I felt as if I had traveled far from home, yet I was only 1 ½ hours from Denver. The luxury Colorado ski town of Vail felt sort of like the French Riviera; I heard more international languages than English as I walked through Vail Village! There were men in skinny jeans wearing pashminas…wait…did I get on a plane and fly to Europe? However, all I had to do is look up and get my bearings – the snow-capped mountains surrounding Vail Village are more than enough reminders that I was in beautiful Colorado!
As I stared up at the mountains, I knew that I wanted to get up there for some hiking in Vail! After all, I’m much more of a hiker than I am a shopper.
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The New Normal of Hiking
People like to hike (or at least I like to hike) to escape and get away from people and simply enjoy being out in nature. Therefore, hiking is a great social distance activity in these times of COVID. After hitting the trails this summer – I’m clearly not the only one who has thought this; the trails all around Colorado are popular and filled with hikers.
Even though hiking is a relatively safe activity during the pandemic, there are still some precautions worth taking – and one of those is to find a place where there are few people. In order to do that I hired Will from Paragon Guides to help us find the real hidden hiking gems in Vail.
Research Guided Options for Hiking in Vail
He picked us up at our hotel wearing a mask and we drove to the trailhead with the windows down as he started telling us about the area. At that moment, I realized how much I missed guided travel. Sure, I can do everything I need on my own, but I learn much less about a place. One of the joys of having a guide is you actually learn about a place and get a local perspective.
For me travel is about connecting with your surroundings and the locals; it’s much harder to get that connection when traveling during COVID. But it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible!
Of course, it depends on how much risk you want to take on – and that’s unique to everyone. But before you just write off getting a local guide because you think it’s too risky, at least call them and ask them about how they are operating taking COVID-19 into account.
Listen to Will from Paragon Guides talk about how they keep hiking safely during COVID19
Little Uneva Peak Hike in Vail
He took us up to Vail Pass where we started our hike up to Little Uneva Peak on a loop trail, but we would be taking a different route than others. Will knows this area really well because he has been leading backcountry skiing here every winter for years. He knows where the alternative trails are and where they lead. We were in great hands!
Vail Pass starts at around 10,000 feet – it didn’t take me long to start breathing heavily. Will pointed out various things about the terrain and informed us that the trail we were on used to be the old wagon trail over the pass before they built I-70.
Starting at 10,000 feet means that you have pretty spectacular views from the first step. I stopped and took it all in as we climbed above the treeline; plus stopping to enjoy the view is a great reason to catch your breath!
“If you get down really close, you see the little head and trunk,” Will pointed out as we all squatted around the pink wildflower examining it. “It’s called Elephant Trunk, it’s found in swampy areas, and it’s one of my favorites,” he said. Christopher and I oohed and ahhed at the elephant profile – something I never would’ve noticed if I had been on my own!
We veered off the main trail onto a smaller trail and from that point on, we never saw another person for the next 2 hours as we hiked an alternative route to Little Uneva Peak. Will pointed out the surrounding ranges, you could see 3 of them from our viewpoint on the trail; Gore, Sawatch, and Mosquito. It’s my goal to try to learn more about the various Colorado ranges and when you are up at 10,000 ft on the Uneva Peak trail you can get a good feel for them. In addition, I learned that I70 did a weird loop north around some of the mountains that I never really realized! You could see for miles and miles!
On the hike we crossed trickling streams, and passed through wildflowers and snow mounds; at one point I was ready to run across the hillside singing, The Hills are Alive…
However, I knew I needed to conserve my energy for the final climb up the peak at 12,200 feet!
Above the tree line we hiked upwards across boulders and suddenly (after a lot of huffing and puffing on my part) we reached the top! We basically came up through a back door and we were the only ones there!
Will pointed out areas where they normally back-country ski in the bowls and I enjoyed the views. I could’ve stayed there all afternoon, but Will wisely got us moving as he was watching the storm clouds rolling in – another good reason to have a guide! When we got back to the car we had gone about 10 miles total and Will rewarded us with an ice-cold beer. The end to a perfect hiking day!
Tips for Hiking in Vail During COVID
- Bring a mask…and wear it when passing other people.
- Hike Loop Trails because you meet fewer people
- Stick to lesser-known backcountry trails and get a local guide
- Research guide services to learn how they handle covid safety.
- If using a guide, meet at the trail or agree to drive with a guide if you feel you can be safe.
- Start early to avoid people
Learn More About Paragon Guides in Vail
Having a guide certainly made this Vail hike better than it would have been on my own. Learn more about Paragon Guides and what they offer here.
Read about other great backcountry guide experiences I’ve had through the US:
Alaska’s St Elias Alpine Guides in McCarthy
Alaska Alpine Guides Take you to Places Few People Ever Go in Alaska
Aspen Mountain Guides for Colorado Hut Hiking
Maine Certified Guides Taught Me How To Fish
The New Normal for Vail Village
After your hike, you’ll definitely want to stuff your face and stretch your legs out in Vail Village! But wait…before you enter Vail Village, there are a few things you should know.
Mask Mandates and Social Distancing
Vail (and the state) requires visitors to mask up in all indoor spaces, including gondolas, even when individuals ride alone. You’ll find reminders of this all throughout town, as well as reminders to keep physically distanced.
Patio Seating in Vail
The good news is that Vail’s well-known dining scene is alive and well thanks to an abundance of outdoor seating. Most all Vail restaurants have outdoor dining and most are even covered! If it rains, just wait for the storm to pass and it’ll likely be sunny again soon.
A Few things to do in Vail Village in the Summer Besides Hiking
Find out what all of those wildflowers are from your mountain hike at the Betty Ford Alpine Garden. It’s free to visit and totally worth it! You will find colorful and hearty wildflowers from high alpine climates all over the world.
Vail has also started a few socially distant concerts at Gerald R Ford Amphitheater. Hot Summer Nights is an annual FREE concert series hosted every Tuesday evening throughout the summer at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. During COVID the venue is limited capacity and social distancing and masks are required.
Vail has a wonderful bike trail that goes through the village and beyond! Our hotel, Manor Vail, offered free bikes to customers for 2 hours at a time. It’s a great way to get out and see the far reaches of Vail while enjoying a little exercise!
No summer trip to Vail is complete without a little homemade ice cream from Joe’s Famous Deli. Sure there are other more upscale ice cream places in town, but I love Joe’s for its casual, unassuming atmosphere, and the smell of waffle cones that waft out into the Village enticing you from buildings away. All their ice cream is made on-site!
Where to Stay in Vail
We stayed at the Manor Vail Lodge in one of their condos with a kitchen. It was huge with plenty of room to spread out, plus a lovely patio that looked out on the ski hill. I loved having a kitchen so we could make our own food if we wanted and the hot tub was perfect for after our 10-mile hike!
There are plenty of places to go hiking in Vail, but do consider bringing along a guide to find the best secrets and learn about your surroundings – it makes an already great hike even better!
More Colorado Hiking Experiences
Essential Hiking Gear and Equipment
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I was a guest of Discover Vail for this trip, however all opinions expressed here are my own.