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5 family-friendly activities in Vail, Colorado

Take the Eagle Bahn gondola up for kid-approved hikes. Photo courtesy Vail Local Marketing District

Vail, Colorado, is a world-class ski destination. But in the warmer months, it’s the perfect long weekend for New Mexicans, especially families. A 5.5-hour drive from Santa Fe with beautiful views of the Rockies along the way, Vail offers something for toddlers, teens, parents, grandparents, and everyone in between to enjoy.

Here are Vail’s best family-friendly activities, along with kiddo-approved lodging and restaurants.

1. Ride a gondola up a mountain

Eagle Bahn gondola with mountain views.

The Eagle Bahn gondola provides excellent views of the Gore Range. Photo courtesy Vail Local Marketing District

Take the Eagle Bahn gondola up the mountain to see jaw-dropping views of the Gore Range and the Mount of the Holy Cross. It also brings you to a wide range of kid-friendly outdoor activities.

Calmer pursuits include hiking and a nature discovery center. For thrills, there’s a mountain coaster and climbing wall. Last year, Daily Adventure Passes included 3 rides on the coaster and unlimited admission to the other activities. Kids ride the gondola free with an adult or senior purchase. Prices have yet to be released for summer 2024.

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2. Spend a day at the lake

Canoeing on Piney Lake.

Open through September, Piney Lake is a great spot for canoeing. Photo by Matthew Thalman/Alamy Stock Photo

On June 21, the road to Piney Lake opens for the season (through September 28), giving travelers access to canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, trout fishing, and wildlife watching.

An easy 3-mile hike leads to beautiful Piney River Falls in the shadow of the Gore Range. It’s well worth the 12-mile side trip from the main village (and the 6-mile round-trip trek); be sure to pack plenty of snacks for your hungry hikers. Canoe and stand-up paddleboard rentals are $40 per hour.

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3. Take a guided horseback tour

Horseback tour surrounded by trees.

Take a guided horseback tour through Piney River Ranch. Photo courtesy Vail Local Marketing District

A great way to get a bird’s-eye view of Vail Valley is by horseback. Vail Stables offers guided horseback tours for ages 5 and up. Your group will ascend through a sun-dappled forest of aspen trees and wildflower meadows to reach sweeping mountain vistas and an overhead look at the village below.

Vail Stables goat yoga.

Vail Stables offers a weekly goat yoga class. Photo courtesy Vail Local Marketing District

Back at the stables, pull up a chair or hammock and enjoy goat happy hour. It’s an opportunity to pet, feed, and interact with these cute, furry residents while sipping your beverage of choice. A shuttle to Vail Stables’ weekly goat yoga is available from the village.

Group horseback rides start at $130 per person. Goat happy hour is $10 per person (beverages not included). Goat yoga is $40 per person with a free shuttle from the Vail Transportation Center.

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4. Watch world-class dance performances

Vail Dance Festival.

Vail’s open-air amphitheater hosts the Vail Dance Festival over summer. Photo courtesy Vail Local Marketing District

Beginning in late July, the open-air Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater hosts Vail Dance Festival’s evening performances by dance luminaries (think Dance Theatre of Harlem and American Ballet Theatre). And they’re not just for adults.

Special early-evening performances include a Tiny Dancer Tea Party, an event for boys and girls ages 4–7. This includes crown and tiara decorating, a dance party, meet-and-greets with festival dancers, a festival T-shirt, and snacks.

Betty Ford Alpine Children's Garden.

Visit the Children’s Garden next to the amphitheater for colorful flowers and décor. Photo by Leslie Mieko Yap

Before the performance, wander around the colorful Betty Ford Alpine Gardens adjacent to the amphitheater, a perfect spot for a family photo. General admission lawn tickets start at $32. Kids under 12 receive free lawn admission with accompanying adults on certain nights.

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5. Visit the Colorado Snowsports Museum

Colorado Snowsports Museum.

Learn about Vail's snowboarding and skiing history at the Colorado Snowsports Museum. Photo courtesy Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame

The Colorado Snowsports Museum in Vail Village will intrigue young skiers and snowboarders. It offers a glimpse into World War II’s famous skiing troopers, the 10th Mountain Division, and their battle in Italy.

It’s a fun spot to learn about the history of snowboarding and skiing before hitting the slopes next winter. Be sure to check out its Hall of Fame of snow sport athletes. Walking tours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Admission, free. Walking tours, $10 per person.

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Where to eat

Alpenrose patio at sunset.

Alpenrose has the perfect patio for relaxing after a fun-filled day. Photo courtesy Vail Local Marketing District

Longtime favorite Alpenrose serves up Swiss and German favorites such as rösti and schnitzel, as well as big soft pretzels. And, of course, there’s a kid’s menu for the little ones. For the adults, the flower-trimmed patio is a great place to cool off with a mug of German beer, wine, or an Aperol spritz after a long day of hiking.

Bully Ranch, a patio restaurant within the Sonnenalp Hotel, serves American cuisine that includes some of the best burgers in town.

With kids or teens in tow, a good pizza place should be on your radar. Blue Moose Pizza in Lionshead Village is a popular spot, as is Deca+Bol in Solaris Plaza, an American restaurant with an attached bowling alley. Kids can run around the large outdoor plaza before bowling.

Where to stay

Traveling as a family means juggling everyone’s needs and interests. It helps to have a home base where everyone can reconvene for a home-cooked meal, a swim, or a game of cards. Vail’s large number of condos and vacation rentals make it easy for families to stay together.

Vail Residences of Cascade Village allows its guests to access sister property Grand Hyatt’s pool and programming. Rates start at $436, plus $55 daily resort fee. AAA discount available.

The Antlers at Vail pool.

Stay at The Antlers at Vail for family-sized condos and serene outdoor pools. Photo courtesy Vail Local Marketing District

The Antlers at Vail in Lionshead, near the Eagle Bahn gondola, has condos of up to 4 bedrooms with mountain and valley views. Rates start at $289.

Vail Village shuttle.

Vail's shuttles are a great way to travel throughout the town without a car. Photo courtesy Vail Local Marketing District

Free public shuttles run year-round between Vail Village and neighboring Lionshead Village. Grandparents want to shop instead of hike? Younger kids need a nap? It’s easy for part of your group to hop on a shuttle and head back to the hotel or condo, while others keep exploring.

Melinda Fulmer is a Los Angeles–based writer passionate about travel, food, wellness, and the outdoors. You can follow her adventures on Instagram: @melindafulmer.

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