With rivers, peaks, lakes, waterfalls, and trails around every corner, there’s no shortage of heart-pumping outdoor adventures from dawn to dusk. Get ready to go, go, go in Vail!
1. Get Your River & Lake Rush – Whitewater rafting, SUP, Tubing
When the snow melts from the mountaintops, the rivers come alive. Vail offers options for full-day, half-day, and quick trips from Class II – Class V rapids on the Eagle, Colorado, and nearby Arkansas River. Where to start: The Shoshone Trip (Class III) through spectacular Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado river is a classic. 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).
What are white water classifications? View a list of Rafting Companies & Outfitters
Stand-up paddle-boarding has become popular in recent years, and in Vail, you have options for tranquil lake paddles or more active rides down local rivers. Piney River Ranch is a stunning place to rent a SUP (or bring your own) to paddle around the lake and explore the mellow creek into the valley while enjoying incredible views of the Gore Range peaks. For a more ambitious adventure, rent or bring your own SUP and take on the Colorado River: Sage Outdoor Adventures offers SUP, duckie, and raft rentals, along with shuttle service from its Gypsum location. Pick your floatation device and create your own adventure! Don’t miss The Canyon Cafe, a fantastic spot to enjoy some food and cocktails after your trip down the river.
Who needs water slides when you can experience a natural water park in an unforgettable tubing adventure? Let Turtle Tubing provide the tubes, transportation, and food for a totally tubular trip down the Colorado river. Pile all your buddies onto an oversized tube, with space for a cooler (or two), and you’re all set for a party on the water.
2. Pristine Private Fishing
Piney River offers some of the very best wilderness fly fishing in Colorado, and Sage Outdoor Adventure guests get exclusive, private access to seven miles of this 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!
3. Drive Your Own Side-by-Side ATV
Sage Outdoor Adventure rides on 20,000 acres of land stretching far as the eye can see! Rev your engine and explore around the most recently extinct volcano in Colorado on 6,000 acres of private land plus14,000 acres of public land near the Castle Peak Wilderness Study Area. This 2 ½ 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.
4. Off-Road Adventures on Two Wheels
Vail is home to miles of mountain biking options to get the heart pumping – grab a map, consult a local, and get ready for some incredible rides on Vail’s surrounding mountains! Vail Mountain features many incredible mountain bike options. Haul your bike up the mountain on one of the gondolas, or, for those seeking the burn, ride up the mountain 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.)
5. Uphill/Downhill Thrills: Bike Vail Pass
For the road biker, Vail Pass is the ultimate feat! If you’re looking for the ultimate experience, ride the famous time trial course: starting in Vail Village, ride to East Vail, past the Gore Creek Campground, and up the 8.7 miles and 1,900’ to the summit of Vail Pass. You’ll be rewarded with stunning 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’ of elevation.
6. Hike with Llamas
Hikers looking for a unique guided excursion can connect with Paragon Guides and hike with llamas. These unique 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) but are excellent trail companions and can carry as much as 80 pounds. Bonus: Paragon Guides will supply the water, snacks, picnic lunches, and plenty of smiles along the way.
7. Piney River Ranch
For anyone visiting (or living in) 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 and SUPing, fishing, and spectacular views. Get it all in while you linger a night or two – rustic cabins and glamping tents on the lakefront are perfect for a group or romantic getaway! Imagine waking up to the most panoramic views you’ve ever seen. No need to pack in your own food: The Lodge Restaurant & Bar serves delicious BBQ and beverages on a stunning outdoor patio. Any vehicle can drive the unpaved, gravel road from Vail to Piney Ranch – just take it slow and enjoy the scenery.
8. Hikes to Take Your Breath Away
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. Notable routes include:
Missouri Lakes Trail (three miles one-way) near Gold Park Campground. The trail crosses a creek several times and winds through a meadow before reaching the lakes.
Cross Creek Trail is rated easy to difficult, but is a lengthy fifteen miles one-way. The Rockies deliver, however, with bridge crossings, meadows bursting with wildflowers, views of Mount of the Holy Cross, and side trips to alpine lakes.
Fall Creek Trail is nine miles one-way from the north trailhead and includes a gradual ascent to Lake Constantine and a crossing at Fall Creek. After a steeper climb, hikers will drop down to Seven Sisters Lake.
Deluge Creek Trail is a less daunting four miles (one-way) with a 3,036’ elevation gain. It features several boulder fields and aspen woods.
Fancy Pass Trail is another shorter excursion (2-3.25 miles one-way) and after a series of sloped switchbacks takes hikers over Zen Bridge and through a lush meadow before revealing Treasure Lake.
Upper Piney River Waterfall hike (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 is a full-day hike to a beautiful, alpine lake. The trail winds through aspen groves, meadows, and pine stands in the beautiful Gore Creek drainage. There are some steep sections, but it’s all worth it, and there are many pleasant picnic spots to catch your breath. The beauty of the Gore Creek/Lake Trail is that you can go for as short or long as you like. It’s roughly 5.5 miles to Gore Lake with breathtaking scenery the entire way. Turn around at any point. You’ll spend most of the hike listening to the sounds of Gore Creek along the trail.
Bowmen’s Shortcut is a relatively moderate hike located off Vail Pass with a summit that’s often considered the “Top of the World.” The 8.5-mile loop trail brings hikers in and out of dense forests along the rolling ridgetop until it opens up at the “Top of the World” meadow, boasting 360-degree views of the Sawatch Range, Gore Range, Ten Mile Range, and Vail ski area. This trail starts at 11,000’, so be prepared for cooler temperatures and changing weather.
Vail Mountain Hikes
There are plenty of hikes right out of Vail Village and Lionshead on Vail Mountain. Grab a map, hike up from the base, or take one of the gondolas up to hike around and down. Trails include Berry Picker, Grand Escape, Strawberry Lane to Cabin Trail, Ridge Route, and more. Pack a picnic lunch and find a secluded spot of your own to enjoy the views!
9. Bag a Nearby 14ers
Whether you’ve got a few 14ers 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 one of Colorado’s most famous (and most treacherous). Other 14ers accessible from Vail include Quandry Peak, Mount Serman, the Lincoln Group, Mount Elbert, Mountain Massive, Mount Harvard, and La Plata Peak. We always suggest getting an early start to avoid reaching the summit after noon, when thunderstorms can quickly roll in. Be well prepared before you start out on your 14er adventure!
10. Adrenaline Events To Watch or Become a Participant
Vail hosts a variety of adventurous and athletic events throughout the summer. Whether you choose to spectate or participate, events at 8,150’ take things to a new level! The GoPro Mountain Games take place June 10-13 and is the country’s most celebrated festival of adventure sports, art, and music. The Vail Outlier Off-Road Festival, celebrating all things mountain biking, takes place September 24-26. The Vail Rec District’s Race Series includes the Dynafit Trail Running Series, mountain bike race series, and Whitewater Race Series and will surely test participants’ athleticism!
How many of these adventures have you checked off your list? We hope you make plans to be here a while to take it all in, or come back soon for more. We’d love to hear which were your favorites or if you discovered something incredible to add to our list!
Note: If you’re new to town, give yourself a couple days to acclimate to the elevation before taking on higher elevation activities. And as always, pack along plenty of hydration.