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Your Guide to Visiting Colorado with the Kids
Best Vail Summer Activities and Attractions For Families

Families on a summer vacation in Vail, Colorado find plenty of kid-friendly activities in a magnificent mountain setting. 

Here's our list of the best summer activities for kids in Vail, from the extraordinary Ford Park Playground to the guided nature hikes on Vail Mountain.

Photo: Kid love the freedom of biking around Vail.


Photo: In Vail, Colorado, Kids and their families can see the famous clock tower, as well as lots of Tyrolean-looking buildings along streets where no cars are allowed. 

Did You  Know?

In 1899, the Colorado General Assembly adopted the white and lavender Columbine, Aquilegia caerules, as the official Colorado State Flower.

Later the General Assembly determined that it is the duty of all citizens to protect this rare species from needless waste or destruction.

Families find lots to do at Eagles Nest on Vail Mountain, at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola.
 Photo: Families on vacation in Vail, Colorado can find a huge variety of activities for the kids at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola on Vail Mountain. 

Vail, Colorado offers families an outdoorsy summer vacation in a magnificent mountain setting. Once there, kids and their parents can just kick back and enjoy the scenery, or they can choose from a long menu of fun activities. 

Here is our list of favorite things to do in summer Vail.  

Gondola Rides: Ski lifts are not just for snowy months. It might be even more fun to ride the on the Eagle Bahn Gondola (lift number 19) in summertime. Instead of being bundled up like sausages, you can wear comfy shorts and a light jacket. With the season’s lighter crowds, your family is much more likely to get a gondola car all to yourselves. And as the gondola rises on the mountain, layers of peaks slide below, revealing range upon range of rugged high country, soaring over grassy meadows. The windows all around the gondola give a floating sensation and let the family drink it all in.

Information desk for summer activities on Vail Mountain

At the top of the gondola, a friendly information person greets you and helps you decide on your activities, whether you want to hike, horseback ride, or scale the climbing wall. 

When we asked for a picnic spot with a good view, she directed us down a short trail to the wedding deck area. See our article on the Prettiest Places in Colorado to learn about that. 

Adventure Ridge: This is a fun little activities area at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola at Vail Mountain’s Eagles Nest. There isn’t enough there to occupy the kids for a whole day, or even an afternoon, but it provides top-notch diversion on the way to or from a hike or mountain bike ride. 

A Dino Dig sand box holds buried bones for little kids to discover, with a sign to hold the bones up to so they can learn about them. And we saw big high school guys having fun with their grandfather playing, of all things, bean bag toss. A slack line course challenges your balancing skills, and a disc golf course wanders through alpine meadows. 

The rebound trampoline at Adventure Ridge at Vail, Colorado

The big draws, however, are a climbing wall and a rebound trampoline (with big bungee cords). We had to wait in line a few minutes for both activities, but that wasn’t exactly a hardship - it was early August, a pleasant 74 degrees, with warm sun, a cool breeze, and all around us the Rocky Mountains showed us their pretty faces. 

Nature Discovery Center and Guided Nature Hikes: This small nature center is located right next door to Adventure Ridge. This hands-on learning center  has displays that kids can touch and easily understood interpretive banners to read. Kids learn about the lynx, bears, elk, and other animals and plants that live in the immediate neighborhood. This is the best place to catch a nature hike with one of the knowledgable nature guides. 

Vail Nature Center: Sponsored by the Vail Recreation District, the Vail Nature Center sits just across Gore Creek from the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. The log building houses a wide selection of programs perfect for kids. From their day camp, Camp Eco Fun (ages 4 to 12), to wild flower walks, beaver pond explorations, star gazing programs, and more, this may be the most entertaining (and - don’t tell the kids - educational) spot for your summer vacation in Vail.

9-Hole Mini Golf: At the base of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, in the Lionshead neighborhood of Vail, the ski ticketing area undergoes a transformation for the summertime. Where once ski racks stood, now bike racks adorn the terrace.

 Gore Creek Mini Golf in Vail, Colorado shows off with flashy flowerbeds.

And next to the Born Free Chairlift grow the beautiful gardens around the new nine-hole Gore Creek Mini Golf Course. Each hole has a sign with fun facts about a local plant or animal and an undulating putting green. The crazy dips and bumps level the playing field between kids and adults, and silly as it sounds, that simple, goofy game was one of the highlights of our family vacation in Vail. 

Bicycle Riding: Bike riding is huge in Vail in the summertime. The scale of the town, its relatively flat grade from one end of the village to the other, its abundant bike routes, and the pleasant path along Gore Creek make this an ideal place to ditch the car and go for a bike ride with your kids. We saw families of all shapes and sizes riding back and forth through town. We often saw a mom or dad peddling slowly down a lane, followed by two or three children (some pretty little), looking like so many baby geese following their parent. 

The town is designed to be walkable, with many streets closed to cars. Traveling by foot or on the frequent shuttle busses is fine, but riding bikes is by far the funnest way to get around. 

Family mountain biking on Vail Mountain

Transportation aside, many families love to go mountain bike riding just for the entertainment of it. 

With a special bike haul ticket in addition to the regular gondola ticket, you can take your bike to Eagle’s Nest and explore the trails that loop back and forth across the ski runs. 

Beginner, intermediate, and challenging trails provide families with several choices, depending on the ability of the riders.  

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens (botanic gardens): The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is dedicated to the movement of reconnecting children with nature. A sign invites “children to come and … 

build a fort

create natural art

wander through the willows

listen to the river flowing


Blue Stars in the Betty Ford Gardens in Vail, Colorado

Here stepping stones wander off through long grasses, and beckon children to follow them. Paths wander over babbling rivulets, and past sparkling waterfalls. 

Strange and wondrous plants arch over stone walls and peek from beneath bridges. This is a sublime spot for exploring, running, hiding, learning, and falling in love with nature. 

Vail City Parks Playgrounds: The City of Vail keeps its eye on providing a quality outdoor environment for its citizens and visitors, as evidenced by the wonderful little parks it has tucked in to nooks and crannies all over town. 

The Pirate Ship Playground is one of Vail's hot spots for kids.

Many of these parks have top-tier playgrounds and are some of Vail’s best amenities for visiting families. And because they are free, these playgrounds lie beneath advertising radar - you just don’t read about them very much. 

Yet even my fourteen-year-old couldn’t resist swarming over the equipment at the Ford Park with the other kids. A connoisseur of playgrounds, he said it was one of the best he had ever seen.

Don’t miss  Donovan Park near the Cascade Village, Pirate Ship Park near the bottom of the Vista Bahn chairlift, and the extraordinary, multi-level, over-the-top playground at Ford Park. 

Fishing: Playful, talkative Gore Creek runs the length of the Vail valley, and wanders back and forth through the heart of town. Along its banks, boulders and grassy lawns, pine trees and picnic spots rest in the alpine sun. And it presents a wonderful opportunity for families to try their hand at fishing. Fly Fishing Outfitters, the only Orvis-endorsed fly fishing outfitters in the Vail Valley, has been teaching folks how and where to fish since 1992. Watch for their free casting clinics every morning in the summertime, or sign your kid up for a Wednesday Kids’ Camp. At this day-long hands-on class, young fishers learn fly casting, knot tying, all about the bugs fish eat, rigging for fly fishing, and catching and safely releasing fish. 

Hiking and Hiking Trails: Vail, Colorado is tucked in a valley at the base of some rather bodacious mountains. These hills teem with fantastic hiking opportunities. 

Probably the easiest way to reach some of this great hiking is to ride the Eagle Bahn Gondola to Vail Mountain’s Eagle’s Nest and start from there. You can either join a nature hike from the nature center or pick up a map and head out over the trails that cut across the ski runs. 

The Upper Piney Creek Trail leads into the Gore Range, north of  Vail, Colorado

If you want to explore a bit farther afield, drive down to the National Forest Service ranger station just off I-70 at the Minturn exit, and pick up a map and some suggestions from the helpful ranger behind the desk. One of the best trails is the easy to moderate Upper Piney River trail, due north of Vail in the Gore Range. With wildflower meadows, waterfalls, and wonderful vistas, how can a family resist?

Shopping: The town of Vail is full of darling boutiques and hip ski shops. Find fabulous shoes, fun clothes for the kids, and great gifts to take home. Check out KidSport for a fantastic selection of styling outdoor apparel and equipment for children. 

Vail Library: A beautiful stone, wood, and glass building houses Vail’s collection of books and other media. It is a lovely retreat for families in the midst of busy travels in the mountains. With programs like Toddler and Preschooler Story Time, Après-Ski Puppetry, and the Summer Reading Program with entertainers, musicians, stories, games and art projects, the Vail Library is a relaxed, fun place for all kinds of kids.

Colorado Ski Museum Ski Hall of Fame: Get a feeling for how this sport felt in the early days (leather lace-up ski boots and long wooden skis) and see how the industry developed in Colorado.


Colorado Ski Museum in Vail, Colorado

Kids can check out a uniform of a Tenth Mountain Division ski soldier, and examine an old single-person, wooden chair lift. Young, cheerful faces of past olympians smile down from the walls, over the boots of famous skiers. A small gift shop offers unique ski memorabilia and great stickers for decorating kids’ ski helmets.

Camp Hale: About 23 miles and a half an hour drive from Vail, the historic site of Camp Hale is an excursion into American ski history. This is where the 10th Mountain Division gathered for mountain warfare training during World War II. 

Now mute foundations and rusted artifacts bear witness to the huge operation that existed in this high mountain meadow. A few interpretive signs dot the landscape. Jays squawk in the aspens. And ghost  soldiers in white fatigues march past, skis on their shoulders, ready to storm Riva Ridge once again.

By the way, a man named Pete Seibert trained at Camp Hale. He was gravely injured in Italy before returning to Colorado. Here he recovered enough to ski up a no-name mountain with his buddy Earl and founded a ski area they called Vail. 

Ghostly foundations at Camp Hale, Colorado

Photo: Ghostly foundations at Camp Hale, Colorado whisper about the 

Tenth Mountain Division that trained there.