Vail is one giant playground for kids and adults of all ages. Surrounded by mountains, Vail is filled with outdoor adventure – a much-needed escape from home, school, and screens. Here are our top 10 family adventures, recommended by local families:
Something for everyone: Experience Piney River Ranch
Piney River Ranch is the must-see, must-experience gem. Spectacularly set on the edge of Piney Lake at the foot of the Gore Range, this 40-acre retreat is an essential adventure just 12 miles outside of Vail. Be sure to allocate a full day – you’ll need it to hike the 5.9 miles round trip to Piney Falls, canoe or SUP the lake, fish, and simply soak in the spectacular views (book a trail ride to go off the beaten path). The on-site Lodge Restaurant & Bar serves delicious BBQ on their stunning outdoor patio, so no need to worry about packing along food. The unpaved gravel road from Vail to Piney Ranch is accessible by any vehicle – just take it slow and enjoy the scenery. It’s all part of the adventure!
Hit the trail with hikes for all ages
Kids and hiking don’t always go hand-in-hand, but in Vail you’ll find plenty of hikes perfect for feet of any size that adults will find rewarding, and kids will actually enjoy! Check out our favorite hikes under 5 miles, along with tips on how to make the adventure fun.
See more on two wheels: Bring or rent bikes
In Vail, biking with kids can take on many different forms, depending on riding ability and adventure level. No matter whether you opt for road or mountain, biking is a wonderful way to explore Vail and the mountains on two wheels! Check out our top suggestions for biking with kids.
Ride some white water (or float): Rafting adventures
When the snow melts, the rivers run wild. You’ll find options for all-day, half-day, and shorter trips up to Class 5 rapids on the Eagle, Colorado, or nearby Arkansas Rivers. (If a float trip is more your speed, we’ve got those, too.) The Shoshone Trip through Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado river is a classic and lets kids as young as five years old don a life vest and experience the power of the river. There are many private outfitters to guide you down the rivers, whether this is your first trip or tenth.
Hop on a horse: Horseback riding in Vail
Giddyup! The West and the mountains can’t be fully experienced without horses, and Vail’s the spot to saddle up with the whole family. Vail Stables offers guided trail rides through awe-inspiring scenery right in Vail. Want to introduce littler ones to a four-legged friend? They’ll love the pony rides and small petting farm. Piney River Ranch also offers several riding options and pony rides for younger cowboys and cowgirls. Or, experience authentic ranch life with horseback and wagon rides at 4 Eagle Ranch and Bear Cat Stables, just outside town.
Buckle in for epic fun @ Epic Discovery
Located atop Vail Mountain (ride the Eagle Bahn Gondola to get there), this ultimate playground brings together activities for the whole family. Depending on age, the thrills are non-stop: summer tubing, a climbing wall, bungee trampoline, alpine coaster, zip lines, and more guarantee fun for everyone! (Note: Height/weight restrictions may apply.) Packages are available and can be customized to include lift ticket, activities, and lunch, so this can easily fill a half to full day with adventure. We suggest heading up mid-morning, as clouds/thunderstorms can build in the late afternoon – and bring layers, as the temperature is always cooler on top of the mountain (10,000’)!
Bring a llama along: Llama treks with Paragon Guides
Take your family’s hiking experience to the next level! Llama treks range from easy to hard in tune with your family’s adventure level, ages, and ability. Personality-packing llamas will light up your kids’ faces with their entertaining ways. Paragon Guides will even supply water, snacks, and picnic lunches.
Cast a line: Fishing for the big one
Find a spot of gold-medal water and introduce your kids to the peace & quiet of fly or bait fishing. We suggest hiring a fishing guide to take you to the best spots, show you the best flies for tempting local catches, and help you perfect your techniques. A morning, afternoon, or full day on the river catching the “big one” with your kids will be a day well spent.
Splash, swing, and slide: Playgrounds, parks and water features “oh my”!
Explore Vail’s unique playgrounds, parks and splash spots throughout the Villages, where you’re never far from a fun zone! In Vail Village, you’ll find Pirate Ship Park at the base of Gondola One. With its life-sized pirate ship, swings, climbing nets, and a plank to walk, you’ll watch your kids become pirates before your eyes. (Pro tip: Put your feet up and keep an eye on things from the Los Amigos deck while sipping a margarita!) Ford Park playground is a mecca of fun, with its climbing wall, several slides, hideouts, and swings that will keep the kids occupied for hours. In Lionshead, Sunbird Park features three giant cocoon-like birds’ nests with connecting bridges and slides – then cool off in the jumping fountains! Other amazing parks with unique features are just a short drive (or bus ride) from the Village, including Donovan Park, Bighorn Park, Buffehr Park, and Red Sandstone Park.
On a hot day, The Children’s Fountain in Vail Village has three spraying fountains and is perfect for wading – or wear a swimsuit for full immersion. (Before they take the plunge, duck into Fuzziwig’s Candy Shop for a quick sugar rush!)
Naturally, Gore Creek has many places to dip in toes (or more) and cool off. Make sure the water levels and current have calmed down (late July–October is best) before venturing in the river – be sure to hold little ones’ hands tight! A few of the easiest places to access the creek are in front of Mountain Standard, below Ford Park Playground, in front of the Vail Library, and along the bike path in front of the Lionsquare Lodge.
Explore & learn: The Vail Nature Center
Located in the heart of Vail, this 7-acre gem of mountain meadows and forested creekside trails is the perfect place to get away from everything while still being close to everything. Learning opportunities abound with hands-on exhibits and programs – like hiking, bird tours, beaver pond tours, wildflower viewing, stargazing (!), and nature tours. Check the Vail Nature Center’s website for a full calendar of events.
Whatever you choose, no visit to Vail is going to feel long enough. With so much to do, there’s a lifetime of memories to make – you might just find yourself planning your next trip before you leave.