Blessed with some of the best snow in the West and legendary runs, Vail has worldwide name recognition that few ski resorts can match.
The biggest draw has long been the mountain—the town wasn’t even incorporated until four years after the first official ski season in 1962. It’s now home to the largest ski resort in Colorado, with 5,289 acres for skiing and snowboarding (or mountain biking in the summer), 33 chair lifts, and 193 designated trails.
But that’s not the only reason to visit the Rocky Mountain town. Other outdoor pursuits include fly-fishing, horseback riding, biking, and hiking. Or if that’s not your flavor, the villages of Vail, Lionshead, and the neighboring Beaver Creek have lots of well-curated shops, enticing restaurants, inventive cocktail bars, and art galleries. And at the various hotels, there are opportunities to indulge in spa treatments, soak in an outdoor hot tub, or read by the fire. That’s all to say, there’s something for everyone in Vail, and we’re here to help you find it.
Here are eight of the best things to do in Vail, Colorado.
1. Spend a day on the slopes
On a powder day under bluebird skies, there are few places like Vail Mountain. And even on days with thousands of visitors, it doesn’t feel too crowded. There’s something for every skier. Beginners can board Gopher Hill Lift (#12) or Little Eagle Lift (#15) to access some of the green runs better suited to newbies. Advanced skiers can enjoy the back of the mountain, where there are seven bowls so epic that those who’ve experienced them speak of them as if they’re mythical.
In winter 2022/2023, in celebration of the 60th season, visitors can also go up to the Legacy Hut to get a stamped postcard decorated with original work from famed photographer Gray Malin to send themselves or a friend a note from the top of the mountain.
If you’re planning on skiing or riding for a few days, it’s worth buying a multi-day ticket or season pass (they typically cost significantly less than buying individual tickets at the ticket window on the day). You can also use them at Beaver Creek (accessible from Vail Mountain or by driving 15 minutes down the road), Breckenridge, and Keystone.
2. Tour Camp Hale
In the 1940s, Camp Hale served as an important training ground for the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. There, the Army trained its troops in skiing, mountaineering, and winter survival. Those troops would later become highly decorated after they snuck up on Nazi soldiers in Italy’s northern Apennines, preventing them from further invading Italy.
After World War II, many of the troops came back to Colorado and became pioneers in the outdoor industry; veterans of Camp Hale include the founders of the National Outdoor Leadership School, the Wilderness Education Foundation, Nike, the National Ski Patrol, and Vail Ski Resort.
Camp Hale was recently designated as a National Monument (the first of President Biden’s administration) in October 2022, thanks to its contributions to the U.S. military and the ski industry. Visitors can take self-guided tours of the ruins of the former training base in the Colorado Rockies.
3. Visit the Colorado Snowsports Museum
Located next to the town’s visitor center, the free Colorado Snowsports Museum tells the stories of how skiing and snowboarding started, who pioneered these sports in the Centennial State, and how the state (and its residents) participated in various Olympics and World Championships throughout history. There are also exhibits on the 10th Mountain Division, a WW II alpine unit that trained in the Rockies, and the evolution of skis and snowboards (some of the earliest look . . . less than safe).
How to visit
The Colorado Snowsports Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free.
4. Shop in Vail and Lionhead Villages
Many of the storefronts in the villages of Vail and Lionshead serve those who need new outdoor gear. Especially near the ticket offices, most of the shops specialize in items you need to enjoy a full day on the mountain, including skis to sail down it and gloves to keep you warm. But away from the gondolas, you’ll find a greater variety of boutiques and art galleries. Stop by Kemo Sabe for custom-made hats, the Golden Bear for handmade jewelry, Gallery 166 for contemporary artworks, the Gilded Spruce for Christmas decorations year-round, and Rocket Fizz for children’s toys and treats.
5. Enjoy après-ski
Après-ski (“after skiing” in French) traditionally starts in the late afternoon, after your last run (or even at a restaurant midmountain). How you spend your après-ski time is up to you: It could involve sipping an Aperol Spritz from a beach chair in the snow, relaxing in a hot tub, going for hot chocolate, or head-bobbing along to the jams of a local band on an outdoor patio.
At eateries and bars in Vail, like the Red Lion and Garfinkel’s, there’s often an après-ski menu (for what would be happy hour elsewhere).
6. Go snowmobiling with Nova Guides
If you’re looking for a back country escape, where you can experience the untouched powder and scenic vistas from some of Colorado’s tallest summits, one option is spending a half-day on a guided snowmobiling tour. Nova Guides has been offering year-round adventures in Vail for nearly 35 years (it also offers Can-Am Off Road tours in the summer). Each tour includes the Ski-Doo snowmobile rental, helmet, snacks, and local insight into some of the most staggeringly beautiful viewpoints in the area. Nova Guides is certified and supported by Ski-Doo manufacturer BRP, hosting its excursions through Uncharted Society, BRP’s global network of powersport outfitters.
7. Eat at Alpenrose, Root & Flower, or other notable restaurants
If you’re looking for a memorable meal, chances are you’ll find it here. Take Alpenrose, for example. The German Austrian restaurant offers all your favorite alpine fare, from schnitzel to apfelstrudel, in its cozy indoor dining room. It also has a collection of heated private gondolas on the back patio where guests can nosh on raclette and fondue. Or consider Root & Flower, a restaurant known for its inventive cocktail program and indulgent appetizers (get the lobster-stuffed deviled eggs).
Have a hankering for sushi? Head to Osaki’s, whose chef Takeshi Osaki first learned sushi-making in Osaka before training at the Nobu in Aspen. And if after a long day of adventuring, what you really need is carbs, make a reservation at La Nonna Ristorante, where pasta is made fresh daily (with Pivetti flour from Italy) and wine pours are healthy.
8. Visit the highest botanic garden in the United States
No matter the season, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is worth a visit. In the summer, you’ll find rock gardens, streams, wildflowers, and alpine plants collected from all over the world. In the winter, you can strap on a pair of snowshoes and explore the evergreen trees while looking for animal tracks in the snow.
How to visit
The gardens are open daily from dusk to dawn; the Education Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entrance is free.
Where to stay in Vail
The Four Seasons Resort Vail
- Book now: The Four Seasons Resort Vail
With 121 rooms and 24 suites (each with in-room stone fireplaces, stand-alone marble soaking tubs, and cozy balconies just large enough to enjoy a room service breakfast on), an outdoor heated lap pool and hot tubs, a spa with therapies that marry relaxation and recovery (important after a few days on the slopes), and a handful of drool-worthy eateries, the Four Seasons Resort Vail certainly impresses from an amenities standpoint. But what really makes the hotel a star among Vail hotels is the over-the-top service. You have your own skis? Great, the concierge will take them to its private ski center and make sure they’re ready to go in the morning, no schlepping required. Your pet tagged along? Room service will bring up a bed, bowls, and personalized treats. The Four Seasons Resort Vail team obviously cares about the little things.
The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch
- Book now: The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch
Located midmountain, among a forest of evergreen pines at the Beaver Creek ski resort, the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch is technically just outside of Vail (but still within the Vail Valley). However, in an area known for luxury, the Ritz-Carlton stands out. It’s a place where skiers fresh from the mountain can order a warming cocktail to enjoy before the lobby fireplace while a live band performs in the corner. (The hotel is ski-in/ski-out and has a dedicated ski concierge.) And the tailored service, additional amenities (like daily guided snowshoe tours), 21,000-square-foot spa (complete with steam rooms, saunas, plunge pools, and a stone-lined grotto), a bevy of top-notch eateries (and lively après-ski scene), and more secluded nature make it a destination in its own right.