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Under 5-mile hikes for the whole family (plus, tips to make it fun for kids!)

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. (Tip: If the sound of “hiking” intimidates those less nature-inclined, just call it a “nature walk!”) Here are some of our favorites that ring in under 5 miles, with some been-there tips sure to help make it fun along the way.

1. Vail Nature Center/Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

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. This “hike” is very mellow with no elevation gain. 

Suggested route: From Ford Park (before or after playing at the playground), head through the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens (pick up a kid’s treasure hunt map), across the bridge and follow the trail east as it meanders along the creek, ending at the Vail Nature Center. Take a break and stop inside for some educational exhibits. Continue east on the trail to the hidden tepee – a great hideaway for a snack break.

TIP:

Celebrate completing a hike with the reward of cooling off in the creek (if water levels permit) or playing back at Ford Park playground!  

 

2. Vail Mountain – Eagle’s Loop, Top of Lionshead to Mid Vail (or the reverse)

One of the easiest and shortest hikes in the area, the Eagle’s Loop atop Vail Mountain, is a perfect hike for kids and packs gorgeous views for the adults. Start by riding the Eagle Bahn Gondola up the mountain. The Eagle’s Loop is a 1-mile trail across the mountain, ending at Mid Vail. From here, you can simply take Gondola One down into the village or hike the 1 mile back to Eagle’s Nest and take the Eagle Bahn back down. This can be done in either direction.

Keep an eye out for the interactive and educational signs along the trail. Don’t miss the Nature Discovery Center atop Eagle’s Nest and experience the exhibits about local wildlife!

TIP:

Reward kiddos for their hiking accomplishment with a trip to Fuzziwig’s Candy Shop in Vail Village or Rocket Fizz in Lionshead.

 

3. Gore Creek/Gore Valley Trail

There are many sections of the Gore Creek Trail without elevation gain, offering easy hiking opportunities for families. The section through Vail Village/Lionshead is “improved gravel,” with some paved sections – bonus, it’s wide and smooth enough for strollers! Suggested sections: Covered Bridge to Ford Park, Vail Library to Lionshead to Lionsquare Lodge.

TIP:

There are plenty of benches and picnic tables along the way for snack/lunch breaks – perfect opportunities for enjoying some ice cream from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Vail Village or Häagen-Dazs® in Lionshead.

The East Vail portion of the Gore Valley Trail is a beautiful shared hiking and biking path. You’ll pass below a vibrant red sandstone cliff band while following Gore Creek. Starting at the East Vail trailhead, this easy walk leads into meadows and aspen groves from East Vail to the golf course. Pack a picnic – there are plenty of picnic tables, benches, and meadows to enjoy! 

TIP:

With all the unpaved trails off the paved path, let your little explorers lead the way and see if they can be the ones to discover the creek, waterfall, or hidden forest!

 

4. North Trail Sections

While the North Trail provides a total of 12 miles of trails for hiking (and biking) from Davos Road to Spraddle Creek (or the reverse), there are shorter sections perfect for a family hiking adventure. Dotted with shade from aspen groves along the way, the trails are a favorite because of their accessibility and stunning scenery of Vail Mountain, the Gore Range, and Mount of the Holy Cross.

Our suggestion: A nice short hike is the 2.5-mile out-and-back to North Trail lookout point. Start at Buffehr Creek Road trailhead and embark on a relatively short but challenging climb to the top of a flat clearing, where you can reward them with a treat while everyone enjoys the sweeping panoramic views.

Directions: All trailheads are accessible from North Frontage Road. Grab a Vail Hiking Map from the Vail Welcome Center or visit hikevail.net for more info.

 

TIPS:

Kids love treats and incentives, so reward them every quarter-mile with a few M&Ms (or candy of choice) and then a surprise treat when they make it to the top! If you have a step-tracker, have them guess ahead of time how many steps it is to the top. Playing hide-and-seek (of course not going too far off the trail) is a fun way to forget the act of hiking and make a fun game – adults must participate too!   

5. Shrine Ridge Trail

Shrine Ridge Trail off Vail Pass is a gradual, short hike (793’ elevation gain, 2.2 miles one-way) through lush pine meadows and two small ponds to the top of Shrine Mountain. A must-see in mid-to-late summer with its incredible fields of wildflowers – yellows, pinks, and purples pop against the alpine landscape. Plus, you’ll be rewarded with incredible 360-degree views of Copper Mountain, Mount of the Holy Cross, the Gore Range and Vail’s Back Bowls.

This trail starts at 11,000’, so be prepared for cooler temperatures and changing weather – wear layers and pack along warmer/rain options!

Directions: I-70 to Exit #190 for Vail Pass. Exit here and turn right, heading west onto the Shrine Pass dirt road (FSR 709). Follow this well-graded road 2.4 miles just past Shrine Pass. The trailhead is on the left. Parking is limited. 

TIP:

Create a scavenger hunt or bingo game with items in nature for the kids to find along their hike. One way to play: Stop along the trail, close your eyes, and listen – you’ll be surprised at how much noise nature makes. 

 

 

MORE VAIL HIKES