Vail in 3 Days: What, Where, When, Why

Photo by Lois Friedland

Summer and Fall in the Vail Valley

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Vail’s ski runs are green in the summertime, and mountain bikers fill gondolas and chairlifts with bikes rather than skis attached. Travelers hang out on patios at lunchtime listening to laughing kids on inner tubes floating down the stream through town.

Plan a trip around a festival, schedule a visit to coincide with Bravo Vail outdoors concert, or block off vacation time for the GoPro Mountain Games and the Vail Oktoberfest (the latter is in September). Spend hours on Sundays at the huge Farmers’ Market and Art Show. On Tuesdays, there are free concerts.

There are a lot of decisions to make because there is so much to see and do. Vail in 3 Days is designed for you to get a taste of summertime.

Vail: Day 1

Start with Dutch pancakes at the bar in Little Diner, or Eggs Benedict on cheddar cheese biscuits at the Market in the Sebastian. For more formality try the breakfast buffet at the Lodge at Vail or Flame at the Four Season Resort Vail.

Put on hiking shoes or rent a bike in the village and head up the Eagle Bahn gondola. A mountaintop playground awaits at Vail’s Epic Discovery Adventures, with adrenaline-charged activities. It’s easy to spend a whole day up here with the Epic Discovery pass. Take a ride on the Golden Eagle zip line, or swing from rope to rope on an adventure course. Go tubing or scale the Mountain Goat Climbing Tower. Kids have their own zipline, tubing course, and bungee trampoline.

For lunch on the mountain, try the casual Bistro Fourteen inside the Eagle Bahn Gondola or a leisurely gourmet lunch at 10th restaurant at Mid-Vail. Or take the gondola back to town and enjoy the vibe at Bart & Yetti’s in Lionshead.

In the afternoon, take a hike or mountain bike ride from the top of the gondola. The Ridge Route offers dramatic views of surrounding ranges. Throughout the summer, join a free hike led by a naturalist.

Apres-play hour

Exhausted? Head to Sonnenalp for a swim, massage and fruit smoothie. End up at Mountain Standard, with a raw bar and fish cooked on an open wood fire. Terra Bistro, satisfying vegetarians and carnivores, is popular. Sweet Basil’s contemporary cuisine lures us back year after year.

Vail: Days 2 and 3

You can’t sample choices beyond Vail in a day, so pick-and-choose from the following suggestions, and spread them out over two days. How active to be? Would you rather raft or golf, or hike or mountain bike from Vail Pass into town? Too much effort? Head to the spa, shop on the pedestrian-only streets, have a long outdoor lunch overlooking Gore Creek.

Before heading out, try the corned beef hash and eggs at the Westside Cafe. If you’re driving westward, stop at Northside Cafe, just off the highway at Avon, for breakfast (perhaps a sinful donuts that attract droves of locals.)

Morning hiking

The mountains around Vail are filled with trails threading past aspens and pines, fields of wildflowers and leading to high alpine lakes. They range from family-friendly paths to scrambling on steep rock-strewn trails. Local favorites include:

–Booth Creek Falls (4 miles roundtrip with significant elevation) takes you past wildflower-filled meadows up to the falls.

–The gentler Lost Lake Trail is great with younger kids.

–Or stroll portions of the 15-mile Vail Recreation Path, a multi-use path connecting several hiking and mountain biking trails.

–Big Park Trail at the top of the posh Cordillera community is perfect for mountain views without strenuous hiking. (Cordillera is about a mile past Edwards on Highway 6; ask for trailhead directions at the main gate.) If you golf, take a few irons and play Dave Peltz-designed, unique 9-hole Short Course beforehand.

Afternoon river rafting or ATVs

Take a whitewater rafting trip on the Eagle or Colorado rivers. Book a mild family-friendly ride, or rocket through fast-flowing Class IV rapids. Kayakers can rent one and play in Vail’s Whitewater Park.

Ride an ATV on mountainsides near where the 10th Mountain Division trained on skis before fighting in World War II. Nova Guides and Sage Outdoor Adventures offer these adventures.

Biking mountainsides

A local friend describes mountain biking on Vail Mountain as “epic.” There’s a network of resort trails and hundreds of miles in nearby national forests. Keep your skill level and the higher altitude in mind when choosing a trail:

The Village Trail is for newbies; the single-track on Fred’s Lunch takes you through tight woods and open meadows. The resort also has free ride trails, with banks, single-track, and drop-offs for the adventurous. Trails outside town range from the moderate Davos Trail to the relatively easy Gore Trail to the single track Commando Run. The USDA Forest Service maintains a list of trails in the Eagle-Holy Cross section of the White River National Forest.

Or road bike alongside the Gore River on the Vail Recreation Path, much of which is suitable for families. Aggressive riders could pedal to the top of Vail Pass then cruise down. Or hitch a ride with a company that offers rides uphill and bike down.

Swinging clubs

Gofers have several choices. The relatively flat Vail Golf Club course flows around homes in East Vail. Eagle Vail blends mountain and river views. Accessing some courses (including the Beaver Creek Course and two Red Sky Courses) requires staying there.

Vail: Relaxing and dining

If you overdid it in the morning, take it easy in the afternoon. Have a leisurely lunch on the riverside patio at Up the Creek or outside at Tavern on the Square at the Arrabelle. Browse sports gear to high-end fashions. Enjoy sunset on the mountains from a restaurant patio.

If there’s a concert at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, take a brownbag picnic dinner to enjoy on the lawn. In addition to classical choices at Bravo Vail, Vail Resorts offers free summertime Thursdays evening concerts.)

For light fare, try pies at the Blue Moose Pizza or a mahi fish taco at Garfinkels. For European cuisine head to Alpenrose, one of Vail’s best bakeries. Pasta at La Bottega is always delicious, while Osaki’s has awesome sushi for half the price as Matsuhisa and a more localized vibe, swears a local friend who lives here.

Where to stay in Vail

Lodging varies from Bavarian-themed hotels to luxe lodges and chains. Look for lodging here and to learn more, visit Vail.com.

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