The Colorado ski haven of Vail, and surrounding communities in the Vail Valley, have tons of fun for older children during the summer months, when mountain bikes soar and prices plummet.
If your family has even a modicum of an adventurous spirit, Vail Valley in the Colorado Rockies is the place to come in summer, a veritable mecca for sports and outdoors enthusiasts of every stripe and every age. Your teenager will see Vail as hip; you will see it as chic.
Essentially everything that adults can do, even young children can do in a locally run camp environment, at Camp Eco Fun (children 4-11), Camp Vail (5-12 years) and Pre-Kamp Vail (30 months-5 years.) Contact Vail Recreation District (970/479-2835) for more information about week-long camps or day-to-day activities. Early enrollment is suggested, as soon as you’ve booked your lodging. If Vail’s booked up, try the Avon Recreation Center (970/748-4060) just downhill from Beaver Creek, another Vail Resorts property nearby. They have all the usual supervised summer sports, as well as sessions in knitting and fencing.
Vail’s Popular Adventure Ridge & New Epic Discovery Plans
Vail Mountain’s Adventure Ridge has special appeal for everyone, but especially teens. This is an on-mountain playground at 10,000 feet altitude; eateries ranging from casual to posh offer breathtaking views, and the Bistro 14 is a particularly nice place to wait for kids or siblings who participate in the fun. In winter, it’s for tubing, snow-biking and rides on mini-snowmobiles, and in summer it’s even more fun. Families together or teenagers on their own can enjoy disc golf, horseshoes, croquet, bocce and volleyball, play Laser Tag, jump on a huge trampoline that’s safety-ed by trained staff, and even rent a mountain bike to try the easy, one-mile Eagle’s Loop.
Many of the ski facilities do double duty in summer. You can brave the Thrill Sled (winter or summer) and slide face first from the top of the mountain to the bottom on a sled you control with hand-held hydraulic brakes. At Beaver Creek families can enjoy outdoor summer ice skating (open evenings) as well as many other mountain sports.
In big news for 2015, a comprehensive proposal for a new summer activities program called Epic Discovery has been approved by the U.S. Forest Service, with construction to begin in summer 2015 for a summer 2016 opening. Instead of the Adventure Ridge we know today, families can expect an enhanced educational emphasis thanks to a partnership with the Nature Conservancy. There will be Micro-Interpretive Centers to provide guests with hands-on information and activities about forest health, wildlife and the mountain geography of the White River National Forest. Vail is planning on Game Creek and Front Side Zip Line tours, more hiking and mountain biking trails with better signage, a Family Forest Adventure Park playground, a Forest Flyer alpine coaster on raised rails, and the Wildwood Observation Deck from which to enjoy the forest views.
Vail Valley Biking & Whitewater Rafting
Just as Vail has become a world-class destination for downhill skiing, it has become a biking mecca. If you wanted to experience mountain biking from the summit, there are relatively easy trails, as well as clinics, and performance workshops. You can rent your own bike or take a workshop designed to suit your level and style.
Check in at the mountain if you’re staying in one of the area’s resorts, and they’re likely to have equipment and classes right outside your door. Locals recommend two resources for lessons that you can also check out: Vail Mountain Bike Camps (970 470-3431) and Canyon Bikes.
If road biking is more your speed, families can enjoy together 135 miles of paved trail over Vail Pass, at 10,400 ft., to Copper Mountain and on to Breckenridge and beyond. (Biking outfitters can take you to the top of Vail Pass, so your less-fit-family can ride 20 miles downhill instead.)
Our family thinks that a really spectacular paved and relatively flat trail for biking or rollerblading is through the 18-mile length of Glenwood Canyon (also popular for whitewater rafting.)
There are many outfitters leading whitewater rafting trips that families can take together, and Timberline Tours (800/831-1414) is a popular one.
But, the trip that is sure to excite a teen is a night vision raft trip, available through Lakota River Guides (970-845-7238). You are provided with Navy SEAL-issue (but declassified) night-vision goggles, wetsuits and life jackets, plus plenty of ghost stories. The river flow along the Colorado is gentle, allowing for lots of creature spotting such as beaver, foxes, coyote and deer. This company also offers a lot of other, very cool adventures for the family.
Vail Valley Hiking – Ultimate Budget Activity
Hiking in the Great Outdoors, as you can imagine, is also plentiful and of course, free. The US Forest Service (970 827-5717) has information centers at Eagle’s Nest on Vail Mountain (reached by a gondola, located next to the Adventure Ridge play area) and the Nature Center in Beaver Creek.
Free guided tours, led by a local natural science school, are available at Vail and Beaver Creek. The Information Center in Beaver Creek (970/845-9090) also offers an extensive hiking program. Take care to give yourself time to acclimate to the altitude — most trails are above 8,000-9,000 feet — before you tackle even a gentle hike.
Mount the Horses, Colorado Style
In summer, there’s more excitement, with a variety of horseback-riding opportunities, including taking English or Western style lessons, or joining group carriage rides, wagon rides and pack trips. Beaver Creek Resort, which is the sister resort to Vail, has its own Beaver Creek Stables just above the Hyatt at the base village.
During July and August, the 4 Eagle Ranch (970/926-3372) offers Western Family Nights, of interest to younger siblings, each Wednesday, for more Western fun, visit the Vail Valley Rodeo, which is made for tourists with young kids on I-70 in Edwards every Thursday. Game include catching the ribbon on a calf’s tail and riding a sheep. There are also plenty of packable cowboy hats and belt buckles. Triple G Outfitters (970 926-1234) is another ranch with riding lessons and tours available.
Trip Planning Details for a Vail Valley Adventure
There is a broad spectrum of lodging options and the local Vail Valley Chamber & Tourism (800/525-3875) has many suggestions in all price ranges, on its website. We enjoyed our stay at the Enzian at Vail (970 476-1350), a relatively modest place with a fridge, which proved very comfortable, hospitable, well located at the Lionshead, Vail base, with a delightful lap-sized heated outdoor pool, hot tub, sauna, indoor arcade. Many lodgings in East Vail and West Vail are even better value, and all have a free shuttle to the slopes. Many of the condo complexes have spa facilities as well.
Here’s my list of some useful contacts for when we vacation out there with our family.
Fly-Fishing: Fly Fishing Outfitters (970 845-8090)
Kayaking: Alpine Kayak & Canoe (970/926-3867)
Expert Guides for Mountain Biking and Rock Climbing: Paragon Guides (970-926-5299)
Airport Shuttle: Colorado Mountain Express (800/525-6363)
There’s plenty to do to relax as well. Each day, after a major activity like fly fishing, horseback riding or river rafting, we enjoyed strolling through Vail Village, where there are any number of lovely shops and boutiques. The new village at Lionshead, the westernmost of the three Vail Resort base villages, has a new mall with teen-magnet shops like Burton, Patagonia, Northface and Quiksilver.
Vail and Beaver Creek also offer an incomparable selection of top restaurants and dining experiences, clubs with entertainment, as well as a rich cultural life year-round (see below). Don’t forget – travel packages that include airfare and lodging can be arranged through the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau (800/525-3875).
Vail Valley Summer Arts Festivals
The stunning Colorado Rocky Mountains are the perfect backdrop for a variety of world class cultural events and festivals. In summer, The Vail Valley Foundation which sponsors so much of the Valey’s cultural life, features Hot Summer Nights, a free concert series on Tuesday evenings. Rock, bluegrass, jazz, folk and funk entertainers who are popular with teens perform under the stars at the Ford Amphitheater (President Gerald and Mrs. Ford, long-time Beaver Creek residents, are great supporters of the arts in the Vail Valley.) Concerts begin at dusk; be sure to arrive early to secure a good spot.
The Foundation also provides support to the great Vilar Center for the Arts in nearby Beaver Creek, and the Vail Valley Music Festival who present a multitude of performances from June through August. The Beaver Creek Theatre Festival kicks off each season with drama at the Vilar Center; call them at (888 920-ARTS) for this season’s schedule.
Acclaimed symphony orchestras are featured at Bravo! Vail Valley Music, in addition to chamber music performances and concerts by visiting soloists.
The Vail International Dance Festival (888 920-2787), presents soloists from notable ballet theatres at the outdoor Ford Amphitheater in Vail and the Vilar Center. After all those hours of violin practice and ballet lessons, your aspiring performing artists will surely find something to inspire them.
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