlers looking for a challenge may want to tackle the middle and lower Eagle River, Brown's Canyon, Shoshone or Gore Creek, which offer medium waves, 3- to 5-foot drops and more maneuvering. Consider yourself an advanced rafter? Gore Creek, Edwards Mile, Dowd Shute, upper Eagle and The Numbers will require some sharp maneuvers over the large waves, long rapids and considerable drops. The Class V rapids (Pine Creek, The Numbers and Gore Canyon) are best left to the experts as large waves and rocks can be very dangerous for inexperienced passengers.

Explore More of Vail

When purchasing from our site, we may earn commissions. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.

Recommended

America's 15 Coolest Ghost Towns to Visit

From Kentucky to California, the U.S. is filled with eerie abandoned cities.

Lyn MettlerAugust 22, 2019

The 7 Best New Orleans Plantation Tours

Learn about the Big Easy's history through one of these daytrips.

Holly JohnsonAugust 21, 2019

22 Top Sonoma Wineries to Visit

Sip world-class wines while enjoying vineyard and mountain views.

Gwen PratesiAugust 19, 2019

30 Amazing Caribbean Islands to Visit

It's time to plan your next tropical getaway.

Holly JohnsonAugust 8, 2019

The Best Travel Rewards Programs for 2019-20

See which airline and hotel loyalty programs come out on top.

Erin ShieldsAugust 6, 2019

20 Surprising Ways to Earn Loyalty Program Points or Miles

Branch out beyond hotel stays and flights to maximize your earnings.

Christine SmithAugust 6, 2019

The 12 Best Cancun Tours

These excursions will show you what lies beyond the city's bright beaches.

Lyn MettlerJuly 26, 2019

Traveling With Toddlers: 16 Tips to Make Your Vacation Go Smoothly

These expert travel hacks guarantee a happy trip for the whole family.

Kyle McCarthyJuly 25, 2019

The 11 Best New Orleans Ghost Tours

Hear chilling tales of the city's paranormal activity on one of these guided tours.

Kim Foley MacKinnonJuly 25, 2019

The 10 Best Seattle Boat Tours

Take in the Emerald City's top sights from the water.

Kim Foley MacKinnonJuly 24, 2019