The quintessential town of Vail in Colorado is best known for its award-winning slopes and luxurious ski resorts. Located at an elevation of 8,150 feet, at the base of Vail Mountain, Vail is set within the beautiful surroundings of the White River National Forest. Home to the expansive Vail Ski Resort, Vail is one of the world’s favorite spots for winter sports such as skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding. But there are plenty of things to do in Vail year-round. In the summer, you can golfing, hiking and attend cultural festivals. In the Fall, watch the vibrant yellow and orange leaves change colors on the Aspen trees. And in the Spring, enjoy rafting, fishing, horseback riding and the great outdoors. Whether you are looking to hit the trails or to simply enjoy the charm of the German-style village, there are plenty of fun things to do for non skiers.
1. Learn The History of Snow Sports in Vail
If you have an hour or two to spare, take a self guided history tour of Vail. Fun fact: The city was incorporated only in 1966. Start at the Colorado Snowsports Museum at Vail Village, where you can learn about ski fashion and snowboarding history. They also offer one-hour guided tours that point you to important sites around the village.
Vail’s public art collection includes over 60 works ranging from sculptures, murals, playground components to site-integrated art. You can take an organized art walk by printing a map of the Town of Vail’s public art collection online. Or pick one up at the Vail Village and Lionshead Welcome Centers. The map will guide you through 36 works of art in Vail Village and Lionshead, as well as beyond the town center.
2. Stroll Through The Highest Alpine Gardens in Colorado
If you are a nature lover, take a stroll through Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, the highest elevation botanical garden in the U.S. It is also the only dog friendly botanical garden in Colorado. Based entirely for the conservation of alpine plants, you can see themed displays about fragile mountain environments from all over the world. The gardens are open from dawn to dusk, and don’t require an entry fee (donations are suggested). As most of Vail is pedestrian friendly, you can easily walk (with your dog) or bike from Lionshead or Vail Village to the garden.
3. Shop at an Eclectic Market
One of the best things to do in Vail is visit Vail Farmers’ Market & Art Show. It is one of Colorado’s largest farmers’ markets held on Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. along Meadow Drive in Vail Village. Filled with over 125 artists selling handmade crafts, soaps, salts and candles, farmers with their fresh fruits, vegetables, honey and oils, you will have plenty to see and shop for. Also, make sure to try a warm apple strudel, salmon roll, and plenty of German and Mexican food!
4. Hike with a Llama Near Vail
Picture real life llamas on the back of a pick up truck, waiting for you in front of your hotel lobby! Vail-based tour operator, Paragon Guides, offers half day personalized hikes where you walk with a llama through the mountains and forests outside the city. No, you will not ride a llama, but they do carry your backpacks and lunch. They are pack animals after all!
The guide will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about llamas. They are curious, gentle and intelligent, yet like cats, they act on their own terms. There may be some pulling and feeding the llama, as well as walking and hiking through the slopes. And halfway through your hike, there is a picnic lunch served overlooking some of the most spectacular scenery in Colorado.
Llama treks can be tailored for families with kids, or a multi-day backcountry adventure with stay at mountain huts.
5. Spend the Day at a Ranch
If you are looking for an authentic ranch experience, head to 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott, about a 25 minute drive from Vail. With a scenic backdrop of mountains and horses, all ages can enjoy a number of activities at the ranch. You can go zip lining, horseback riding, take a 4×4 jeep or ATV tour. You can also learn to use a Cowboy lasso or just enjoy the vast expanse on a wagon ride.
On the first Thursday, the ranch offers a Western dance with DJ, food, and line dance instructions. And in the winter, there are traditional sleigh rides pulled by a team of Percheron Draft Horses. At the end of your action packed day in Vail, grab dinner, sit by a bonfire, roast marshmallows and star gaze.
6. Get a View From The Top
If you don’t ski but are curious to know what the view is like from the top, take a scenic gondola ride to the top of Vail Mountain. The Eagle Bahn Gondola runs out of Lionshead and Vail Village. Once on top at Gondola One, you can explore a myriad of activities, casual dining and great views, of course! Vail Mountain’s Epic Discovery includes fun family-friendly attractions such as the Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster, Eagle’s Nest Tubing Hill, Marmot Mini Kid’s Tubing Hill, kids zipline, bungee trampoline, Paramount Peak Climbing Wall, Gore Creek Mini Golf and more. You can take the gondola ride both ways or come back down using one of the hiking and biking trails.
7. Eat and Drink Your Way Through Vail
Though Vail is a small resort town with only 4,700 people, it attracts some of the best culinary talents from across the world. You will find a large selection of restaurants ranging from casual to mountain fine dining (no white tablecloths here), and cuisines such as German, Thai, Italian, and new American.
At Lionshead, have breakfast or lunch at the Tavern on the Square at The Arrabelle Hotel for great views overlooking the chair lifts. Or for something more casual and hearty, order German pancakes at a tucked away spot called The Little Diner. At Alpenrose in Vail Village, try the giant portions of beer, pretzels, pies, cakes and really good German food in an authentic setting. Also, you cannot miss Sweet Basil, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the city, known for their locally-sourced fare and global flavors. Maria Busato, sous chef at Sweet Basil, received the 2020 Colorado Chef of the Year award from the Colorado Restaurant Association. Chef Person Shields at the Grand Hyatt Vail also creates innovative dishes using farm fresh produce.
8. Get a Shoulder Tune Up
You probably would never think of (or want to) visit a hospital during your vacation, but The Steadmad Philippon Research Institute in Vail is a popular medical tourism destination on its own. The nonprofit is globally renowned for research into the causes, prevention and treatment of orthopedic disorders. They have treated celebrities, sports champions and armed service professionals. The relaxing spa-like environment and top surgical care makes Vail an ideal location to restore and heal muscles and joints after injuries.
If you want to amp up your golf game, enroll for an hour or more in the Golf Sports Medicine Program. Here you can use the new Biomotion Lab to test your swing. Using a golf simulator and golf instruction with world-class data collection, your trainer will show you body motion analysis and injury rehabilitation techniques. Similarly, you can also learn how to better run, play baseball and ice hockey to avoid future injuries.
9. Attend a Yappy Hour
Traveling with pets? From June through Labor Day, take your four-legged best friend to the Gore Creek Terrace of Grand Hyatt Vail. Grab a beer for yourself, while they (the friendly dogs) enjoy live music, browser dog beer, dog treats and toys. 20% of the drink proceeds are donated to a local shelter, Eagle Valley Humane Society. Sometimes, the shelter bris adoptable dogs to the Happy Hour.
After a fun social afternoon, head for a walk to the Gore Creek Recreational path located directly behind the hotel. There are also two dog parks near the hotel – Stephens Park and Big Horn Park. And in case, you plan to stay overnight at the Grand Hyatt Vail, they provide dog beds, treats and an in-room dining doggy menu.