Vail, Colorado is magical in summer. It’s a two hour car ride from Denver to Vail, but it’s an easy drive with some spectacular scenery. Upon arrival in Vail, you will quickly realize this is a destination like no other. It’s clean, family friendly, and perfectly beautiful, and I don’t say that about many places. This is our second year in a row visiting with family, and everyone loves it just as much as I do. It’s one of those places you want to return to again and again, even the teenagers agree. Here are our favorite things to do in Vail in summer.
*We were guests of Discover Vail for the purposes of this review. As always, opinions are 100% our own. Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that we have recommended. Please check out our disclosure policy for more details. Thank you for your support!
How to Get to Vail Colorado
There are a couple of options for traveling to Vail. The first is to fly into Denver, rent a car, and drive to Vail. The drive from Denver to Vail is just over two hours.
There is no airport in Vail, so the best option is to fly into Eagle County Regional Airport in Gypsum. Eagle Airport (EGE) offers non-stop flights from Dallas (DFW) and Chicago (ORD) year round. Once you arrive at Eagle Airport you can take a shuttle bus, car service, or rental car, but there is no Uber.
What Teens will Love About Summer in Vail
Vail Ski Resort is an extremely popular winter destination, but summer in Vail is just as fun. The main gathering area is known as Vail Village, a collection of European Alpine style buildings surrounded by towering mountain peaks with a peaceful creek running through town. The streets are pedestrian only, providing a comfortable atmosphere for families exploring the local shops and restaurants.
There are two other villages nearby, Lionshead, which has the best access for the Vail gondola, and Golden Peak, which has accommodations and easy access to Ford Park and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. The Town of Vail has an easy to use shuttle that regularly runs a loop through town and you can find the Vail bus schedule on their website.
There are so many things to do in Vail, it’s hard to know where to begin. We recommend heading for Vail Village, where you can walk along the pedestrian mall or hike along the Vail Recreation Path adjacent to Gore Creek. The villages are completely contained and free from traffic (with the exception of the buses), so kids of all ages can roam free. It’s a place where you feel comfortable letting teens explore on their own, and having a bit of freedom.
There are plenty of Vail summer activities for kids. Most of these work for all ages, but some of these suggestions are for older kids.
Fun Things to Do in Vail with Teens
If your teens love shopping, there are an endless number of shops, from clothing to art galleries. There’s an ice cream shop called Sundae, and a couple of candy shops too (Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory and Rocket Fizz). CinéBistro has the latest movies, and even a bowling alley, bol, which offers food and bowling. Solaris Plaza (where bol is located), has a large grass area for games of corn hole (rent equipment next to bol), and hosts concerts during the week. Hanging out in the village is only the beginning of Vail summer fun.
Head up the mountain to Epic Discovery
If you don’t know what to do in Vail in summer, start with Epic Discovery in Vail. This is where you will find the zip line, ropes course, and mountain roller coaster. It is a dream for kids of all ages, especially those who want adventure. Tickets are available in Lionshead Village at the base of Vail Mountain. An all day Adventure Pass gives unlimited access to eleven different activities at the top of the mountain.
The adventure begins with a scenic ride on the Vail gondola to the top of Vail Mountain. At the top is where the fun begins, and the hard part is knowing where to start. My kids headed straight for the alpine coaster, Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster. It was a ton of fun, and I loved that you can control the speed with your hand brakes. I’m sure my kids didn’t use their brakes, and they couldn’t resist going a second time.
There are several zip lines, Game Creek, Golden Eagle, and Little Eagle (for young children), but unfortunately they weren’t open for the season in early June. We did see some of the employees trying out the line and it looked amazing. Highly recommend if you’re a zip line enthusiast.
My boys also tried the adventure courses. There are three of them: Holy Cross and Gore Range, and a smaller ones for little kids. I watched from below as it looked quite difficult. They loved it, but said it was not easy.
There’s also tubing, a climbing wall, and a mini golf course (at the bottom of the mountain), so everyone is bound to be hungry when they are done. There are several restaurants and quick dining options on Vail Mountain. Plan on spending at least a half day enjoying everything Epic Discovery has to offer.
Take a bike ride on the Gore Valley Trail
Vail has fifteen miles of paved bike paths, and teens would love having the freedom to explore on bicycles. There are several stores in Vail Village and Lionshead that rent bikes and hotels will often have bikes available for use as well. The trail runs through open meadows, along Gore Creek at some points, and through residential and community areas. Don’t miss Ford Park with its awesome playground (yes, teens still like playgrounds even if they won’t admit it) and Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, the world’s highest botanical garden. It’s the perfect way to see Vail on two wheels.
Go hiking with llamas with Paragon Guides
This is honestly one of my favorite things to do in Vail with teens. Paragon Guides has several different options for hiking with llamas, from day trips to five day treks through the Colorado mountains. We did the “Take a Llama to Lunch” hike, which included walking for a couple of hours through the Cross Creek Valley and along the Eagle River.
The hiking was never strenuous, and we learned quite a bit about llamas in general. Llamas make great hiking companions as they can carry between 70-90 pounds, so we didn’t have to carry anything while we hiked. It was an experience we will always remember, and I know it was the highlight of our Vail summer vacation.
White water rafting with Sage Outdoor Adventures
If you have adventure junkies in your family and are looking for fun things to do in Vail in summer, Sage Outdoor Adventures has many options. We opted for white water rafting on the Shoshone River. This part of the river has class II and III rapids through Glen Canyon. The rafting starts out pretty strong, but ends up feeling more like a river float for the last hour. Since this wasn’t our first white water rafting experience, we were hoping for something a little more challenging. I guess that’s why there’s a next time for us to try one of their class III or IV adventures on the Arkansas River.
Sage offers other outdoor adventures in Vail including ATV rides, horseback riding, fishing, and sporting clay shooting. The staff is extremely professional and they used masks and social distancing the entire time we were on the tour.
Spend the day at Piney River Ranch
Piney River Ranch is the perfect day trip from Vail. The drive up to the lodge is not for the faint of heart as it is mostly unpaved, and winds back and forth (just note if you have a kid prone to car sickness). It’s only about 12 miles from Vail as the crow flies, but takes about 40 minutes driving. Once you arrive, you realize the drive is worth it.
Piney Lake has stunning mountain views of the Gore Range. Families can take a hike through Eagle’s Nest Wilderness Area to a beautiful waterfall, about six miles round trip. Those looking for something more relaxing can enjoy fishing, canoeing, or SUPing on the lake. There are equipment rentals available so you don’t need to bring your own. Horseback riding is also available for those age 8 and above.
When you need to take a break, grab a bite to eat at the Lodge Restaurant, serving wraps, salads, and sandwiches. Enjoy your meal with a stunning view of the lake and mountains beyond.
If you want to stay longer, consider booking a cabin, yurt, or glamping tent at Piney Ranch. Families with kids of all ages will love this outdoor adventure near Vail.
Other top things to do in Vail with kids
If you are looking for other ideas for what to do in Vail in summer with teens, there are several companies that offer mountain biking, ATV rides, Segway tours, horseback riding, and fly fishing. There’s also multiple hiking trails in Vail. If you want to drive about 45 minutes, you can spend a day at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. We didn’t have time for all of these, but we would definitely return to try them all!
Best Restaurants in Vail
There are so many delicious restaurants in Vail, it’s hard to pick a bad one. Most of them have outdoor patios which are perfect for dining at a distance.
We enjoyed our meal at bōl (flatbreads, salads, and burgers), but we also enjoyed exploring some of the other restaurants. Mountain Standard is a popular choice for Vail dining, with a beautiful location overlooking Gore Creek, and delicious dinner options like Piri Piri chicken and Crispy Pork Belly. Don’t miss the Southern Pimiento Cheese starter, it is divine!
Another favorite dinner spot is Alpenrose (or its sister restaurant, Almresi), an authentic Bavarian restaurant. Try the Trüffel ricotta ravioli, the Bavarian pretzel, and Weisswurst (white sausage, my favorite). Be sure to make reservations in advance for these places.
Other great places to eat in Vail include:
- Bully Ranch at the Sonnenalp Hotel – Casual dining (think burgers, salads, tacos) on a great patio. We ordered carry out and had a picnic along Gore Creek.
- Vail Chophouse or The Tavern at Lionshead – Both restaurants have outdoor seating with beautiful views of Vail Mountain.
- White Bison – Casual Colorado cuisine with a patio overlooking Gore Creek.
If you are a caffeine addict like myself and don’t know where to get coffee in Vail, I have a few of places to recommend. Loaded Joe’s past the covered bridge next to Sundae ice cream shop, has amazing coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and açaí bowls. Yeti’s Grind is a popular spot in Solaris for coffee and pastries. Two Arrows Coffee (just off Bridge Street) does double duty as a coffee shop in the morning and bar in the evening.
Where to Stay in Vail
Manor Vail Lodge
There are a variety of Vail resorts for families. We stayed at Manor Vail Lodge which offers awesome condos with enough space for families to spread out. We had a two bedroom, three bath condo which was more than enough room for three of us. The property has a spa, swimming pools, and fitness center, and a hot breakfast buffet is included with your stay. The kids made the most of our stay by spending all of their free time in the pool.
We loved how Manor Vail Lodge was centrally located to Ford Park, Ford Amphitheater (home to weekly Vail summer concerts), and the Vail walking path. There is a bus stop right across the street from Manor Vail Lodge which will take you anywhere you need to go within the town of Vail. It is the perfect place for families who want their own space.
Antlers at Vail
Another favorite accommodation is Antlers at Vail. Located in Lionshead, this property has furnished condos from one to three bedrooms that are perfect for families. Each unit is unique, and ours had three bedrooms and two baths, with two rooms upstairs. There was a full kitchen, dining area, and lounge area too. Beyond the living area was the balcony, with stunning views of Gore Creek and Vail Valley.
The kids enjoyed the swimming pool and the hotel’s proximity to the Vail Gondola and Lionshead shopping and restaurants. This property is also dog friendly and can provide childcare if needed. We traveled during the pandemic and appreciated Antlers having safety protocols in place, including mask and social distancing requirements.
I have realized Colorado in the summer is perfect for families. A couple of summers ago we visited Tumbling River Ranch and loved it. These past two years our travels took us to Vail, and we all agreed we can’t wait to go back. There’s just something to be said about a Colorado summer vacation with its mountains, meadows, and outdoor adventures. It’s the perfect destination for families with teens.