By Jayne Clark
Vail, Colorado, is so chockablock with diversions, some visitors might be tempted to check in and never leave the ski resort. We understand. But then they’d miss out on some truly spectacular day trips. Here are three of our favorite things to do in the Vail area:
Vail to Aspen loop
The drive from Vail to Aspen makes for a gorgeous road trip, particularly in summer and fall. Departing Vail, drive south to Leadville via the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway (Hwy 24). Located at a dizzying 10,152-foot elevation, Leadville ranks as the highest incorporated city in the U.S. It was once a thriving silver mining town, and in the late 19th century, was the second (to Denver) most populated city in Colorado. Stretch your legs with a stroll through the Leadville Historic District. And if you’re in no hurry, consider taking a 2 ½-hour scenic train ride on the Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad (open late May to early October).
Afterward, drive over the Independence Pass into Aspen. The quaint – and chic – mountain town has long been a gathering spot for the rich and famous. Stop to refuel at the White House Tavern, a tiny eatery with a casual atmosphere and delicious French dip sandwiches. Or visit the Wheeler-Stallard House, a modern art gallery in a 19th-century Queen Anne-style house.
From Aspen, head into the Roaring Fork Valley to Glenwood Springs to take I-70 through Glenwood Canyon and a return drive to Vail.
Located only an hour or so west of Vail, Glenwood Springs is renowned for its mineral hot springs, so pack your swimsuit. More than three million gallons of 122-degree water gushes daily from Yampah Spring. It’s cooled to between 90 degrees and 104 degrees for swimming and soaking in the Glenwood Hot Springs’ two pools. The big pool is a whopping 405 feet long and 100 feet wide at its widest; the “small” pool is 100 feet long.
More active adventure can be had at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Thrill rides include multiple roller coasters, a tramway, a giant swing and Colorado’s first 4D ride theater. For a quick, casual lunch, stop for tacos or specialty hot dogs at Slope & Hatch restaurant in town.
Just 45 minutes east of Vail, this rural county boasts four ski areas – Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Keystone – each offering their own diversions in summer, as well as winter.
The county seat, Breckenridge, is a historic mining town with colorful shops, an arts district and a nice selection of restaurants, including breweries. For a quick lunch or snack, try Crepes a la Cart Breckenridge on South Main Street where you can design your own sweet or savory crepe.
Another restored mining town near Vail worth a visit is Frisco. It’s near the Dillon Reservoir, a popular recreation spot with 25 miles of shoreline. The local Frisco Bay Marina rents boats, paddle boards and more (available seasonally).
Just north of Frisco, the town of Silverthorne has a major outlet mall for those in need of a serious shopping fix.
Freelance travel writer Jayne Clark lives in Washington, D.C. She has been a travel reporter at USA Today and several other daily newspapers.