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Vail, Colorado, Outdoor Adventures: Adrenaline-Pumping Ideas for Summer

In Vail, exhilaration awaits at every turn, with rushing rivers, towering peaks and challenging trails. Whether you’re seeking the thrill of whitewater rafting or the fast-paced puzzle of mountain biking and ATVing, Vail offers plenty of Colorado outdoor adventures set against stunning natural landscapes.

1. River Rafting

When the snow melts from the mountaintops, the rivers come alive. Vail offers options for full-day, half-day and quick rafting trips on Class II to Class V rapids on the Eagle, Colorado and Arkansas rivers. Start with the Shoshone Trip (Class III) through Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado river. Or hit the Arkansas River for Brown’s Canyon (Class III) or the extreme Numbers section (Class IV). Early in the season (May–June), you can even raft through Vail on Gore Creek or take a wild ride down Dowd Chutes (Class IV). The best (and safest!) way to raft in Colorado is with an experienced guide — luckily, there are several local outfitters who can confidently lead you through down the rapids.

Rafting Info & Outfitters

2. Stand-Up Paddleboarding

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is a choose-your-own adventure — you have options for tranquil lake paddles or more heart-pumping rides down gushing rivers. Piney River Ranch is a stunning place to rent a SUP (or bring your own) to paddle around the lake or explore the mellow creek into the valley while enjoying views of the Gore Range peaks. For a more ambitious adventure, rent or bring your own SUP and take it on the Colorado River (just don’t forget your life jacket): Sage Outdoor Adventures offers SUP, duckie and raft rentals, along with shuttle service from its Gypsum location.

SUPing Spots

Young man and woman stand-up paddle boarding on a lake in Vail. The shores are covered in greenery and mountains with just a trace of white snow rise behind them.

3. Water Tubing

Who needs a water slide when you can experience a natural water park on an unforgettable tubing adventure? Let Turtle Tubing in nearby Gypsum provide the tubes, transportation and food for a totally tubular trip down the Colorado River. Pile all your buddies onto an oversized tube, pack a cooler and you’re all set for a party on the water.

Tube Rentals

4. Private Fishing

Perfect your arcs on a peaceful section of a Vail Valley river. Piney River offers some of the very best wilderness fly-fishing in Colorado, and at Sage Outdoor Adventure guests get exclusive access to 7 miles of the pristine trout stream as it runs through the spectacular Piney Valley Ranch. Anglers will enjoy a scenic ride down into the river canyon, followed by short walks to favorite runs, riffles, cut banks and pocket water. Whether or not you land “the big one,” this is a fishing trip you’ll surely tell stories about for years to come.

Vail Fishing

Angler standing in the river fly fishing surrounded by bright yellow trees in Vail

5. Side-By-Side & ATV Tours

Sage Outdoor Adventure rides on 20,000 acres of land stretching far as the eye can see. Rev your engine and explore the most recently extinct volcano in Colorado on 6,000 acres of private land and 14,000 acres of public land near the Castle Peak Wilderness Study Area. This 2.5-hour side-by-side tour puts you behind the wheel of your own machine, with a guide out front leading the way to all the best, off-the-beaten-path places.

Off-Road Adventures

6. Mountain Biking

Vail is home to miles of mountain-biking options to get your heart pumping — grab a map at a Welcome Center and get ready for some incredible rides. Vail Mountain features many incredible mountain-bike routes. Haul your bike up the mountain on one of the scenic gondolas. Or for those seeking the burn, ride up to the summit and earn a downhill thrill. Be sure to check out the trail map and ride your ability level. If you need to rent a bike, Vail features dozens of bike-rental locations throughout Vail Village, Lionshead and West Vail.

Pro Tip: Bike shops are a great resource for ride recommendations.

Mountain-Bike Trails

7. Road Biking

For road bikers, Vail Pass is the ultimate feat. Ride the famous time-trial course starting in Vail Village, riding to East Vail past the Gore Creek Campground and up 8.7 miles and 1,900 feet in elevation to the summit of Vail Pass. You’ll be rewarded with soaring views and a super-fast trip down. Prefer to skip the climb? Several bike outfitters (check out Venture Sports) will shuttle you to the top of Vail Pass so you can glide down from 10,600 feet of elevation.

Road-Bike Trails

8. Llama Treks

Hikers looking for an unforgettable guided excursion can connect with Paragon Guides and hike with llamas. These journeys take you through the Vail Valley, Eagles Nest and Holy Cross wilderness areas. Multi-day hikes with stops at various huts are also available. Llamas serve as guides only (they’re not for riding), and make excellent trail companions. They can carry up to 80 pounds. Paragon Guides will supply the water, snacks and picnic lunches so all you have to think about are views of towering peaks and wildflowers.

Unique Vail Adventures

Things to do in Vail: Two people hiking with llamas in the mountains.

9. Ranch Visits

For anyone visiting Vail, Piney River Ranch is an essential destination. Just 12 miles outside Vail on the edge of Piney Lake at the foot of the Gore Range, this 40-acre retreat offers hiking (don’t skip the 6-mile out-and-back hike to Piney Falls), canoeing, SUPing and fishing. Wake up amid the fun by staying in their rustic cabins and glamping tents on the lakefront. And there’s no need to pack in your own food: The Lodge Restaurant & Bar serves up smoky barbeque and beverages on a cozy outdoor patio.

Ranch Visits

10. Scenic Hikes

From mild-and-scenic to not-for-the-faint-of-heart, the trails of Vail will take your breath away in more ways than one. Check out some notable routes below.

Note: If you’re new to town, give yourself a couple days to acclimate to the altitude before taking on higher-elevation activities. And as always, pack along plenty of water and sunscreen.

Missouri Lakes Trail (9 miles, round-trip) near Gold Park Campground. The trail crosses a creek several times and winds through a meadow before reaching the lakes.

Cross Creek Trail (30 miles, round-trip) is rated difficult because of its length, but you could make this out-and-back route shorter by turning around sooner. Plan for bridge crossings, meadows bursting with wildflowers, views of Mount of the Holy Cross and side trips to alpine lakes.

Fall Creek Trail (16 miles, round-trip) starts from the North Trailhead and includes a gradual ascent to Lake Constantine, with a crossing at Fall Creek. After a steeper climb, you drop down to sparkling Seven Sisters Lake.

Deluge Lake Trail (9 miles, round-trip) is a more difficult trek, with 3,036 feet of elevation gain. It features several boulder fields and aspen woods.

Fancy Pass Trail  (7 miles, round-trip), after a series of sloped switchbacks, takes hikers over Zen Bridge and through a lush meadow before revealing Treasure Lake.

Upper Piney River Waterfall (6 miles, round-trip) is one of the most popular trails in the Vail Valley and is located at one of the most beautiful destinations in Colorado.

Gore Creek Lake Trail (12 miles, round-trip) is a full-day hike to a serene alpine lake. The trail winds through aspen groves, meadows and pine stands in the beautiful Gore Creek drainage. There are some steep sections, but you can take a break at one of many picnic spots along the way to catch your breath. You’ll spend most of the hike listening to the sounds of tumbling Gore Creek.

Bowmen’s Shortcut (5.5 miles, round-trip) is a relatively moderate hike located off Vail Pass with a summit that feels like you’re on top of the world. Wind in and out of dense forests along the rolling ridgetop until it opens at a meadow, boasting 360-degree views of the Sawatch Range, Gore Range, Ten Mile Range and the Vail ski area. This trail starts at 11,000 feet, so be prepared for cooler temperatures and changing weather.

Vail Mountain hikes can be found right out of Vail Village and Lionshead. Grab a map, hike up from the base, or take one of the scenic gondolas up to hike around and down. Trails include Berry Picker, Strawberry Lane to Cabin Trail, Ridge Route and more. Pack a picnic lunch and find a secluded spot to enjoy the views.

More Scenic Hikes

11. Fourteeners Near Vail

Whether you’ve got a few fourteeners under your belt or you’re looking to bag your first one, Vail has several options in the neighborhood. Mount of the Holy Cross is the closest and it’s one of Colorado’s most famous (and most treacherous) fourteeners. Other fourteeners accessible from Vail include Quandry Peak, Mount Serman, the Lincoln Group, Mount Elbert, Mountain Massive, Mount Harvard and La Plata Peak. Get an early start to avoid reaching the summit after noon, when thunderstorms can quickly roll in. Fourteeners are especially challenging routes at high elevations where the air is thinner, so they require strong physical fitness. Be well prepared before you start out on your adventure.

Vail Hiking Tips

A group, including children hike through a think stand of aspen trees with blue columbine wildflowers dotting the ground below them.

12. Vail Events

Vail hosts a variety of adventurous and athletic events throughout the summer. Whether you choose to spectate or participate, events at 8,150 feet take things to a new level. The GoPro Mountain Games take place early June, celebrating adventure sports, art and music. The Vail Rec District’s Race Series includes the Dynafit Trail Running SeriesMountain Bike Race Series and Whitewater Race Series.

Vail Events

Leave No Trace in Vail

While you’re exploring the Vail Valley’s tree-lined trails and whitewater routes, remember to follow Leave No Trace principles. That way, everyone can enjoy Colorado outdoor adventures for years to come.

Discover More Vail Adventures

Looking for even more things to do in Vail? Check out these resources for itinerary inspiration: