Vail Mountain’s west side, and Game Creek Bowl, are scribbled with summer hiking and biking trails. Seven of them are hikers-only, so you can engage with your surroundings without having to step or dive out of the way of hurtling mountain bikers. Ride the Eagle Bahn Gondola (lift ticket required) for easiest access (or use the hike up as your warm-up; see “Stretching: The Truth,” p. 34). One approximately three-mile option: Pick up the hikers-only Grand Escape Trail near the top of the gondola and follow the moderate climb up a ridge to the top of the Wildwood Chair, keeping one eye on the wildflowers and the other on the Vail Valley as it unfolds below. From there, take the Ridge Route, which offers tremendous views of the Sawatch Range (including Mount of the Holy Cross) as it wends back down to the gondola. Your reward? A burger and a local Bonfire brew on the Talons Deck at Eagle’s Nest (vail.com).
Beaver Creek has the most on-mountain summer hiking and biking trails in the valley, spread across the width of the ski area’s three peaks. The resort even staffs a full-fledged hiking center (see “Follow the Leader,” p. 58). Six trails are hikers-only (and two are limited to bikes), with the rest accommodating everyone. This summer only, the Strawberry Express Lift will shuttle hikers partway up the mountain for higher-level trail access; the Centennial Express, which usually runs, is being replaced by a fancy new chondola lift of gondola cabins and chairs.
For easy access to a tucked-away mountain lake, it’s hard to beat the six-mile-round-trip hike to Beaver Lake, which starts at the ski area then continues beyond it. It’s also a great hike for socializing, as much of it is on a wide (former wagon) trail where you don’t have to walk single-file. Lift construction schedule permitting (there will be trail closures throughout the season, so before you hike call the resort’s Trail Hotline at 970-754-5907), take the Five Senses Trail, which begins near the base of the Centennial Lift (Chair 6) at Beaver Creek Village, and follow it as it wends along dirt roads and pathways with some interpretive signs in spots. After about twenty minutes, you’ll come across a couple of fishing ponds and the actual Beaver Lake Trail. True, you’ll also have to pass through an equipment-storage area for the ski resort, but don’t worry—the hike gets a lot more scenic soon after. One section circumnavigates Grouse Mountain, where, if you like to ski blacks at the Beav, you may recognize the bottoms of the glades that spill off the peak. The hike gets steeper as you approach the lake; when you cross into the Holy Cross Wilderness, you’re almost there. The payoff is Beaver Lake, ringed with conifers and sparkling under that blue, blue Colorado sky. Find a shady spot for lunch or a snack before heading back to civilization.
Just for kids
Introduce your young hiker to the joys of low-tech, high-impact natural experiences by keeping distances short and terrain level. Having other activities nearby, like playgrounds or Vail’s Adventure Ridge, can also help motivate novice hikers to keep going. At Beaver Creek, for example, the 1.5-mile Creekside Loop circles around a portion of the base village and traverses a playground, perfect for wee hikers who want to break up their steps with some swinging.
The mile-long Eagle’s Loop on Vail Mountain follows a fairly level grade, starting near Eagle’s Nest—and access involves a gondola ride. The Nature Discovery Center
center), based out of a yurt at Eagle’s Nest, offers free, one-hour guided hikes geared toward families and led by naturalists from the Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. After hiking, kids can hang out at Adventure Ridge and try climbing, slacklining, disc golf, horseback riding, or the new zip-line course.
At the Vail Nature Center (vailrec.com/nature-center) on seven acres next to Ford Park, four short interpretive trails introduce kids (and adults) to meadow and riparian habitats.
For a slightly more backcountry experience, try the Stone Creek Trail out of Eagle-Vail, something of a hidden gem. Reach it by leaving I-70 at Exit 171 and driving on Highway 6 for 2.5 miles to Eagle Road. Turn left at the stoplight, then right at the swimming pool/tennis courts onto Eagle Drive. Follow this road as it switchbacks up Whiskey Hill until the end, where you can park at the cul-de-sac. The trail starts from here and contours around a forested hillside while keeping to a level grade. After about three-quarters of a mile, you’ll come to a three-way intersection near the creek, which is a great turnaround point for younger hikers. If you’re inspired to go farther, continue straight for another three-quarters of a mile to the bridge over Stone Creek. Turn around here, as the remainder of the hike climbs steeply to the Beaver Creek resort boundary.