Hang out with llamas in an alpine meadow. // © 2017 iStock
Feature image (above): Vail has a wide range of summer activities, including wildflower hikes. // © 2017 iStock
When anyone is tasked with naming legendary ski destinations in the U.S., there’s no doubt that Vail, Colo. — set just 100 miles west of Denver along Interstate 70 — will make the short list. As one of the world’s largest ski resorts, with more than 5,200 acres of developed ski and snowboard terrain, Vail Mountain has been a top destination among snow-sport enthusiasts for more than 50 years.
But its wealth of year-round activities also makes it a popular destination for summer vacations. In addition to the new on-mountain playground, Epic Discovery — which includes a mountain coaster, ziplines, aerial courses and more — here are some of the unique options Vail guests can experience in warmer temperatures.
Take a Llama to Lunch
Hiking in the mountains isn’t exactly a novel concept. But wrangling a llama toward an alpine-meadow picnic spot? Yes, please.
Head to Paragon Guides for its “Take a Llama to Lunch” hike, an easy-to-moderate, half-day hike that appeals to guests of all ages, especially kids, who get the chance to serve as llama wranglers.
Pack animals that are able to lug up to 80 pounds of gear and have a generally calm, predictable temperament, llamas are ideal backcountry companions, whether travelers are hiking for a couple of hours or many days.
“I am so much more refreshed getting to camp because I haven’t been carrying a pack,” said Donny Shefchik, field director and senior guide for Paragon. “And at the end of the day, I don’t mind watching a sunset with a glass of wine in my hand that the llama carried.”
Depending on the needs and wants of the group, guides will stop for a “Red-Checkered Picnic” or some wine and cheese before heading down the mountain. The llama hike runs from July 1 through early October.
Visit the Vail Nature Center
Explore Vail’s Gore Creek at the Vail Nature Center, a 7-acre facility on a 1940s homestead set in the heart of the destination. Perched between a mountain meadow and a forested riverbank, the center is one of three locations presenting programming by the Walking Mountains Science Center, a nonprofit organization providing education and activities to promote environmental stewardship and sustainability.
Summer visitors to Vail can choose from a wealth of fun outdoor options, including a Wildflower Walk, a one-hour jaunt through the woods and meadows to learn about the floral wonders and the conditions they need to thrive. Kids ages 8 to 13 might enjoy the Learn to Think Like a Trout program to learn about fly-fishing basics.
Or, clients can take part in Evening Beaver Pond Tours, one of the center’s most popular programs, to see the busy creatures in action. Vail Nature Center opens in spring.
Get the Colorado Country Experience
Ready for some Rocky Mountain ranch life, away from the city? Journey to Piney River Ranch, located about 12 miles north of Vail Village and tucked at the foot of the magnificent Gore Range on the shores of Piney Lake.
At the private, 40-acre mountain retreat, known as a popular wedding and day-trip destination, guests will be surrounded by thousands of acres of backcountry wilderness within the White River National Forest. They can go fly-fishing, hiking, canoeing, horseback riding and stand-up paddleboarding or simply relax by the fire pit. Travelers can also sample some of Vail’s best barbecue at the ranch’s on-site restaurant. The summer season begins June 21.