The saying among transplants to the Colorado Rockies goes like this: “I came for the winters, but stayed for the summers.” Indeed, many outdoorsy folks move to the high country for easy access to Colorado’s glorious powder and stellar ski trails, but the warm-weather months that bring wildflowers, arid days, bright blue skies, and endless opportunities for adventures in the mountains make them fall in love.
The high-altitude town of Vail, and its tony neighbor, Beaver Creek, are great home bases for enjoying a myriad of activities in the summer months. Here are just a few suggestions for things you don’t want to miss when visiting this area of the Rockies in July, August and beyond.
Get acclimated. I always suggest that visitors hang their hats in Denver for a night or two before making their way up to the mountains. Our high altitude is no joke, and it’s smart to let your body get accustomed to the thinner air at 5,280 feet, before spending a week at 8,000 feet in the mountains. That way you might be able to avoid some of the symptoms that may come with altitude sickness, such as headaches and mild nausea. After staying in Denver for a couple days, it’s a straight-shot, 90-minute drive to Vail.
Get high. I know we’re talking about Colorado, but I don’t mean that kind of high. I’m talking about boarding a gondola or chairlift to ascend to the top of a ski mountain. This is a convenient way to experience phenomenal mountain views from 11,000 feet. Thrill-seekers should head to top of Vail Mountain via the Eagle Bahn Gondola, where you’ll find Adventure Ridge with its 1,200-foot zipline and two aerial challenge courses, as well as disc golf, a climbing wall, and rebound trampoline (all for additional fees). Complimentary activities include the slackline park, horseshoes, bean bag toss, and sand-pit “dino dig” for kids. I’m also partial to kicking back with a Colorado microbrew at Talon’s Deck to admire views of the jagged, rugged peaks in the Gore Range.
Viewfinder Tip: Check out Vail’s Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum for fascinating exhibits on the history of these sports.
Enjoy the arts. While outdoor activity takes center stage in Vail and Beaver Creek, opportunities to listen to music, hear a comedian, and watch a dance performance abound. Beaver Creek’s Vilar Performing Arts Center presents comedy and concerts all summer long. The Vail International Dance Festival takes place on an open-air stage. The Bravo! Vail music festival brings top-notch symphonies to the valley. Look for local musicians playing at restaurants and bars for après-hike happy hour and late-night entertainment, as well.
Cowboy up. On Thursday nights through the summer, the Beaver Creek Rodeo is the place to be. Crowds pack the large arena to watch experienced cowboys and cowgirls compete in events such as calf-roping, barrel racing, and bronc riding, while a lively emcee and rodeo clowns keep the audience entertained. Visiting children can sign up to compete in the always-entertaining mutton bustin’ and calf scramble. In fact, the entire scene at the Avon rodeo grounds is family-friendly, with food vendors, pony rides, face painting, and mechanical bull rides.
Beaver Creek Village
Go for a hike. Beaver Creek has more than 60 miles of marked trails for exploring by foot. I highly recommend stopping by the Beaver Creek Hiking Center to pick up a summer trail map and chat with knowledgeable staff to find a trek that’s ideal for your ability and time frame. You also can join a scheduled hike with a guide, who will share his or her knowledge of local geology, flora, and fauna. These fee-based hikes include a day pack, hiking poles, rain gear, bottled water, and snacks.
Hit the bike trails. Take your mountain bike (or a rented mountain bike) up to the top of Vail Mountain via the Eagle Bahn Gondola, then bike down on marked trails. If you’re looking for a gentler (read: flat) ride, cycle the paved path along Vail’s Gore Creek for pretty water views.
Eat al fresco. Mealtime should be a leisurely affair in Vail and Beaver Creek, especially if you can snag a table outdoors under sunny skies with the mountains as your backdrop. Some of my favorite local eateries include the slopeside Beaver Creek Chophouse, with its large patio and upbeat scarlet umbrellas; Pepi’s Restaurant in Vail Village, which also has a great deck for people watching on the pedestrian mall; and family-friendly Los Amigos in Vail, whose deck is adjacent to a big grassy lawn for kids to run around while they wait for dinner.
Jeep tours, fly fishing, whitewater rafting, golf, and horseback riding are still more fun adventures to be had in the mountains and rivers around Vail and Beaver Creek.
What are your favorite summer vacation activities?