Figuring out what to do in Vail, Colorado, might seem pretty straightforward (you’ll be skiing a bunch, mostly likely), but for first-time visitors there’s a whole lot more to think about than just which runs to hit first. From where to fly into to where to stay and, of course, where to refuel or kick back for some après ski treats, here’s everything you need to know about planning a trip to the stunning mountain town.
What to Do in Vail, Colorado, Whether You’re in Town for 3 Days or a Full Week
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How To Get There
If you’re flying into the area, the two best options are either Denver International Airport (DEN) or the smaller Vail airport (Eagle Country Regional, EGE). Although DEN is a two-hour car ride away from Vail Village, it’s likely still your best bet for two main reasons—there are many more direct flights (so there’ll be no worrying about your luggage not arriving with you) and flights are rarely delayed or canceled due to weather. DEN also tends to be a bit cheaper, though that can vary depending on where you are flying in from. If you don’t want to rent a car, you can easily book a shuttle through Epic Mountain Express to bring you and your gear up to Vail for about $140. If you’re flying into EGE, a shuttle costs just $49. P.S. If you’re staying in Vail Village, you’re highly unlikely to need a car thanks to a free bus service that runs through town, but if you’re hoping to do any day trips or pop over to other ski resorts it might be worth looking into.
Where To Stay
Vail Village is ripe with gorgeous accommodations, ranging from the luxurious Arrabelle, which is just a few steps away from one of the main gondolas on the mountain, to Austria Haus Lodge (conveniently, also within walking distance of the lifts). Of course you can also book an independent rental, including multiple condos right in Vail Village as well as more affordable options just a short drive away.
What To Do
We’ll start with the obvious answer first: ski. Vail is an excellent ski resort for all levels, even beginners. In fact, even if you’re not a beginner, it might be helpful for first-time visitors to book a lesson for their first day just to get a tour of the 5,000-plus acres of skiable terrain. (That may sound overwhelming, and it is a lot of land, but once you get on the mountain and start to find your way around the various trails/lifts, you’ll quickly find your bearings, we promise.)
There are three sections to explore—the Front Side (the most popular and best for beginners and families with young kids), the Back Bowls (wide open terrain that’s less often groomed and allows for more exploration) and Blue Sky Basin (the least groomed area, best for higher level intermediates and up). Be sure to download the EpicMix app before you hit the slopes to track your runs, make lunch reservations and for access to digital mountain maps. It will even tell you how long the lines are at all the lifts so you can plan accordingly. You can also rent skis, boots and poles on site and store them at an overnight valet rather than lugging your gear all the way from home or even as far as your hotel room.
For those who aren’t ready and raring to snap into their skis or snowboards ASAP, there are plenty of other options. Vail Village has tons of shops and art galleries to peruse, and lots of restaurants and coffee shops at which to grab a bite to eat (and do some people watching). You can also go cross-country skiing or snow tubing, take in the views with a scenic gondola ride or book some recovery at one of a number of spas in the village (we’re particularly fond of the TK specific spa). We also recommend checking out the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, the country’s highest botanical gardens, for some outdoor appreciation that doesn’t involve trekking through snow. Remember that village bus we mentioned earlier? It runs back and forth through Vail and is free to use from December through April, so you can explore all these hot spots and more without stressing over parking.
Where To Eat
If room service isn’t your cup of tea, try The Little Diner for classic bacon and eggs or Vintage for French pastries. There’s also Westside Café, located a ways down the road for those who are driving in in the morning.
For lunch on the mountain there are 14 options to choose from, including barbeque at Rocky’s Roadhouse, classic winter fixins’ at Mid Vail and elevated bites at The Tavern. We highly suggest booking lunch reservations in advance (you can do this on the EpicMix app the day before), because although you can pick something up and eat at one of the picnic tables or benches outdoors, in inclement weather you’ll likely want to stop in to warm up and dry some layers. If you’re looking for something really special, try to get a reservation at The 10th. Named after the 10th Mountain Division, the fancy new mid-mountain lodge has some of the best views (and the best food), but reservations fill up quickly and you’ll have to call one month in advance, so be sure to mark your calendars as soon as you know the dates of your trip. (P.S. You can also post up at the bar with a drink and some fries if you can’t snag an actual reservation.)
There is an abundance of fabulous dinner options across Vail Village, but our top pick is definitely Fall Line Kitchen and Cocktails for its delicious cocktails and even better appetizers (it also has a kids menu). Looking for something a bit more upscale? Opt for Slope Room if you like steak or Margie’s Haas if you want to sip on drinks pre- or post-meal. There’s a pretty varied mix of cuisines (including Mexican, Japanese and Italian) and levels of fanciness, but the overall vibe is always one of casual comfort. And if you want to grab a drink where the locals hang, try Two Arrows, a coffee shop by day and cozy bar by night.
Still have questions? The Vail resorts website should have all the info you need (and then some) to plan your perfect winter getaway.