I know it’s hot outside in most parts of the country, but foliage season is just around the corner. Before you know it, the leaves will be changing and the air will feel crisp. Autumn is personally my favorite season. I’ll never get over how magical Autumn is in the New England region BUT I also feel like Colorado is often over looked when it comes to Autumnal destinations.
Since Colorado is centrally located, it makes getting here relatively cheap and easy. There are tons of places in the mountains to experience stunning foliage. Colorado is home to tons of Aspen Trees which are so vibrate when their leaves change colors. My favorite places for leaf peeping are Vail, Estes Park, Idaho Springs, and Aspen. You could really drive anywhere into the mountains and spot Aspen Tree groves.
One of the hardest parts about planning an Autumnal getaway is the timing. Foliage season is somewhat unpredictable and in some regions a very short period. One of the great things about Colorado’s foliage season is that, as a state, it’s much longer. Since Colorado has pretty dramatic elevation changes we get a longer foliage season. The trees will start changing color in the mountains about a week or two before the trees in the lower region start changing. This gives us about an entire month of foliage season. If you are thinking about planning an Autumnal getaway this year, I highly recommend Colorado.
I’ve lived in Colorado for 7 years now and Vail is hands down my favorite place in the state. I love the European feeling atmosphere, the shopping, the food, and the stunning landscape. I’ve been to Vail about a dozen times and I’ve even helped family members plan their trip to Vail (for mine and my husband’s wedding weekend) so I’m pretty familiar with the best places to stay, where to eat, and what to do.
If you are flying, the Denver Airport is 1 hour and 45 minutes from Vail. There is also Eagle County Regional Airport, which is about 40 minutes from Vail but only certain airlines from a handful of cities offer flights into the Eagle County Regional Airport. Based on the distance from the nearest airports, you might be tempted to rent a car but I highly recommend avoiding that if you can. Vail Village and Lionshead Village are mostly pedestrian only areas, so there is no need for a car once you arrive (plus parking can cost over $50 a day). The best option is to hire a private transfer which might seem expensive but keep in mind you are saving money by not renting a car and not paying for parking (not all hotels in Vail offer parking). You can also take a bus from Denver to Vail using the CDOT West Bus Line (keep in mind this will take longer than a private transfer but is less expensive).
Where to Stay
When looking for a place to stay in Vail I suggest looking in Vail Village and Lionshead Village so you can walk everywhere you’ll want to go. You can stay on the outskirtsof Vail and take one of Vail’s free shuttle busses into the Village and Lioshead. Vail Village and Lionshead Village are about a mile apart and have a pedestrian path that connects them. Vail Village is a little bit more lively and Lionshead is a bit more quiet. If you are intested in staying in Vail Village I recommend the Austria Haus. The Austria Haus is a boutique hotel that was bought by Hyatt. It still feels like a charming hotel but you also get the benefit of being able to use World of Hyatt points. It’s also on of the few hotels in Vail Village that offers valet parking.
If you want to stay in Lionshead, then I suggest staying at the Arrabelle Hotel. I might be biased because this is the hotel my husband and I held our wedding reception at, but I love this hotel. This a a very expansive hotel and the rooms have great views of the mountain or the village. It also has a rooftop pool with great views of the mountain.
If you are interested in staying in the outskirts of Vail, or if you are traveling with a family and want to rent a condo, I recommend the Vail Racquet Club Resort. Vail’s free shuttle has a stop just outside the resort that can to you to Vail and Lionshead Village.
What to Do
What you do in Vail is totally dependent on the season. In the Winter skiing and snowboarding is the main attraction, but there’s so much more to do than just that. Both Vail Village and Lionshead Village have outdoor ice skating rinks in the Winter. You can also try cross country skiing, sledding, snow tubing, snowmobiling, or just take in the sights and do some shopping during the Winter. Vail is typically thought of as a Winter destination but my favorite time to go to Vail is in the Summer and Autumn. Vail is less crowded in the Summer and Autumn months but still offers a ton of outdoor activities including hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, exploring the Betty Ford Alpine Garden, and there is a great Farmers Market in Vail on Sundays June-October.
Where to Eat
Vail is home to the best restaurants in Colorado. My favorite restaurant in the world has a location in Vail (it’s a small Colorado chain) and that is Matsuhisa. It’s the most phenomenal sushi and wagyu I’ve ever had. It’s owned by the same chef that owns Nobu. If the European vibes of Vail have you craving German and Austrian food, then you should try Alpen Rose. If you are looking for a great steak house in Vail, you can’t go wrong with Russel’s. Although it’s a steak house, my favorite thing on the menu is the king crab.
Denver is centrally located in the US which makes most flights in mainland US to Denver very affordable. While there is a ton to do in Denver, the best things Colorado has to offers lies outside of Denver. Below are the best day trips from Denver.
Estes Park is just over an hour and thirty minutes outside Denver. Estes Park is a great destination for groups of people that have different interests. It’s a great place to have a relaxing day shopping and eating, or for outdoor activities like horseback riding, hiking, or fishing. It’s a convenient place to visit because it’s such a small town you can park in the downtown area and explore the restaurants and shops by foot.
Colorado Springs is located just over an hour outside Denver. It’s a great day trip for anyone that’s looking to get out of the city for some beautiful scenery. Colorado Springs is most popular for Garden of the Gods which is a stunning rock formation with hiking trails around it. You can also take a scenic train to the top of Pikes Peak which is one of the tallest mountains in Colorado.
Boulder is less than an hour drive from Denver. It’s a beautiful town nestled up against the mountains. My favorite thing to do in Boulder is shop and eat along Pearl Street. Part of Pearl Street is pedestrian only, and there are tons of unique and chain stores as well as great restaurants. I recommend Jax Fish House and Centro for a bite to eat. If the altitude is affecting you there is an oxygen bar along Pearl Street. If you want a great view of Boulder you can hike up the Royal Arch trail.
Idaho Springs is also less than an hour from Denver but really gives you the feel of being in the mountains without driving through the mountains far. It’s a hippy town with great shops and restaurants. Similar to Estes Park, you can easily walk the entire downtown area in an afternoon. Echo’s Hippie Shop is fun to browse through and The Spice & Tea Exchange has phenomenal and unique spices. Whenever my husband and I go up to the mountains we always stop at Westbound and Down Brewery for lunch.