The Vail Valley might not fulfill the utopian vision of pumpkin fields and corn mazes when it comes to fall, but anyone who's spent time hiking through golden aspen groves on a chilly autumn morning in our corner of high country will tell you this: the valley's shortest season might well be its finest. Just don't forget your raincoat, as September showers are a not-so-subtle hint of winter powder days to come.
Must-Do On-Mountain Hike for Leaf Peepers
- 3.2 miles one-way
Vail Mountain's classic Berrypicker hike offers prime views of the golden, aspen-dotted slopes as it winds up (and up, and up) the mountain. Be warned, though, Berrypicker isn't for the faint of heart (or the easily winded), as the trek takes hikers all the way from the mountain's base to its very top at Eagle's Nest. Treat yourself with a ride down, courtesy of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, which runs every weekend from September 8 through October 1 (vail.com).
Must-Do Foliage Hike Off the Slopes
North Vail Trail
- 11.1 miles one-way
- USFS Recreation Quick Sheet for the Buffehr Creek to Red Sandstone, Davos to Buffehr Creek, Red Sandstone to Son of Middle Creek, and Trapper's Run sections of the trail.
From thick, yellow aspen groves to sweeping, golden-hued views of the slopes of Vail Mountain, Vail's North Trail is a favorite among locals (and their dogs), and during autumn, the vistas are truly incredible. The total length of the North Trail is 11.1 climbing, meandering miles high above the North Frontage Road and neighborhoods of Vail between exits 173 for West Vail, and 170 for Vail Village, but don't let that almost-marathon there-and-back dissuade you: hike any one of the North Trail's four segments (listed above) above for a shorter, but no less spectacular, day in the woods. For prime foliage, though, the section from Red Sandstone to Son of Middle Creek trail is one the best hikes in the valley.
Where to Cheers the Season (Every Weekend)
Locals really get into Oktoberfest (thanks, in part, to the valley's early locals, many of whom originally hail from mountain towns in Austria and Germany), so much so, that festivities that range from stein hoisting competitions to live music featuring lederhosen-clad oompah bands take place over three weekends in Beaver Creek (September 1 & 2) and Vail and Lionshead Villages (September 7-9 & 14-16). And if you miss the party down Bridge Street, Vail Village's Sonnenalp Hotel hosts one more party (September 29, 2-8 p.m.) for partiers to don their lederhosen and cheers the season (vailoktoberfest.com, sonnenalp.com).
Where to Wear Your Best Flannel
Flannels and beards are the suggested attire for Avon's yearly Man of the Cliff competition (October 13 & 14, Avon), where local strongmen (and women) compete in events like axe-throwing and tug of war for bragging rights as the Man or Woman of the Cliff. Spectators cheer the winners with beers provided by Eagle's Bonfire Brewing, and all proceeds from the two-day competition go to local nonprofit First Descents (manofthecliff.com).
Where to Savor the Season
Vail's final food and wine festival before the snow starts to fall happens on Saturday, September 22, when the Vail Food & Wine Classic packs one day with a foliage-filled hike and brunch on Vail's Berrypicker Trail (9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., $55 per person), followed by a grand tasting at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater (4:30 to 7:30 p.m., $67 per person) that pairs Southern Hemisphere wines with crisp, mountain air (tasteofvail.com).
The Perfect Autumn Date Night
Bundle up, and park yourself in the lot at Minturn's outdoor movie theatre, which screens old-school horror flicks like "The Shining" and Halloween-themed classics like "Ghostbusters," and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" as its end-of-season fall finale (September 1, 2, 15, 22, 29; October 6, 13, 20, 26, 27, 30, 31). Don't miss the concession stand, stocked with local favorites like Vail Brewing Company beer and Northside donuts (bluestarlitedrivein.com).