The Best Way to Spend a Summer Weekend in Vail
Here’s how to fill a weekend with local-favorite outdoor adventures and the top summer experiences that Vail, Colorado, has to offer
When most people think of Vail, they think of the sprawling ski resort: winter, snow, the “legendary back bowls.” It’s a lot to consider and worthy of all the fanfare. But it’s hardly the whole story—especially come summer. Beyond Vail the ski resort, there’s also Vail “the village” and Vail “the valley,” as they’re known to locals. And though all are forever intertwined, it’s those latter two Vails that step into the spotlight once winter ends. The melting snow transforms the original Vail—the Colorado mountain community at the base of the ski area—into a summer traveler’s dream destination, where the runoff feeds a luscious landscape complete with vibrant mountain streams, wooded singletrack trails, cascading waterfalls, and eye-popping wildflowers.
The town gets even more appealing when you factor in the ease of access. With the Eagle Vail Airport (EGE) less than a road-bike race away (and Denver just about a century ride down Interstate 70 the other way), getting to Vail is simple. Once you arrive, free bus service shuttles you to either end of town. The central, pedestrian-friendly village puts delicious restaurants, lively clubs, craft-beverage tasting rooms, and other entertainment options at your fingertips. Get there early enough and you might even be able to catch the evening hatch while wetting a fly line on the gold-medal waters of Gore Creek while enjoying the alpenglow of its namesake mountain range. Talk about the total package.
Here’s how to complete a full weekend in Vail, sampling the best outdoor adventures, summer experiences, and local-favorite stops you don’t want to miss.
Whatever you think you know about Vail, know this: Vail was established by some badasses. Soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, who trained for alpine combat in the nearby mountains, eventually returned after World War II, laying the groundwork for the modern ski industry—and much of the outdoor recreation we now embrace as the mountain lifestyle. So whether or not you managed to land one of those Gore Creek trout, kick off the weekend by raising a glass of award-winning whiskey in the soldiers’ honor at the cozy, pub-style 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirits Tasting Room in Vail Village. Afterward, head just downstream for dinner at El Segundo, a high-energy taqueria and tequila bar with a menu that ranges from Mexican standards to Asian fusion, complemented by more than 100 tequilas.
There’s plenty of luxury lodging nearby as well, including the four-star Lodge at Vail, the recently remodeled Hythe Vail, or the more unassuming Christiania Lodge in Vail Village. If you’re looking for something a little more remote, consider the Vail Racquet Club in East Vail, with a full slate of mountain adventures of its own to offer, or the creekside Grand Hyatt to the west. The Antlers Lodge in Lionshead offers a happy medium, with a pool overlooking Gore Creek, while the Highline Vail in West Vail is among the most budget-friendly in town.
After a night’s rest, it’s decision time. During peak summer season, village dwellers can find free sun salutations at the Solaris during an open community yoga session every Saturday from nine to ten a.m. After finding your center, head to Venture Sports or one of the many bike rental shops in town to get set up with either a road bike or a fat-tire demo to ride some of the outstanding surrounding trails. Son-of-Middle-Creek, off the Piney River Road, is a local singletrack favorite for mountain bikers. Roadies can test their mettle on the recreational path heading up to the 10,662-foot Vail Pass summit, or hitch a ride to the top with the team at Venture and cruise the 15 miles back down to town. The descent will carry you past the Booth Falls trailhead (among others in East Vail), for a moderate two-mile hike to the falls, if you feel like getting out of the saddle.
If biking isn’t your thing, the trip up to the Piney River Ranch at Piney Lake drops you at the doorstep of the rugged Gore Range and Eagle’s Nest Wilderness. From there, the impressive 13,586-foot Mount Powell looms large, although most people will be content with a trail run or hike on the nearby network of approach routes. The ranch and lake alone make for a full day’s adventure, including stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing, and fly-fishing, plus an on-site restaurant serving up savory smoked barbecue. Lodging is also available if you book early enough.
Vail has never been lacking when it comes to the arts, culture, and music scene, and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater (a.k.a. The Amp) takes the lead in summer months. Whether it’s Ziggy Marley or the New York Philharmonic, the lineup is wide and varied and always pleases. Bridge Street, in Vail Village, is within walking distance and serves as a good starting point for preshow drinks and appetizers at any of the timeless establishments lining the cobblestone street. For a more innovative alternative, check out Mountain Standard, a rustic and relaxed tavern on the Gore Creek Promenade.
For more of an immersive performance art experience, drop into Chasing Rabbits, a decadent speakeasy/restaurant/theater/arcade/library lounge that has emerged as Vail’s most unique nightlife scene. Before indulging in the Mediterranean menu or sipping a craft cocktail, you’ll first have to find the secret passage.
Yeti’s Grind coffee shop, in the Solaris Plaza, will help put you in the right frame of mind for your last day in town, mostly by placing you a stone’s throw from the Vail Whitewater Park, which serves as the marquee venue for freestyle kayakers at the annual GoPro Mountain Games in June. The state-of-the-art whitewater feature is controlled by a pair of air bladders that can dial in the height of the wave based on the river’s flow. Alpine Quest Sports is the nearest kayak shop for rentals and lessons, although most novice paddlers will want to start on mellower water or look into a guided rafting trip with Sage Outdoor Adventures, Timberline Tours, or another local outfitter. Experts will definitely want to dip into the Vail park, along with the new Eagle River Whitewater Park, closer to the airport in Eagle, where river surfers dominate the lineup most days.
From there, it’s an easy trip back to the airport to catch a flight home. The hard part is actually leaving. Next time, plan to stay a little longer.
Vail is an iconic destination mountain resort community with world-class offerings. While widely known for its winter activities, Vail is also the ideal summer mountain destination. Vail in the summer is relaxing and adventurous with resort and village amenities, events and activities for visitors from across the world to experience.