01 of 06
Who Needs Snow?
Vail is one of the world's most famous destinations for a winter ski vacation.
But after the snow melts, what lies underneath is equally as splendid. It's a lesser-known secret that summertime is one of the best times to explore Vail Valley in Colorado.
This ski town less than two hours west of Denver shines brightly when the sun shines. Here's why we recommend heading to a ski town — for your summer vacation.Continue to 2 of 6 below.
02 of 06
Witness Beauty, Unrestrained.
A walk through Lionshead in downtown Vail is scenic, in and of itself, with the European-influenced architecture and stone walkways set against the green mountainside. But the real view is at the top of the mountain.
Take the Eagle Bahn Gondola up the mountain for a bird's eye panorama of Vail Valley. At the top, breathtaking views surround you. One of the best is the sweeping scene of Mount of the Holy Cross, which barely qualifies as a fourteener (mountains taller than 14,000 feet) at 14,005. For that reason, Holy Cross is one of the most popular beginner peaks to attempt — although every fourteener begins to feel a little crazy around 13,000 feet, so stay slow, steady and hydrated.
If you prefer to enjoy from afar, look for a large cross shape on one side of the mountain that is outlined in snow year-round. It was this shape that gave this peak its name, and also convinced pilgrims years ago that this was a holy site worth visiting.
Also, the top of Vail Mountain in the summer is home to the Epic Discovery park, which just unleashed a new alpine roller coaster that twists through the trees. Go ziplining — there's even a four-hour ziplining tour, for the extra adventurous — or test your strength and balance on extreme ropes courses high above the ground.
The ropes courses have three different levels of difficulty, getting incrementally higher above ground as the tasks become more challenging. Luckily, you're strapped into a harness. But honestly, that barely eases the thrill of being three stories high whole balancing on swinging logs and swinging from ropes.
For a milder delight, go tubing (yes, in summer!) or bring your kids to the many different kids' playgrounds, rides and courses.
The excitement up here doesn't slow down when the snow melts.Continue to 3 of 6 below.
03 of 06
Find Free Fun Outdoors.
One of the biggest complaints about Vail Valley — especially in the peak ski season — is the price tag of everything, from lift tickets to food to lodging. Vail is not famously cheap.
But summer is a different story. While the "mud season," the spring shoulder between winter and summer, is the cheapest time to visit ski towns, summer typically has its own discounts, too.
One of the best facts about summer in Vail Valley is it's way cheap to explore nature. The Nature Discovery Center offers tons of free, guided hikes with a naturalist, who can point out the different flowers, the mountains in the distance and teach you about the cycles of life around you.
The Nature Discovery Center, located in a bright teal yurt at the top of the Eagle Bahn gondola, is a super fun, educational center where you can get up close to exhibits of black bears and lynx, play games and read about local wildlife. It's free to access, although you can only get there via a scenic gondola ride, which has a fee.
Check the Walking Mountains Sciences Center for other inexpensive or free outdoor-centric activities for people of all ages during the summer. Every Friday in July, sign up for guided art classes set in nature.Continue to 4 of 6 below.
04 of 06
In Vail Valley, you don’t have to choose between the outdoors and luxury, between rugged and elegant. Collective Retreats, located about 20 minutes west of Vail on 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott, is one of Colorado’s top glamping destinations.
Visitors stay in finely appointed, spacious, canvas tents that open up to the rolling plains and mountainside. Roast S’mores by the fire, before nestling deep inside fine linens on a bed that could only be made out of clouds. No sleeping bags on pointy rocks here.
And no squatting in the woods, either. Each tent has its own tipi restroom with real toilets, a sink, a shower and warm, running water.
Collective Retreats takes everything wonderful about camping and accentuates it, and then removes all of the inconveniences — so all you are left with is the perfect vacation in nature’s embrace.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
Taste What's New.
Sweet Basil is one of Vail’s most famous (and beloved) restaurants. It is a staple right in downtown, with tables overlooking the creek and park.
After 39 years, Sweet Basil just launched a big renovation. Most notably is the appointment of the new head chef, Chris Schmidt, whose flavor profiles are like no other chef Sweet Basil has featured before. Fans of Sweet Basil’s downstairs sister, Mountain Standard, will be delighted to know Schmidt came from there, where he was sous chef until last year.
Sweet Basil has also loosened up its dining room atmosphere and menu, and a few years ago offered outdoor balcony seating. You’ll notice more shared items and more casual offerings, although you can still enjoy an expertly prepared Wagyu steak and oysters, if that’s your desire. If you have to pick one drink, try the Perfect Margarita; it lives up to its name.
Sweet Basil also has an impressive selection of wine.
The more relaxed feeling appeals to Colorado locals and travelers who want a delicious, high-end meal — but may or may not still be wearing hiking boots. Dress up or dress down. You’ll fit in either way here.Continue to 6 of 6 below.
06 of 06
Sip The Good Grapes.
On a warm summer day, enjoy the blue skies with a glass of wine, at Vines at Vail’s outdoor patio and tasting room.
This modest, laid back winery is perched on a mountainside outside of Vail, and its outdoor bar counter provides mountain views that few wineries can offer. It's off a winding mountain road in the small town of Wolcott (we're talking population: 15), so it's a hidden gem few travelers ever discover. Sign up for a wine tasting and see where your taste buds take you. Although it’s only been a commercial winery since 2014, Vines boasts numerous awards.
Our favorite flavor: the Super Tuscan, a blend of 50 percent sangiovese, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon and a quarter syrah.