Known for its pristine slopes, luxurious lodges and fine dining, Vail would seemingly be a barren wasteland in the summer. But on the contrary.
During the warmer months, the Colorado Rockies hold all new attractions. Although majorly overlooked by the general public, with the snow gone and the rivers thawed, the peaks are the place to be for the true adventure seekers.
Here are the four things you MUST do on a summer visit to Vail, Colorado.
This may seem like an obvious one, but hiking has unlimited opportunities. You can try the more popular trails, typically not that hard to find, and always rewarding you with a final scenic destination. No matter how many times you visit, you are always overwhelmed by beauty.
You can’t visit Colorado without seeing a 360⁰ view of the mountain ranges, going on for hundreds of miles in the distance. To read more about the best trails near Vail, read my blog post The Best Hikes in Vail: Two Trails You Have To Visit in the Valley.
The number of trails in the Rockies are countless. If you’re looking to try something new, you could take on a less popular trail. On a hike less traveled, you may discover a hidden beauty never seen before, like a babbling stream, a far off moose, or a dazzling landscape view.
Looking for something more challenging than a day-hike? Try backpacking one of the 14ers! About an hour drive from Vail, this legendary mountain range consists of 58 mountains exceeding 14,000 feet in elevation. Reaching the summit of all of them is a bucket list item for many extreme backpackers.
Visit the 14ers website to learn more about them. Each mountain has multiple trails, allowing you to choose based on your skill level. Many can be completed in a day while others are for multi-day trips.
Whatever your experience with trails may be, there are plenty for you to explore near Vail.
2. Whitewater Rafting
Although there aren’t a lot of options within the town of Vail, when you visit the Rockies during the summer, whitewater rafting is a no-brainer!
Take a scenic drive through the Rockies to Buena Vista (just a few miles from the 14ers). Known for it’s endless outdoor adventure, this cute little town is home to some of the most exciting rapids on the Arkansas River.
I recommend booking a trip through a rafting company in the area if it’s your first time. My family chose American Adventure Expeditions, and we got to paddle down the river with two amazing river guides. After gearing up and listening to the raft safety protocol, you are loaded up on a bus and taken to the “put in.”
If you’re afraid you won’t have any clue how to steer a raft around raging rapids, don’t be! Your guide will join your crew and instruct you each step of the way.
If you’ve never rafted before or plan on doing so with young riders, start with the float through Brown’s Canyon. With lots of breaks between rapids and not too many intense sections, this part of the river is perfect for getting the hang of your paddle and taking breaks to catch your breath and get to know you guide.
You can learn more about my river rafting experience there in my post Listen to Your Guide: White Water Rafting through Browns Canyon.
For a more challenging (and exciting) float, try the infamous Numbers, named for its extensive number of rapids. Warning: this float is for extreme adventurers only! Be sure that everyone in your party is ready for an intense ride. Each member of the raft will have to work together to reach the end.
A true test of bravery and perseverance, rafting down your first river is unforgettable. There’s nothing quite like the pride of getting through a challenging rapid.
Trust me: you’ll miss the feeling of freezing water splashing you in the face soon after the trip is over.
Who says mountain views can’t be exhilarating? While zipping through the evergreens, you can skip the long walk and see the beautiful sights with a cool breeze flowing through your hair.
We chose to zip with Top of the Rockies Zipline. Once you’re buckled into a helmet and harness, you’ll ride to the top of the mountain to start your first zip.
There’s nothing to fear during this tour. The staff makes each zip easy. Just run and jump, letting your momentum carry you across the line. Take time to look around (or in my case, yell to the mountains and listen for my echo). Then, a device at the end of the line will slow you down, so you won’t have to worry about stopping yourself.
This is an activity great for all ages. And a perfect way to get some stunning action shots.
4. Horseback Riding
As our tour guide said, “Is there any better way to see the mountains?” While horseback riding along the trail, study the scenic views while riding a majestic horse.
At Mt. Princeton Riding Stables, get paired with a horse, fit for you based on your riding experience (my noble steed was named Howdy). Following behind your friendly tour guide, take a two hour ride across Chalk Creek, getting views of Mt. Harvard, Mt. Yale and Mt. Antero.
Visitors of any age are welcome, with helpful advice from your guide turning anyone into a proper rider, making for a unique and memorable experience.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Colorado Rockies are the home of adventure. Spend your winter break skiing at the finest resorts and drinking hot cocoa by the fire. But be sure to return in the summer to experience all the mountains have to offer.