Looking to make your Colorado itinerary shine? Pencil some of the best day trips from Vail onto your to-do list! While Vail is an utterly picturesque travel destination on its own, the area teems with craggy mountains, sparkling lakes, and beautiful mountain towns that are begging to be explored.
Both near and (somewhat) far, Vail is within driving distance of several of Colorado’s top towns and cities. In fact, many of these destinations—such as Aspen, Boulder, and Denver—are in relatively close proximity to each other along similar routes, so you could even plan a multi-day road trip for the ultimate itinerary booster.
Of course, one of the biggest reasons tourists flock to Colorado is to stand at the foot of the striking Rocky Mountains, which grace the horizon of every one of these top-tier side destinations. On top of the epic views, these side trips also offer diverse outdoor activities and experiences, such as dog sledding in Steamboat Springs or fly fishing in Beaver Creek.
Looking for the best surrounding places to add to your Vail itinerary? Take your Colorado holiday to the next level—with as little as 20 minutes to two hours to work with—using this list of the top-rated Vail day trips!
Top-rated Vail side trips
An excursion to Leadville is perfect for Vail-bound skiers who want to experience a bit more of the outdoors after they’ve exhausted every downhill run in the area.
An approachable and timeline-friendly road trip, the drive to Leadville will only take you 45 minutes by car. Despite their close proximity, Leadville and Vail are like night and day, with the landscape shifting quickly from a bustling little ski town to lush wilderness.
Leadville is known for its stunning natural areas with mountain landscapes stretching as far out and up as the eye can see. And, of course, you’ll want to get out and explore them while you’re in the area. Climbing Mount Elbert is the most iconic choice for adventurers, with hiking routes to suit most experience levels.
Otherwise, the Twin Lakes is a gorgeous duo of alpine lakes that are crystal clear and practically begging to be photographed. Whether you want to hang out for a while and take it all in or make a quick pitstop to snap a photo, you won’t regret building a visit to the Twin Lakes into your itinerary.
Are you a secret history buff? Be sure to check out the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum while you’re in Leadville for a journey back in time to the Gold Rush era.
Silverthorne is a backpacker’s paradise, but it’s also a great little small town for those who want to kick back and relax. From mountains to quaint cafes, this laid-back adventure has a little something for everyone. All that, and it’s only 30 minutes outside of Vail, fitting perfectly into the nooks and crannies of any itinerary.
Silverthorne has a plethora of hiking opportunities for every experience and fitness level. Not sure where to start? Check out trail reviews for the Sally Barber Mine Trail and the Buffalo Mountain Trail, which are known for having some of the most epic scenery along the way.
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If you prefer a more laidback trip, or you want to treat yourself after a morning hike, you can book a matinee showtime at a Lake Dillon Theatre Company performance or a facial and massage combo at the Elan-life Spa.
Barely have a day to spare? Beaver Creek is a road-trip destination you can squeeze into any vacation, no matter how jam-packed. This charming town can be reached in under 20 minutes from Vail, meaning you can do a round-trip drive in as little as two hours, depending on how many stops you want to make once you get there.
Of course, there are plenty of wonderful things to do in Beaver Creek; the longer you can afford to stay, the better: This isn’t just a fallback option for those on a tight timeline. Right at the top of the must-see list is the Walking Mountains Science Center. A quick guided hike through the region is their specialty. The walk is an approachable intro to the natural landscape for beginners and families alike.
Looking for a more creative way to get out and explore the great outdoors? Tour the mountains that flank the town on a horseback tour led by Beaver Creek Stables, or join the Gore Creek Fly Fisherman for an afternoon in the lake.
Another natural beauty less than an hour from Vail’s main street is Breckenridge. Clocking in at 45 minutes, a trip to this little town is an easy way to boost your Colorado experience. One of the most beautiful Colorado mountain towns, Breck bursts at the seams with mountains, lakes, and natural landmarks.
Are you aware of Breckenridge’s mining past? Consider taking a specialized tour where you can wander the underground passages of a historic gold mine. Follow it with some panning in the river to see if you’ll strike gold!
If you’re working with a tight timeline there are a few top Breckenridge attractions you’ll want to keep on your radar. Stop at the Sapphire Point Overlook for a unique vantage point of the mountains and lakes below, then head to Quandry Peak, where you can keep your eyes open for passing mountain goats.
If you have a bit more time to work with, take a deeper dive into the Breckenridge wilderness with a walk along the Spruce Creek Trail or a road trip down the Boreas Pass Scenic Drive.
Looking for all things entertainment? The 28-minute drive from Vail to Frisco is the way to go. You won’t find a lot of nightlife here, but you will find plenty of live entertainment options and interactive attractions that’ll keep you cheering from the stands all day long.
Frisco is a stellar Colorado destination for sports lovers. This municipality has a stadium to host all your favorite teams. With a quick Google search, you can score tickets to almost any game, from soccer and baseball to American football and basketball. The local baseball team plays at Rider’s Field, where you can actually watch the game from an inner tube at their elevated lazy river. (Talk about premium seats!)
Consider yourself a digital connoisseur? Navigate the world of the Mario Brothers and more as you play your way through the National Video Game Museum. Interactive exhibits will take you all the way from a collection of original 80s arcade games to the intricacies of modern console design.
A road trip to Glenwood Springs is a must for the thrill-seeking tourist. Doable in just under an hour from Vail, this adventure destination promises plenty of bucket-list attractions and tours that will let you experience the Rockies in a new way.
Want to get that adrenaline pumping? Slicing through the water on a white-water rafting tour is one the most popular things to do in Glenwood Springs. Prefer to stay on dry lands? Not a problem: You can also catch a thrill on an ATV tour, zipping through the foothills.
If there’s someone in your group who prefers a milder brand of adventure, there’s plenty here to fill that need, too. The whole crew can head out on a mountain trek, or they can stay back and enjoy a leisurely afternoon at the turquoise mountain pools along Hanging Lake Trail. This tranquil oasis is the perfect place to read a book, have a picnic, or simply listen to nature’s song.
For the ultimate ski holiday side trip that’s all about hot cocoa, snowy mountainside, and cozy cafes, head to Steamboat Springs. This city is located 1 hour and 45 minutes from Vail and is a fantastic place to enhance a winter vacation in Colorado. The trip to Steamboat Springs is doable in a single day but could also be taken as a multi-day excursion if you’re willing to divide your time.
When the snows keep raging on, Steamboat Springs is the ideal place to enjoy the powdered slopes. You can always go skiing, but for something a little extra special, consider joining a snowmobiling or dog-sledding tour. Then, when your nose is cold and your cheeks are rosy, head to Strawberry Park Hot Springs. These natural pools will have you warmed up and relaxed in no time!
Traveling with kids? Check out the unique ice number cars at the Howellson Ice Complex. This fun twist on a carnival classic is sure to be a hit with the whole family!
A hub for outdoor recreation, Aspen is a great choice for hikers and skiers, but it’s also a top-tier choice for those who want to live the high life for the evening.
Plenty of world-class restaurants and expensive boutique shops call Aspen home. The mountain resort town has become a popular destination for the rich and famous to wine, dine and shop against a pristine mountain backdrop. You’ll need to invest nearly two hours of time to get to Aspen from Vail, but it’s worth it just for the bragging rights alone.
If you want to hit the slopes during your excursion, the Aspen Highlands is best for advanced skiers, while Buttermilk Mountain is ideal for both novices and total beginners. To experience the Rockies without exerting yourself, you can also take a ride up Aspen Mountain on the Silver Queen Gondola. At this top-rated Aspen tourist attraction, you’ll enjoy panoramic birds-eye views of the range without even breaking a sweat.
Looking for a day hike that’s out of this world? The incredible rock formations on Grottos Trail are more than a little bit lunar, making for some stellar photo opportunities. Simply pack a picnic, and scramble up into the ice cave for totally unique day in Aspen.
Another great city nestled into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is a destination that needs to be on your radar. After a one-hour and 58-minute drive from Vail, you’ll be rewarded with great restaurants, art galleries, and museums. This lovely college town would be the perfect way to start (or end) your Colorado vacation.
Need a quick refresher after stretching your legs upon arrival? The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse is a staple activity in any Boulder itinerary, and the Avery Brewing Company is a local favorite amongst hipsters and craft beer aficionados.
What are the top natural landmarks on Boulder’s outer limits? Chautauqua Park will take you up the Flatirons and through stunning wildflower meadows at their feet. Alternatively, one of the top things to do in Boulder is to visit Boulder Falls and experience the majesty of the rushing water free-flowing through the whale-backed mountains.
Eldorado Canyon State Park
If you want a taste of outdoor adventure, you can’t go wrong with a drive to Eldorado Canyon State Park. Though a trip here is a bit of a time investment, clocking in at 1 hour and 54 minutes from Vail, it can be taken in tandem with a trip to Boulder (and a few other destinations on this list) to build a wanderlust-worthy multi-day trip.
During the summer, the sandstone cliffs of Eldorado Canyon State Park become a hub for hiking and rock climbing, which is its biggest draw. As long as there’s sufficient snowfall. the trails are even opened up during the winter months for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing between rockfaces.
Although camping is not permitted within the boundaries of Eldorado Canyon State Park, there are plenty of sites nearby in case you’d like to extend your road trip and do a little bit of stargazing.
If you want to head into a bigger city that’s absolutely teeming with family-friendly activities, Denver is the way to go. It’ll take a little longer to get here, with about an hour and 40 minutes of driving required to and from, but it’s definitely worth it. There’s so much to do in Denver that you could easily book a room and make a weekend of it.
Denver boasts a wide array of hit attractions thanks to its built-up neighborhoods and suburbs. Saying hello to the residents of the Denver Zoo and perusing the Denver Botanical Gardens are among the most popular of these bucket-list-worthy activities, with just 24 hours in Denver, along with a handful of art museums and science museums.
Any Colorado Rockies fans out there? If you’re visiting during baseball season, head to Coors Field and catch a game live. Or, if you’re traveling in winter, end the ultimate 24 hours in Denver in with a Colorado Avalanche hockey game at Ball Arena.