My Vail Summer Guide is here! By far, the most asked questions are asking if they should visit Vail for the first time in the summer or the winter! I'm breaking everything down for you and sharing where to stay, where to eat, and what to pack for a summer trip to Vail!
We wanted a relatively easy trip just to getaway for a few days in the mountains. Vail was the perfect fit. We didn't make any firm plans and tried to disconnect from our phones and not do any work.
I've been to Vail a few times during the winter to snowboard, but before this trip, it had been maybe 20 years since I had visited during summer. Vail is the *cutest* ski town because it looks like a Bavarian village straight from Germany! Vail was founded in the 60s and unlike many other ski towns, it wasn't a mining town prior to becoming a ski town. It's founders wanted to bring over the best alpine skiing atmosphere that extended from the mountains into the town itself...I think they did it! Flower boxes and shutters on the windows, cobblestone pedestrian-only roads, and steep rooflines, give Vail and Lionshead Village their charm!
I'm personally a cold-weather wimp, so I think I *might* prefer Vail during the summer. It's so tough to decide though! Winter is like a scene from a snow globe, and the mountain ski runs are fantastic...cue lines about "Vail's legendary back bowl!" I'll spare you, but if you're looking for a ski town to visit this winter, Vail should be a front runner! Truly, it all comes down to what kind of vacation you're looking for. This was my husband's first trip to Vail and he has skied a lot in other places and really thought I was overselling Vail! BUT guess who is already planning our return trip to Vail for a ski trip this winter?!?! Yes, the husband. ;) He loved it.
We visited in mid-August, and temps were lows in the 50s and highs around 80. Perfection! It was definitely a nice break from the 100 degree days in Dallas! Part of our trip was sponsored/gifted by Mazda, Vail Mountain, and Austria Haus, but all opinions are my own.
Let's jump into the good stuff! I'm writing this post in order of things you need to book in advance. First, your accommodations!
Where to Stay
We stayed in the middle of the action - right in Vail Village at Austria Haus! It's a boutique hotel that has all the Bavarian charm! The location was amazing! We parked our car when we arrived and didn't use it again...we walked everywhere! The staff remembered us each day, gave us great recommendations within Vail, and were so kind!
One of my favorite things about Austria Haus was the breakfast area, just off of the lobby. It felt like we were in another country, with all of the rustic vibes, and it overlooked the pool, the creek, and Vail Mountain! Views for breakfast! ;) Also, included breakfast is SO nice because you don't have to rush off to find food/coffee each morning. If you're looking for a relaxing weekend/vacation, included breakfast is KEY so you can enjoy your slow mornings.
The rooms were cozy and spacious at the same time, and one of my favorite features was the fireplace with an on/off switch and timer feature! I love a good fire! Just think how perfect that would be in the winter!
I would highly recommend a stay at Austria Haus on your next visit to Vail!
Where to Eat
This might be my favorite section, and I think I'll write a separate post to give more details about each of these restaurants, but my husband and I both *love* a new dining experience, so we had a blast trying all of the best Vail spots! I can't post all of my photos and notes for each location, but I'll give the highlights and try to include more in a separate Vail restaurant post! **Make reservations. Up to one month in advance.** Everywhere we ate for dinner was rated $$$+, but some felt more worth it than others, so I included that in my recap.
This was one of our favorite restaurants in Vail! We went for brunch, and loved it. I mean, check out that French toast! Vintage had all the French bistro vibes, and I was in brunch heaven!
Italian night! This was our favorite dinner in Vail. Neither of us can pin point exactly why, but overall it was a great experience. *and* we even sat at the bar...not even a table! Waitstaff was excellent, service was excellent, everything we ate was fantastic. During warm months, I recommend a table on the patio, overlooking Vail's main drag and Vail Mountain!
We sat on the patio and made friends with our neighboring table! Overall, everything was great; for the price, I would have rather gone to La Nonna again. This is definitely a great place to eat, but if you have to make a choice, maybe skip it in favor of one of these other picks. Our food was good, but maybe we just didn't order the right thing? I would go back but only if I had already been to my favorites!
Great lunch spot! We knew we wanted pizza after our big hike day (7 hours of hiking!) and Pazzo's hit the spot for a late lunch! We have some great specialty pizza places in Dallas that I love (shout-out Eno's and Cane Rosso) and Pazzo's is definitely average pizza, but there's something about pizza after a day on the mountain that hits the spot, so I'll still recommend it. Grab a table on the sidewalk or balcony (where we sat) so you can people watch! Great lunch spot to relax! This pic is "dead Rhonda after hiking all day!!"
Greattt breakfast spot! This one is in Lionshead Village, right next to Vail Village (both considered Vail) and you can easily walk between the two or take a 5 minute free bus ride that goes in between the villages. I recommend siting at the bar because you can watch them cook the food and it's fun to see what they're making...and it helps you decide what to order!
This was probably the number one recommended restaurant on guides that I saw before our trip. We went for dinner, and had a nice time, but I think your table location determines your experience. The interior of the restaurant isn't anything special, so request a table on the front or back patio for a pedestrian-street view (below photo) or creek view. I would actually recommend Sweet Basil's sister restaurant instead! (Mountain Standard). This is another one that was really good, but maybe there are others that we would prefer. ;)
We ate here for lunch and we really enjoyed it! This is the sister restaurant to Sweet Basil and not quite as highly rated, but I would choose it over Sweet Basil! It's slightly less expensive, but the food was just as good! It's actually underneath Sweet Basil and overlooks the creek. Felt slightly more casual, but I enjoyed it more.
This was another restaurant I saw on a lot of guides prior to our trip. Everything looked great, but we only went in for a drink. We didn't have enough meals to eat at all the restaurants we wanted to! The restaurant is inside the Sonnenalp Hotel and I think it's best features are it's large patio and hearty food. It was raining when we visited so we sat inside, but I think the patio is the move! The Sonnenalp has a higher end restaurant and a coffee shop that were both being renovated during our trip, so I wasn't able to visit them.
Must-visit before a day on the mountain! Grab a breakfast burrito to stay warm and fill up before your adventure! We were both surprised at how delicious our burrito was from this hole in the wall spot! Burrito, bagel, coffee and you're all set!
Cutest ice cream spot in town! I love ice cream and was pleased to find Sundae right next to Austria Haus! Everything is made in-house!
What to Do
What do you do in a ski town when you're can't ski?! EVERYTHING! I was surprised to have quite a few people in Texas ask if I was going skiing in Vail...nope! There's no snow in the summer! (not enough to ski on, anyway!) Summer is your chance to experience Vail as a picturesque mountain town, without having to commit to skiing or snowboarding! Overall, we relaxed, ate at fun restaurants, and walked around. Here are a few specific activities to look for in the summer that we enjoyed!
There are plenty of intense hikes and mountains around Vail, but there are also SO many trails that start at Vail Village and go up into Vail Mountain, or go around the base of the mountain as walking trails. Initially I thought about hiking a nearby 14er, but I'm so glad I didn't! Instead, I chose to do a long hike on Vail Mountain, and not have to drive outside of Vail. From Vail Village, at the base of Gondola One, we took the "Strawberry Fields" trail across the mountain to "Berry Picker" and took that all the way up to the top of Gondola One. From there, a nice Swiss Vail resident (chatted with Adam in French) told us to take Kinnickinnick trail up higher and cross over to the Eagle Bahn Gondola, so we did! After about 7 hours of hiking, we took the gondola down to Lionshead Village and hustleddd to lunch. Ha! This Vail Hiking site was super helpful.
We hiked up the mountain, but you could just take the gondola up for fun! We did this on a separate day. I love a gondola ride to take in the amazing views that we don't have in Dallas! A gondola day pass is $45 for an adult, but if you hike to the top, the ride down is free. ;) The ride one way was about 15 minutes and you can get off at the top of the mountain to take in some views, start a small hike around the top, or grab a bite at a mountain top restaurant.
White Water Rafting
We love an adventure and we wanted to do some rafting while in Vail! I signed us up for what I thought would be an easy rapids trip, but things took a turn! I booked our rafting trip with Timberline Tours, based on what would be closest to Vail. There are tons of great rafting spots in Colorado, but I didn't want to drive 1.5 hours to get there. So Timberline Tours actually offered a rafting trip and had a pick-up service that came directly to Austria Haus - perfect! There bus pulled right up and we hopped in and rode to our drop-in spot! I thought we were in for a nice rafting cruise...until Adam saw the "duckies" that are essentially inflatable two-person kayaks. Bad news. Ha!
I agreed to try them, and off we went! We stayed near the large rafts and the others on our excursion, but we had to navigate the rapids and do all of the paddling ourselves, versus having some help from a guide on the raft! My back and shoulders were definitely sore the next day. When they tell you that the control freak should sit in the back, they're not lying ;) We didn't listen and I sat in the front. LOL! Adam only hit me in the head with his paddle once, but luckily we were wearing helmets. If you've never been rafting, I highly recommend it. There are quite a few rafting companies to choose from, so do your research on who has days/times that work best for you.
Every Sunday morning in the summer, there is a big market in Vail! It's on the main drag, right in front of Austria Haus, so we walked right into it! Everyone in town told us that we needed to go, and we loved it. We walked around and looked at artists, produce stands, housewares, and of course we got some bbq! We had our caricature made, and bought some fancy maple syrup and souvenirs. Great people and dog watching!
Every Sunday they have live jazz in Vail Village and it was so fun to grab a drink and sit and watch from the balcony above! People were even dancing in front of the stage and it was the perfect weather!
I mentioned that once we arrived in Vail, we parked our car and didn't use it again until we left! But we did have to drive from Denver to Vail...about 2 hours West on I-70 from DEN. Instead of a rental car, I was able to partner with Mazda and drive a 2021 Mazda CX-5 AWD to Vail! It was so fun! I've partnered with Mazda before and always love the cars I get to drive. This one was perfect for fitting our luggage, navigation, and felt like we were rolling into Vail in style!
Once we were in town, we mostly stayed in Vail Village, but Lionshead Village is nearby (about a 15 minute walk) and you can take the Vail Village bus for free! I think that's especially nice during the winter so you can choose to take the Vail Gondola One up the mountain or the Lionshead Eagle Bahn Gondola to experience different ski runs! For us, it was handy to visit Lionshead for brunch and to get back to Vail Village after our hike. I love that they make it easy and free to use!
What to Pack
I'm laughing at this packing section because everyone in Colorado is CASUAL. (sorry for the generalization!) Most of the people in ski towns are casual, and if somebody is dressed up, odds are they're a tourist too. ;) I had a few dresses that I wanted to bring, but other than that, jeans and sneaks, and a cute top were as dressy as I needed to be. Even in the restaurants that were $50+/plate, people were in tennis shoes. Some were more dressed up, but it was very acceptable to be casual. So don't worry about your packing list too much.
A few necessities:
Merrell hiking boots: coolest timing ever that I just did an event with Merrell and was gifted these new boots. I broke them in on a "hike" in Dallas, and they were perfect on Vail Mountain! If you're doing any hiking, I recommend a pair of good hiking boots, so you're less likely to slip! I hiked in Sedona in my tennis shoes and felt so much better in these boots!
Dramamine: if you get car sick, definitely bring some type of medicine. Mountain roads are curvy and steep, so I took some before we left Denver and before we got on the bus to go rafting. So glad!
workout clothes: I brought leggings and long sleeve button downs to try for a mountain-girl look ;) and a hat/ball cap! Favorites linked below (affiliate links)
Bring a reusable water bottle. There are quite a few fill-up stations that are more convenient than stopping to buy water all the time. You HAVE to stay hydrated!
Quick note about altitude sickness: we were fine because we made a point to drink a TON of water. We scheduled our first day there to be easy...just walking around and eating. Our big hike happened on our third day so we had a few days to acclimate to the altitude. I don't recommend showing up and taking the gondola or going for a huge hike on day one!