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Free Things To Do in Vail

If you have extra time, Holy Cross Wilderness Area is worthwhile.

#1
Hiking Free

#1 in Vail

Free
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.
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Hiking Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Hiking
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.
... more

#3

#3 in Vail

Free
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. 
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Parks and Gardens Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
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. 
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#4

#4 in Vail

Free
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. 
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Hiking Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Holy Cross Wilderness Area
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. 
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#6

#6 in Vail

Free
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
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Hiking Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Eagles Nest Wilderness Area
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
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#7

#7 in Vail

Free
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.
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Museums Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame
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.
... more
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