cozy cabin in vail, colorado

Travel Guide: An Overview of Vail, Colorado (Home to Vail Ski Resort)

Vail is known as the ultimate ski and winter sports destination in North America. More recently, however, Vail has transformed into a year-round destination offering a myriad of activities for all. This remote town in Colorado, United States, is the perfect destination for those who love adventure and the outdoors.

In today’s post, we will explore the exciting town of Vail. We’ll first find out where it is located and how to get there. Then, we shall discover its history, the must-see places in Vail, and the list of activities one can do there. Finally, we share our recommended list of hotels and accommodation in Vail.

About Vail, Colorado

bavarian houses at the foot of vail mountain
Image Credit:  Mansion Global

Vail is a small town in Eagle County, Colorado, west-central United States. The town rests at an elevation of 8,120 feet, or approximately 2,500 metres above sea level, among the Rocky Mountains. The town lies on either side of Interstate 70 or the I-70 corridor. This highway is what makes Vail accessible to visitors, as it is the only road in and out of Vail.

Vail is home to the largest ski resort in Colorado and the third largest in North America. Vail Mountain has plenty of slopes and the right amount of powdery snow, making it ideal for winter sports. It has over 5,289 acres of skiable area and 195 trails surrounded by 350,000 acres of the White River National Forest. All in all, providing the ideal terrain for the adventurous outdoors person both in summer and winter.

In addition to being home to the ski resort, Vailhttps://www.yoair.com/blog/travel-guide-an-overview-of-aspen-colorado-americas-canary-city/ is also home to around 5,400 permanent residents. This group of people live as a tight-knit community, where each person knows one another well. Their primary reasons for residing in Vail are its breathtaking landscape, scenery, activities offered and employment opportunities.

Getting to Vail

The town is located just under 100 miles or around 160km west of Colorado’s capital, Denver. Denver International airport is located just 20 miles from downtown Denver. Here several flights from cities around the world fly to and from Denver. The closest airport to Vail is, however, the Eagle County Regional Airport. It is located around 35 miles or 56 km from the ski town. However, unlike Denver International airport, the regional airport only connects Vail to and from select US cities.

Click here to know which airlines connect which cities to Eagle County Regional Airport. 

From both Denver International airport and the Eagle County Regional Airport, there are many ways to reach Vail. The first and most convenient option is to book a private car service. This is a hassle-free option as transportation will be ready as soon as the flight lands. And, it will drop the visitor directly at their hotel or accommodation facility. Another option is to rent a car from the airport and drive to Vail on I-70. Using a shared shuttle service is another option to reach Vail from the airport. Alternatively, using a taxi service or carpooling service can be another cost-effective option. Within Colorado, there are ride-sharing or carpool apps such as TreadShare and Caravan developed for visitors to carpool to ski towns.

Using Public Transportation

full length purple bustang bus
The Bustang bus. Image Credit:  Ride Bustang

The most economical way is to use the public bus service called Ride Bustang. It is operated by the Colorado Department of Transportation. The Ride Bustang West Line, services towns to and from Denver Union Station to Grand Junction, Colorado. On its westbound route, Vail is only 4 stops from the Denver Union Station. The Union Station is located in downtown Denver, around 25 miles or 40km west of the international airport.

On its eastward route, the Bustang also stops at Eagle, where Vail is 2 stops away. From Eagle County Regional Airport, the bus stop is around 5.5 miles or nearly 9km east.

This option may be most economical but it must be well planned, especially in correspondence with flight timings. Otherwise, it may end up becoming the most inconvenient option.

Click here for the updated schedule, tickets and additional information on the Ride Bustang West Line. 

Using any of the options above, from Denver to Vail, it would take approximately 2-3 hours, depending on weather and traffic. From Eagle County Regional Airport to Vail, it would take 40 minutes to 1 hour depending on weather and traffic.

Driving to Vail

An alternative to flying would be driving to Vail, using the I-70. Then, take either Exit 173 to West Vail, Exit 176 to Vail Town Centre or Exit 180 to East Vail.

Click here for more information on driving to Vail. 

In Vail, there are two main parking structures, one in Vail Village and the other in Lionshead. Supplementary parking is available in the Red Sandstone parking garage.

Click here for more information on parking in Vail. 

It is advised to arrange transportation to Vail in advance, to ensure a pleasant and hassle-free journey.

History of Vail

bronze sculpture of ski trooper
Bronze sculpture of a ski trooper erected in honour of the 10th Mountain Division in Vail Village. Image Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

This part of Colorado was originally inhabited by the Ute people, indigenous inhabitants of Colorado. They would spend their summers hunting and fishing in the Gore Creek valley till the 1800s. During that time, settlers began moving to this area for farming. By the late 1800s, miners and fortune hunters came across the area in search of gold and silver. These factors prompted many of the indigenous inhabitants to leave the area.

Then, during the Second World War, Vail was used by the Army’s Tenth Mountain Division for training. The high elevation and difficult terrain were used to train soldiers. After the war, some of the soldiers who had previously trained in Vail returned. Among them were ski troopers Bill Brown, Pete Seibert and Bob Parker, who had planned to build a skiing community in the mountain. In 1954, a man by the name of Earl Eaton joined the trio as he shared the same dream. Together, they worked on building a ski resort in Vail.

By 1962, Vail Resorts gained a permit from United States Forest Services to use Vail Mountain for skiing and other purposes. Since then, the area has been open for skiing every season. A few years later, in 1966, the Town of Vail was also incorporated into the ski resort.

The town gained massive popularity after Gerald Ford was elected president in 1974. This is because President Ford and his wife, Betty Ford, owned a home in Vail and would visit every year in winter.

Today, it remains a popular ski destination. Over the years, however, Vail ski resort has transformed into a year-round destination. Offering more activities to a larger group of people.

Places to Visit in Vail

While the majority of visitors look forward to skiing or snowboarding in the Vail Mountains, there are some key places worth visiting. Most of these places are located within the main villages of Vail. Namely, Vail Village, Lionshead Village and Golden Village.

Vail Village

Vail village and its clocktower
Image Credit:  Vail Luxury Real Estate

Vail Village is, essentially downtown Vail, the main part of the town. It is bordered by South Frontage Road to the north, Vail Mountain ski resort to the south, Vail Valley Drive to the east and West Forest Road to the west.

The cobbled streets are pedestrian-friendly and they’re lined with Bavarian-style buildings. Vail Village is filled with shops, premium restaurants, bars, hotels and plenty of key places to visit.

On the main street of the village, Bridge Street, there is a covered bridge. It bridges Gore Creek, which flows through the town of Vail. In the centre of Bridge Street, there is the clock tower.

Vail Village is where the Gondola One, one of the lifts up to the mountain, operates from. It starts at the Vista Bahn base and goes up to Mid-Vail.

Key Places in Vail Village

Vail Village is also where the Vail Golf and Nordic Clubhouse is located. This is a club situated at the foot of the Gore Range Mountains. It serves as a golf course in the summers and as a venue for weddings, parties, gatherings, corporate events, etc. Providing people with a lovely place to celebrate while enjoying the view.

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is located here as well. Founded in 1985, the establishment was named after the former first lady of the United States, Betty Ford. This is the world’s highest botanical garden, resting at 8,200 feet. The establishment aims to conserve alpine plants in North America.

Additionally, Vail village is also home to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheatre. Opened in 1987 and named after the former president, the venue hosts a number of events every year. Especially during the summer. Some of these events are mentioned later in this post.

Finally, another notable place here is the Vail Mountain Club, located at the base of the Vail Mountains. For its members, it provides direct access to the mountain, heated valet parking, ski valet and dining at the on-mountain restaurant, the 10th, and more.

Lionshead Village

Ice skating rink lionshead village
Image Credit: Booking.com

The cobbled streets and Bavarian buildings continue towards the west of the Vail Village to Lionshead village. Much like Vail Village, Lionshead Village is also home to premium shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and more.

Lionshead Village has the second gondola at the top of the Vail Mountain – The Eagle Bahn Gondola. There is an outdoor ice skating rink in the Arabelle square outdoor ice rink. Lionshead Village also has another, bigger and more multi-purpose rink called the Dobson Ice Arena.

Golden Peak Village

students at the ski and Snowboard Club Vail
Image Credit:  Vail Daily

Golden Peak Village is regarded as a third village and base to the Vail Mountain. Located to the east of the Vail Village, it is another cobbled, pedestrian-friendly village. It is home to Vail Mountain’s ski school – the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. This is also where athletes visit to train all season.

Lastly, Golden Peak is also where the Riva Bahn chairlift, or Chair 6, takes people to the Northwoods Express Lift or Chair 11. 

These villages are all located within walking distance of each other. However, they are also accessible using the free in-town public transportation system. This free of charge, well-maintained bus service is, in fact, the largest in the country.

Things to Do in Vail, Colorado

Now that we’re familiar with the key places in Vail, let us explore a few of the many activities it has to offer.

Skiing and Winter Sports at Vail Ski Resort

skiing in vail mountain
Skiing on powder snow. Image Credit: Jack Affleck via Flickr

The primary reason to visit Vail is to ski or snowboard in winter. It is, after all, known for its ski resort.

The Vail ski resort has 5,289 acres, 195 trails full of powdery snow, at an 8,120 feet elevation. The resort and the town within it receive roughly 200 inches of snowfall per season. This provides the perfect conditions to glide along the slopes. Vail truly stands out as a one of a kind ski destination.

The Vail Mountain at the Vail ski resort has three faces; the Front Side, the Back Bowls and the Blue Sky Basin. Seasoned skiers come to Vail for its legendary Back Bowls. There are seven of them, namely, Sun Down, Sun Up, Teacup, China, Siberia, Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia -Bowl. The Blue Sky Basin also has two bowls – Pete’s bowl and Earl’s bowl.  There are two gondolas and 31 chairlifts located conveniently throughout the ski resort. This allows people to get to the top of the mountain.

Due to its vast and diverse terrain, there is something for all levels of skiers. Experts and intermediates ski usually ski in the back bowls and blue sky basin. Beginners tend to stay on the front side. Others who are new to skiing may prefer to take lessons provided by the resort.

Click here for information on purchasing tickets, season passes and more.

In addition to skiing, there are other activities that can be done in Vail. Such as snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, snow tubing, and moonlight sleigh riding.

Outdoor Activities in Summer

fisherman using fishing rod to flyfish
Flyfishing. Image Credit:  Marriott Bonvoy Traveller

While Vail is better known for skiing in winter, there is more to do in summers and other seasons. For instance, in summer, activities at the Epic Discovery is bound to get the heart racing. Wall climbing, riding a mountain coaster, tubing and bungee trampoline are a few of the activities offered here.

Some other activities that Vail has to offer in summer are, zip-lining, canopy tours, rope courses, fly fishing, white water rafting and horseback riding. In addition to these, there is, of course, hiking and mountain biking. There are numerous hiking trails of varying difficulty, crossing through Vail Mountain. The Gore Creek Trail, Booth Lake Trail and the Upper Piney River Trail are a few of many scenic hiking trails in Vail.  Click here for more information on hiking trails.

Similarly, for mountain biking, there are around 343 miles of mountain biking trails of varying levels. Click here for more information on mountain biking at Vail. 

Another activity available in summer is golfing at the Vail Golf Club in Vail Village. This is an 18-hole golf course at the foot of the Gore Mountain Range. Meaning, the view is absolutely spectacular from here.

Arrange a Relaxing Spa Day in Vail

The RockResort Spa at the Arrabelle
The RockResort Spa at the Arrabelle. Image Credit:  Colorado.com

When the weather is simply too cold, or when you just don’t feel like being outdoors. Getting a massage, facial or wellness treatment in a spa is the best option. Though a small town, Vail has many world-class spas and hot springs available. Here are some of the many spas in Vail to spend a relaxing afternoon.

  1. The RockResort Spa at the Arrabelle is a luxurious spa located within the Arrabelle Hotel at Vail Square, in Lionshead Village. This is a spa and fitness centre, with 11 treatment rooms, 7 massage rooms, showers and couples treatment rooms. They also have a nail salon and separate locker rooms for men and women. Each has a steam room, sauna, and whirlpool.
  2. Sonnenalp Spa located within the Sonnenalp Hotel is another top-class spa in Vail. It has a collection of unique treatment plans, facials and massages. A fitness centre with a variety of equipment and indoor and outdoor whirlpools. It also has a heated indoor and outdoor pool with a riverfront sun deck where the view is exquisite. They additionally have a pool bar and café as well.
  3. Deep Roots Therapeutic Massage is a local massage studio in Vail. Their team of professional massage therapists provide a variety of massages and therapies. Some include the CBD massage, a prenatal massage for pregnant women, and cupping therapy.

Eat at Vail’s Iconic Restaurants and Eateries

The town of Vail is filled with quality restaurants and eateries. Even in such a remote part of the country, there is a pretty large variety of cuisines available. From modern American to Japanese to Austrian. Here are a few of the most recommended restaurants and eateries to dine-in in Vail:

Bart & Yeti’s

Bart and Yeti's bar in vail
Bart & Yeti’s, Vail. Image Credit:  Thrillist

Bart & Yeti’s: This 40-year-old pub in Lionshead village is a local favourite. In addition to serving local brews and craft beer, they serve delicious grubs as well. They’re known for their burgers, ribs, wings, green chilli, onion rings and, of course, beer.

Garfinkel’s Sports Bar

Garfinkel’s Sports Bar
Garfinkel’s Sports Bar. Image Credit:  Garfinkel’s Sports Bar

Garfinkel’s Sports Bar, known as Garf’s locally, was established in 1993 in Lionshead Village. It is the perfect place for an après-ski experience. Garf’s serves modern American dishes like burgers, soups, salads, pasta, steak and more. They also have an outdoor patio overlooking the mountain, which is particularly pleasant during summer.

La Tour

a plate with a meat dish
The Lamb Chop at La Tour. Image Credit:  La Tour

La Tour is a French bistro located in Vail Village. It is one of the most popular restaurants in Vail, serving French and French-American cuisine. In addition to delicate and delicious food, they also have an extensive wine menu. With around 500 types of wine from around the world. 

Matsuhisa

Matsuhisa restaurant in vail
Matsuhisa, Vail. Image Credit: Dining at Altitude

Matsuhisa by Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa is an upscale restaurant in Vail Village serving modern Japanese cuisine. It opened in 2011 and has since become one of the most visited restaurants in Vail. Some of its signature dishes are its Yellowtail Sashimi with jalapeno, Black Cod Miso and White Fish Tiradito. Matsuhisa is especially appreciated for its cosy décor featuring a stone fireplace, outdoor fire pits, woodwork, etc. Additionally, the scenic view of Vail Mountain is visible from the restaurant.

Mountain Standard

meat dish at the mountain standard
The Wood Roasted Bone Marrow at The Mountain Standard. Image Credit: Tripadvisor

Mountain Standard is another popular and highly recommended restaurant in Vail. Founded in 2012, it is known for preparing its dishes over an open wood fire, using local ingredients from the rocky mountain region. Some of their signature dishes are the Wood Roasted Bone Marrow and the Blackened Texas Redfish.

Pepi’s Bar and Restaurant

Pepi’s Bar and Restaurant
Pepi’s Bar and Restaurant. Image Credit: Fine Art America

Pepi’s Bar and Restaurant, established in 1964, serves continental and American cuisine. It also, however, specializes in Austrian cuisine. Some of their iconic Austrian-inspired dishes are Jägerschnitzel, Wienerschnitzel, Hungarian veal goulash and Bratwurst. Their bar also serves Austrian beer along with other speciality drinks. They are also known to serve wild game dinners in the Antler’s room, which is open in winter.

Sweet Basil

logo of the Sweet Basil vail
Sweet Basil, Vail. Image Credit: Dining at Altitude

Sweet Basil is one of the oldest and most popular fine dining restaurants in Vail. Established in 1977, Sweet Basil serves contemporary American cuisine for lunch and dinner.

The 10th

The 10th restaurant vail
The 10th. Image Credit:  Open Table

The 10th is an upscale fine dining restaurant located on top of Gondola One. It is named after the 10th mountain division. The restaurant served contemporary American cuisine. It is most popular for its location and the views from the restaurant.

Shopping

Another activity to do within Vail is to go shopping. It could be from boutiques, markets, retail stores or other shops in the village. Or from supermarkets and hardware stores in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Within the villages, there are plenty of boutiques and retail stores. However, they mainly focus on selling ski and sports gear. The villages also have numerous art galleries for those interested in purchasing original artwork.

On Sundays, during summer and fall every year, there is a farmer’s market and art show in Vail Village. Here, vendors sell fresh produce, crafted foods and beverages and handicraft items.

In East Vail, a neighbourhood located a few miles east of the Vail Village, there is, for instance, the East Vail Market. Here, vendors sell groceries, fresh produce and handcrafted liquor, meats and cheeses. 

Another option is to visit the nearby town of Silverthorne to shop at several outlet stores. Silverthorne can be accessed by reserving the affordable Summit Express shuttle from Vail. Click here for more information. 

Attend Exciting Events throughout the Year in Vail

Kayaking at The GoPro Mountain Games.
Kayaking at The GoPro Mountain Games. Image Credit:  Vail Daily

There are numerous events being hosted in the town of Vail throughout the year. From skiing events in winter to dance events in summer. Here is a list of some of the most popular events organized in Vail every year.

Vail Arts Festival: a 3-day long event held every year in June. It showcases artwork on various mediums. From metalworking, digital art to art on glass.

The GoPro Mountain Games: This is the most anticipated sports festival held every year in June and February. The summer games are organized in June, while the winter games are in February. It is the summer games that cause the most excitement. Athletes compete in numerous adventure sports, such as biking, climbing, kayaking, rafting, fishing and more.

Bravo! Vail Music Festival: A 7-week-long classical music festival from June to August. It features philharmonic orchestras from across the country.

Hot Summer Nights: This is a free-of-cost weekly concert that is usually held towards the end of August. Here, live performances by leading artists are held at the Gerald. R. Ford Amphitheatre.

Vail Jazz Festival: A 10-week-long Jazz festival featuring the best jazz artists. There are around 40-50 performances held throughout Vail from June to September.

Oktoberfest: Being a Bavarian-inspired mountain town with a European ski town vibe, Oktoberfest has become an annual event in Vail. It is held over two weekends at the end of September in Lionshead and Vail Village. Oktoberfest involves bratwurst eating contests, keg bowling, dancing and music and drinking a LOT of beer.

Vail Snow Days: a 4-day event in December where people celebrate the season with live music, games, food and drinks at Ford Park.

Visit Other Cities and Towns

Lastly, another activity that can be done is to explore nearby towns and ski resorts in Colorado. Denver, the capital, is just 100 miles or 160km east of Vail. Boulder, another key city in Colorado, is just 103 miles or 165 km northeast of Vail. Boulder also offers plenty of outdoor activities. Though it is best known for its award-winning breweries and landscapes.

If in case, the activities at Vail ski resort aren’t enough. Or, the skiing conditions there are less than ideal. Or, if there’s simply a need for a change in landscape, consider visiting nearby ski resorts such as Aspen, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, or Keystone, Colorado.

Accommodations and Hotels in Vail, Colorado

Sonnenalp Hotel building
Sonnenalp Hotel, Vail. Image Credit:  LHW

A wide variety of accommodation is available in Vail, whether in the three main villages or in the surrounding neighbourhoods. They are available in the form of hotels, of varying price ranges, lodges, vacation rentals on VRBO, rented condominiums and apartments, Airbnbs and more. Many are ski-in ski-out hotels, allowing a hassle-free skiing experience in the ski resort. Here are some of the best hotels and lodges available in Vail.

The following are some of the best vacation rentals to rent condominiums and apartments in Vail:

Antlers at Vail

Eagle Point Vacation Rentals

Montaneros In Vail, A Destination By Hyatt Residence

Simba Run Vail Condominiums Vacation Rentals

Solaris Residences Vail

The Lion Vail Luxury Vacation Rentals

Vail Residences At Cascade Village

Vantage Point Condominiums  

Vail, Colorado, the Ultimate Year-Round Destination

legendary vail back bowls
Image Credit:  Pinterest

Vail is best known as a winter destination because of the primary activity people come here to do – skiing. The peak season is between November and March. January and February are especially crowded because the mountain receives the freshest powder snow then. As the years go by, new events and activities are being added every season. As we saw in this post, summer provides a wide range of adventure sports. Moreover, numerous events are being hosted during the warmer seasons. This makes Vail, Colorado a destination perfect for all seasons.

 

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