An Insider's Guide to the Valley’s Best Outdoor Summer Adventures
What are the valley's best spots during the warmer months? We asked, and you answered.
Best Wild West Adventure: Trail Riding with Sage Outdoors
Forget the single-file pony rides: The guided horseback tours run by Sage take guests on a rollicking ride within a parcel of private ranchland north of Wolcott that’s as big as Vail Mountain (6,000 acres), with views of Castle Peak and the Gore Range that are just as grand. Guests with previous experience can trot and canter through the property on a private tour or a 2-hour group excursion that navigates a dusty Wild West side of Vail that feels a world away from the manicured Village. From $99; sageoutdooradventures.com
‘‘The lighting with the sun beginning to go down is unreal, something you’ll remember forever.’’
A.J. Brink Outfitters’ ride to see Ute Indian pictographs in a cave above Sweetwater Lake Resort near Gypsum. $60; brinkoutfitters.com
Must Hike Trail to a Waterfall: Booth Creek
Locals use the trailheads of East Vail as Narnia-like portals into the valley’s mystical Gore Range, and the trek up the Booth Creek Trail is no exception. The trail cuts through alpine meadows and aspen glades as it winds—rather steeply at first—uphill toward Booth Creek’s 60-foot waterfall, a destination for visitors that trail regulars consider but a waypoint, albeit a spectacular one, on the Booth Creek Trail. To earn local status, continue on to Booth Lake, the end of the trail, and the midpoint of the 9-mile out-and-back with 3,025 feet of elevation gain. Big views and even bigger bragging rights reward.
Locals Say: "The waterfall is spectacular!" "So close, yet so far!"
Limited trailhead parking fills quickly, especially on the weekends. Plan your hike for a weekday, and start early to secure a space, and some quiet time on the trail.
Where You’ll Find Locals
Walking the highline—known as “slacklining” to practitioners of the sport—strung across the falls.
The Gore Creek Trail
Best Outdoor Picture Show: Blue Starlite Drive-In
The highest drive-in in the country returns to Minturn’s Little Beach Park on June 21, with nearly nightly screenings (through August) of old-school films to complement the retro vibe. Family classics like Back to the Future and The Princess Bride are mixed in with cult classics like Labyrinth, and late-night horror films like The Shining and Friday the 13th: Freddy vs. Jason to ensure that your significant other ends up in your arms. Bonus: A concession stand hawking Vail Brewing Co. ales and Northside Kitchen doughnuts. From $10 per parking slot (includes driver admission), plus $8 per additional passenger; bluestarlitedrivein.com
Local's Bucket List:
Golf every course in the valley. At last count, there were 17!
Must-Bike: Vail Pass
So famous is this climb that nationwide, gyms’ elliptical machines have a preprogrammed “Vail Pass” workout that re-creates the long, steepening effort up and over the paved cycling path that snakes alongside the interstate. The toughest portion registers a 30 percent grade, but 8 percent is more typical along the 14.5-mile route, with a lung-busting elevation gain of nearly 2,500 feet from Vail Village to the pass summit. Rather coast than climb? Let Charter Sports shuttle you to the summit and all you’ll have to do is point your wheels downhill and enjoy the ride. chartersports.com
“One of the most beautiful rides in all of Colorado ... the downhill run to Vail Village is a blast!”
Must-Float: The Colorado
If you’re a stand-up guy or gal and want to one-up the Instagrams of all your friends who’ve rafted the Upper Colorado, consider a two-and-a-half-hour introductory whitewater SUP tour from Bond to State Bridge with Stand Up Paddle Colorado, which brags that “Class II rapids that seem like nothing in a raft or kayak are a lot more challenging when standing on a SUP.” Rather sit than stand? Float the Colorado in a conventional raft for $49. Introductory SUP tour: $109; standuppaddlecolorado.com
“Do as the locals do—paddleboard on the Upper Colorado down to Dotsero.”
Must-Picnic: Bravo! Vail
Locals know that the best seats in the house at Vail’s signature outdoor performing space aren’t under the canopy, but out on the lawn, offering long views not just of the stage, but of Golden Peak and the Gore Range. Arrive an hour before showtime, with picnic blanket and provisioned basket, to claim your space, then drink in the scene and the sumptuous sounds of Bach or Beethoven while sipping sparkling wine from the venue’s bar. June 22-Aug 4; lawn passes: $28/performance, $180/season; bravovail.org
“See whichever orchestra happens to be in town during your visit—the point is not to miss a Bravo concert if you have the opportunity.”
Must-See Overlook: Bellyache Ridge
In a place known for its big vistas, the views off Bellyache Ridge above Red Sky Ranch in Wolcott are unparalleled. Looking east from a promontory at an elevation of nearly 9,000 feet, the valley is your oyster as the last rays of the setting sun glint off the Eagle River before the sky fades to black and the twinkling lights of Edwards and Avon and flitting headlights of the interstate merge with the stars above. Get there: From I-70 Wolcott Exit 157, follow Bellyache Ridge Road south to the promontory turnout: You’ll know you’re there when you see the view.
Stories in the Sky, Walking Mountains Science Center’s kid-friendly narrated tour of our valley’s nighttime sky held every Friday night (8:45–10 p.m., through Sept 1) at the Vail Science Center near the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail Village. $10; walkingmountains.org