Vail, Colorado offers kids and their families a Colorado ski village with a Tyrolean flair.
Winter and summer are the most popular times to vacation in Vail with the kids, but fall is spectacular, at a fraction of the cost.
To be sure, Vail has its critics, and it can feel a bit like you are in some kind of manufactured dream land. But on the other hand, isn’t that what vacation is about? A vacation in Vail with the kids is a chance to enjoy fresh air, scenery, and a gingerbread-like town – without the distractions of our over-busy lives at home.
Built on a valley meadowland, along meandering Gore Creek, Vail, Colorado lies beneath the brow of the rugged Gore Range, in the heart of the White River National Forest. This is one of several spots where the Colorado Rockies peak, and then begin their slow decline towards the red rock canyons of the West.
Vail is about a two-and-a-half hour drive west of Denver, and you can exit I-70 right into town.
With just under 4,600 citizens, Vail is a quiet little berg in the off-season, although tourists visit year round. When the snow flies, however, Vail’s population swells considerably.
The Lay of the Land:
Vail sits in the midst of the chaotic faulting and soaring uplift that characterize the Rocky Mountains. You’ll see evidence of this if you notice the layers of rock just above Vail on I-70 as it crosses Vail Pass. The red rocks dip towards the west, while down in the valley, where the town sits, the rocks dip east, and more shale appears.
Geologists find evidence of another huge mountain range, the Ancestral Rockies, which once rose to the sky in that spot. Eventually those old mountains were worn down, and now the layers of their sediment jut heavenward again with the most recent uplift of today’s mountains.
The steep slopes and secluded valleys create special neighborhoods for wildlife in the Vail vicinity. The high, jagged ridges of the Gore Range and the Ten Mile Range to the south, work to catch the prevailing westerly winds, shoving them high into the atmosphere.
As the winds go aloft, they drop their load of moisture on the mountain peaks and valleys below. The result is an average of 350 inches of snow in Vail each winter.
That snow lingers in the highest altitudes throughout the summer, soaking the ground and providing runoff for sparkly little streams like Gore Creek. This fresh snowmelt provides a home for brook, rainbow, and brown trout, plus the insects they feed on.
Overhead a sub-alpine ecosystem of fir, spruce, and pine trees mixes with drifts of quaking aspen (that turn into rivers of gold in the fall).
Hiking up the steep trails through the forest, you’ll be able to spot a wide variety of wild birds, and probably mule deer. Look in muddy spots for their tracks as well as those of elk, coyote, skunk, raccoon, and a long list of other creatures. These forests are rich with wildlife.
Wildflowers in Vail reach their peak in late July, when they decorate the meadows with rainbow colors.
Elevation and Climate:
Vail sits in a valley at 8200 feet above sea level. Because of that altitude, and the height of the 12,000-foot peaks nearby, temperatures in Vail are on the cool side. Average cold season temperatures range from around 0°F on winter nights to the mid-20s during December and January days. Generally cold fronts sweep in, depositing anywhere from a few inches to a few feet of dry snow, followed by dazzling clear weather with infinite blue skies.
Summer in Vail is a respite from the heat of lower elevations. July and August days typically reach into the mid-70s, while nighttime lows dip to around 40°F. Watch for afternoon thunderstorms most days, which often clear up by sunset.
Springtime, after the slopes close, is a quiet time in Vail, when the town seems to catch its breath after the onslaught of skiers.
Autumn, too, is quiet, compared to summer and winter, but it is the prettiest time of year to visit Vail. The weather is consistently pleasant, with frosty nights (often with a dusting of snow) and warm days, perfect for hiking. And the Vail Valley has some of the most spectacular aspen viewing around. When the leaves change, it is as if rivers of gold cascade down the mountainsides.