Free Things To Do in Vail
- #1View all PhotosfreeVail Hiking#1 in Vail0.8 miles to city centerFree, Hiking, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.8 miles to city centerFree, Hiking, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Vail0.5 miles to city centerFree, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.5 miles to city centerFree, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME 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.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Vail16.2 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, HikingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND16.2 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, HikingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME 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.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Vail3.8 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, HikingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND3.8 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, HikingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME 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.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Vail0.2 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME 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.
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