From Sarah Kuta, Lonely Planet Writer. See the article on Lonely Planet here.
Whether you crave a big, bold adventure in the Rockies or prefer an afternoon of posh pampering, the Vail Valley offers vacationers a plethora of things to see and do. From hiking with llamas to sampling tasty craft beers, here’s what to do during your next trip to Vail.
Drive bumper cars on ice
Remember playfully ramming into your friends and siblings in bumper cars at the local carnival or amusement park as a kid? You can relive this fun piece of your childhood in a slightly chillier setting at Vail’s John A. Dobson Ice Arena. The arena has 12 colorful ice bumper cars available for kids and adults to rent for $10.
Tap a guide and go fly-fishing
Whether you’re a fly-fishing pro or just starting to (ahem) dip your toes into the water, the Vail Valley’s rivers and creeks are ideal for pursuing this relaxing activity. Head out on your own or tap a guide to show you the best spots on the Gold Medal waters of Gore Creek, the Eagle River or the Colorado River. Gore Creek Fly Fisherman, Vail Valley Anglers, Minturn Anglers, Colorado Angling Company and other operators offer stress-free guided trips throughout the valley and beyond.
Sip a flight of craft beers
Craft beer is huge in Colorado, including in the Vail Valley. Head to one of Vail Brewing Co.’s two locations – EagleVail or Vail Village – and order a flight to sample a selection of their rotating brews. Founded in 2014, the veteran-owned brewery makes beers designed around the valley’s active lifestyle, each perfect for sipping after a day of hiking or skiing. Drinks aside, you can really get a sense of Vail’s local flavor by bellying up to the bar at any of the restaurants in the valley and chatting with the bartender and fellow patrons.
Zoom over the snow on a snowmobile
You can go pretty darn fast while skiing downhill – but you can really let it rip on a snowmobile. These speedy machines are a great way to explore Vail Valley’s expansive terrain in the winter. Numerous local companies offering tours and rentals, including Vail Backcountry Tours, Nova Guides, Sage Outdoor Adventures, Buzz’s Backcountry Adventures and Vail Extreme Rentals.
Glide around on ice skates
Take to the ice and aspire to the grace of an Olympic skater or the strength of an NHL hockey player. Ice skating is a fun, family-friendly activity for kids and adults, and the Vail Valley is home to several indoor and outdoor rinks that are perfect for spending an afternoon gliding around on the ice (and getting hot chocolate after). Check out the John A. Dobson Ice Arena, the Alderhof Ice Rink and the Solaris Ice Rink in Vail, as well as the rink at Beaver Creek Village.
Zoom across the snow on a dog sled
Watch the snowy winter landscape fly by as excited pups pull your sled through the snow. Mountain Musher, Alpine Adventures, Winterhawk Dogsled Adventures and other operators offer guided dog sledding excursions and tours that typically include meeting the dogs and learning about their unique canine jobs before the jaunty, snowy excursion.
Learn about the environment at the Vail Nature Center
Run by the nonprofit Walking Mountains Science Center, the Vail Nature Center is a tranquil place to learn about sustainability, the environment, plants, animals, birds and other nature-focused topics. Situated on the seven-acre plot once occupied by a 1940s homestead, the free center has interactive walking trails, exhibits and tours about everything from birds to beaver ponds. If you have time, also check out Walking Mountains’ other locations: the Avon Tang Campus and the Nature Discovery Center, located at the top of Eagle Bahn gondola at the ski resort.
Go cross-country skiing at the Vail Nordic Center
Vail is famous for its downhill runs – but the valley is also a great place to work up a sweat while cross-country skiing. The Vail Nordic Center offers more than 10 miles of groomed trails reserved for classic or skate skiing, plus six miles for snowshoeing and eight miles for fat biking (a winter-friendly style of biking with big, cushiony tires). The center, managed by the Vail Recreation District, also offers daily lessons, on-site rentals and a cafe for warming up after a day on the snow. EagleVail also has five miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, plus terrain designed specifically for kids.
Have a fancy picnic
Instead of packing just trail mix to eat during your hike, why not dine in style among the aspens and evergreens? Vail-area companies like Picnic Vail and The Grazing Fox specialize in planning picture-perfect picnics that range from simple meat-and-cheese plates to elaborate spreads set up by a “picnic concierge.” This is a great option for a special occasion or simply for celebrating the fact that you’re on vacation in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.
Go trekking with llamas
Backpacking by yourself requires a lot of planning and heavy gear that you have to carry on your back, all by yourself. Enter the team of llamas at Paragon Guides in the Vail Valley, which can shoulder that load on multi-day trekking trips between Colorado backcountry huts. If you’re strapped for time, the llamas are also available for shorter “take a llama to lunch” hikes.
Dash through the snow in a horse-drawn sleigh
Even if you don’t visit over the peak holiday season, there’s no better way to enjoy the Vail Valley’s serene, snow-covered landscape than from the comfort of a horse-drawn sleigh. Located 20 miles west of Vail, 4 Eagle Ranch offers sleigh rides that start with a warm drink and a bowl of chili, then end with a full-blown, ranch-style dinner and s’mores around the campfire. There are also sleigh rides on offer at Bearcat’s Cabin and Beano’s Cabin.
Get out on the water on a stand-up paddle board
Vail’s weather is downright glorious during the summer – mild 70-degree temperatures, lots of sun and some light breezes. Though not a beach vacation destination, the Vail Valley offers plenty of ways to get out on the water, including on a stand-up paddle board (SUP). If you’re new to the sport, head out on the flat waters of Nottingham Lake (where you can also rent paddle boards and pedal boats) or book a stay at Piney River Ranch, which offers its guests access to Piney Lake. You can also take a guided SUP tour at Sylvan Lake State Park with operators like Timberline Tours.
Indulge with a spa treatment
After playing in Vail’s mountains all day, give your body (and mind) a break with a spa treatment or a massage. Vail has so many great spas it can be hard to pick just one; your hotel is a great place to start. The Sonnenalp, The Four Seasons, The Sebastian, Grand Hyatt, Manor Vail Lodge, The Arrabelle, The Lodge at Vail and other lodging options all have world-class spas. Services range from deep-tissue massages to body scrubs, facials, salon services and everything in between.
Enjoy open-air concerts and performances at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
On a warm summer evening, there’s nothing quite as relaxing as unfolding a blanket on the lawn of Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, kicking back and listening to an orchestra or watching a ballet performance. With intriguing architecture and a gorgeous mountain backdrop, the outdoor amphitheater – named for the country’s 38th president, who regularly visited Vail during and after his presidency (he had a house near Beaver Creek) – is one of the most scenic performance venues around. “The Amp,” as it’s lovingly called, hosts big-name musicians, live theater, dance performances and several festivals.
Hit the links at one of Vail’s golf courses
Nestled among the Colorado Rockies, it’s no surprise that Vail is home to some seriously stunning golf courses. Whether you’re a long-time golfer or a beginner, there’s a course for everyone here. Vail Golf Club is a popular 18-hole public course with views of the Gore Range, while Red Sky Ranch & Golf Club is a premier private spot with courses designed by esteemed designers Tom Fazio and Greg Norman. Other golf courses to bookmark include Eagle-Vail Golf Club, Beaver Creek Golf Club, Eagle Ranch Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera and Gypsum Creek Golf Course. Many Vail courses also offer lessons and have a clubhouse that serves food, so you can make a full day of it for the whole family.