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Vail | © Juliet Bennett Rylah
Vail | © Juliet Bennett Rylah

The Best Things to See and Do in Vail, Colorado

Picture of Juliet Bennett Rylah
Updated: 6 November 2017

Pete Seibert, who served in the United States Army’s 10th Mountain Division and trained at nearby Camp Hale, founded Vail Ski Resort in 1962. It now boasts some of the best skiing in North America, sitting at an elevation of over 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) above sea level. Yet as renowned as it is for winter sports, Vail is equally beautiful in the spring, summer, and fall. Here are 11 ways to enjoy Vail, beyond the slopes.

Go on a hike

There are numerous hiking trails for all skill levels, with popular routes including the Ptarmigan Loop, the Gore Creek Trail, and Booth Creek. They’re gorgeous in the fall when the Aspen trees turn a brilliant shade of gold. Paragon Guides offers a particularly unique excursion: hiking with llamas. These gentle, sure-footed creatures make great hiking companions, content to walk at a comfortable pace so long as they get to munch on grass along the way. The most accessible llama hike is their lunch tour, where you, a guide, and your fuzzy friends can take a relatively easy trek that includes a picnic lunch in the middle. This hike, about two hours in length, is suitable for children. Longer, multi-day treks are also available. Llamas can typically carry about 80 pounds without any trouble, meaning they can help with your gear.

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Hiking the Gore Creek Trail with a llama | © Juliet Bennett Rylah

Epic Discovery

Throughout the summer months, families can check out Epic Discovery for zip-lines, tubing, roller coasters, adventure courses, climbing walls and more. A gondola ride takes guests to the destination 10,000 feet (3.048 meters) above sea level, allowing for amazing views before the adventure. An all-day unlimited pass is $94 and includes all activities, or you can select tickets for the individual activities of choice. Epic Discovery is open through the summer and early fall. Check their website for availability, as it’s only open on the weekends towards the end of the season.

Drink local beer

You’ll want to drink in moderation given Vail’s altitude, so you might as well make it count. Vail Brewing Company offers locally brewed beer via their tasting room in Vail Village. Order a flight to sample IPAs, stouts, porters, sours and more, and peruse their small menu of fun bar bites if you’re feeling peckish.

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Vail Brewing Company | © Juliet Bennett Rylah

Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater

Gerald R. Ford, the 38th president of the United States, and his wife Betty began coming to Vail on a regular basis long before his presidency. Later in life, they built a home in Beaver Creek, becoming members of the community. The theater that bears his name opened in 1987, attracting performers including Willie Nelson and the Bolshoi Academy of Moscow. During the summer, the amphitheater lends itself to a variety of music, dance, and theater performances, many of them free. The theater also hosts the annual Vail Dance Festival.

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, which opened a year after the amphitheater, are open to the public for strolls or bike rides, and there is no admission fee. Areas of note include a children’s garden, schoolhouse garden and gift shop, a mountain perennial garden, and an Alpine rock garden. There are waterfalls, streams, and wildflowers, along with plenty of places to stop and meditate or just enjoy the view.

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Betty Ford Alpine Gardens | © Juliet Bennett Rylah

Get a cocktail

Stop off for a drink at one of Vail’s many bars. Of note is Root & Flower, where craft cocktails can be ordered via the menu or by simply telling a bartender what kinds of spirits and flavors you like. They also have an extensive wine list, offering over 50 choices by the glass. They also serve a small menu of cheese, charcuterie, snacks, and sweets.

10th Mountain Whiskey has a distillery and tasting room in Gypsum and a tasting room in Vail, where you can get a taste of local, mountain whiskey. 

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Root & Flower | © Juliet Bennett Rylah

Unwind at a spa

Hydration at such a high elevation is important, and many seek to rejuvenate wind-chapped, dry skin with a relaxing morning or afternoon at the spa. Vail has several options. The RockResorts Spa at the Arrabelle is quite large at 10,000 square feet, offering massages, body treatments, facials, and nail services. Their signature treatments nourish the skin, incorporating natural ingredients such as rosemary, sage, coconut, rose, and cucumber to heal, soothe and hydrate skin.

The Sonnenalp Spa offers a massage with a warm, herbal poultice to open pores and alleviate pain and inflammation, while their Mountain Radiance Scrub employs sea salts and essential oils to exfoliate and moisturize the skin. Amenities include a steam room, sauna, a heated pool, indoor and outdoor whirlpools, a fitness center, and a relaxation room with a cozy fireplace.

The Four Seasons’ spa is a Forbes Five-Star Spa, with a menu including massages, nail services, body treatments, facials, a fitness room, salon, and barbershop. Vitamin C Souffle Wraps and Himalayan salt scrubs give skin a healthy glow, while sports massages soothe muscles worked on the slopes.

Art in Public Places

Via the Art in Public Places (AIPP) program, Vail has a vast collection of over 45 public artworks in mediums including sculptures, murals, paintings, and installations. A majority of these pieces are located within Vail Village and Lionshead, which are both pedestrian-friendly areas that allow you to view the numerous artworks via a relaxing stroll. You can access a map online, but you’ll likely find even more art than what’s listed. For instance, one can’t-miss piece is Lawrence Argent’s The Water Tree, located in Vail Village. At night, the towering sculpture glows a range of spectacular colors.

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The Water Tree visible in Vail Village | © Juliet Bennett Rylah

Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum

If you’re curious how Vail became North America’s most prominent ski resort, this small museum can help you out with exhibits on the Winter Olympics, the history of snow sports, and the founding of Vail and Vail Ski Resort. The museum is currently undergoing a hefty renovation but will be opening again in 2018.

Rent a bike

Rent a bike from one of the city’s bike rental companies—Vail Bike Tech is a solid option—and enjoy that mountain air everyone keeps talking about. Some fun places to take your bike include the aforementioned Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and the relatively easy Vail Pass Bike Path. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could rent a mountain bike and check out one of the more difficult trails.

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One of Vail’s many bike-friendly paths | © Juliet Bennett Rylah

Goat Yoga

This seasonal activity is the cutest possible way to do yoga. Take an hour-long yoga class during which adorable young goats will join the party, and may even hop on your back while you’re trying to maintain your poses. Guests are advised to wear clothing suitable for a yoga session that can “withstand a little nibbling” from the kids.