Vail Valley: It’s Affordable

Vail Valley: It’s Affordable 1Vail Valley is synonymous with multi-million-dollar mansions, exclusive alpine clubs and elegant hotels. But don’t cross it off your list as an affordable vacation spot. This area, with beautiful mountain vistas, comfortable summer and fall temperatures, world-class skiing and a wide variety of shopping, art galleries and restaurants, is a destination that really shouldn’t be missed.

So, to offset some of the other costs of your Rocky Mountain vacation, here are seven places you can entertain yourself for free — or at least cheaply. Some activities will have to wait until summer.

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
The late President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, were regular fixtures in the Vail Valley. They left their mark through various charities, as well as the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, which are said to be the highest botanic gardens in the United States.

This well-tended display has thoughtfully placed benches where you can take in the soothing splashes of the waterfalls, the light breezes that stir the surface of the ponds and the kaleidoscope of colors from the alpine flowers and plants. These unique flowers from every far-flung part of the world thrive at this altitude and in weather conditions that would quickly kill most plants. Keep an eye out for blue-eyed grass, a perennial that looks like it has a blue “eye” growing in the middle of the blade of grass.

Cost: A donation is requested in the box outside the main gate.

Gore Range Brewery Tour
Settle in for a slow-roasted pulled pork sandwich and a microbrew beer for lunch at this restaurant and brewery. Ask if the brewmaster is in. If he is — and this can be dicey because he makes his own schedule — ask for a tour of the brewery. The tour can be as short or as long as you want, depending on your level of interest. The best times to catch him are between 10 a.m. and noon or in the evening, or call for appointment.

Cost: Free
Info: 970-926-BREW

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The Spruce Saddle Loop hike may be free, but the restaurant nearby will cost you a little more.

Vail Valley Cares Thrift Shoppe
Clear out the back seat of your car and grab your eagle-eyed shopping buddy. This thrift shop is crammed with cast-offs of the well heeled. Expect to find clothes, golf clubs, furniture and accessories for the home. As with most thrift shops, some items are worn, but most are in excellent condition.

Cost: Looking is free — but you’ll find some exciting deals priced very cheaply.
Info: 970-926-7134

Beaver Creek Village
Stop by the Beaver Creek Hiking Center in summer and take a guided hike or bike tour — a free tour is scheduled every day. At least two adults must be signed up for a tour and a 24-hour reservation is required. If you don’t want to bother with reservations or minimums, the Spruce Saddle Loop is an easy, free, guided hike from 11 a.m. to noon every day. You can also venture out on your own for free. Detailed maps are available at the hiking center.

Sling around a Frisbee while surrounded by alpine beauty. Just make sure your well-placed shots don’t hit the deer. Save money and hoof it to the top of Beaver Creek Mountain or spend $18 and ride the Centennial Express high-speed lift. You can upgrade to a $25 ticket, which will get you a $15 lunch credit at the Spruce Saddle Restaurant at the end of your ride up the mountain. There is no cost for children ages 5 to 12.

If Frisbee golf isn’t your thing, just the ride on this quiet Centennial Express lift is an ethereal experience. You’re whisked quickly through the crowns of the aspen and pine trees up the side of the mountain. Views of the European-style village below and the jagged mountain ranges all around will make you want to whip out your camera and start clicking away.

Cost: Free to $25
Freedom Park
Antsy kids will appreciate the ability to run wild for a few hours at Freedom Park. This spacious playground has two separate, age-appropriate areas, so little kids won’t get scared off by rambunctious older kids. Older kids will also appreciate the top-notch skate park, which welcomes rollerbladers and skateboarders to skate the variety of concrete benches, rims and half pipes. Sit and watch the aerobatics while you take in your daily dose of sunshine. A dog park on the west edge of the park features a very tempting, deep, green lake for pooches to cool off in when the temperature is hot. Several well-kept grassy athletic fields are also available for walkers and runners who don’t want to work out on hard surfaces.

Cost: Free
Location: 450 Miller Ranch Road, Edwards

Avon Recreation Center & Nottingham Park
Open year-around, the variety of activities available can keep you busy all day long. On Thursdays in July and August, you can watch a classic movie for free while stretched out on a blanket with a picnic under the stars.

In winter, go for a whirl across Nottingham Lake for a $7 skate-rental fee. There’s no charge if you have your own skates. Work out those quads on the same lake in summer in a paddleboat ($10 for a half-hour or $15 for an hour). Check out the free publication Parent’s Handbook to the Vail Valley for a half-off coupon that’s good Monday through Thursday.

Play a pick-up game of football, Frisbee or croquet on the lawn for just a $2 rental fee or free with your own equipment. Get splashed at the indoor 15,000-square-foot aquatic area for $14 a day for adults and $10 for kids. Long-term rates are available. Don’t let your workouts go to the wayside while you’re on vacation. A full roster of fitness programs and equipment are also available.

Cost: Free to $15
Info: 970-748-4060

Wildflower Walk at Vail Nature Center
Visit the Vail Nature Center during June and July for Wildflower Walk. Guided easy walks take place from 9 to 10 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday during those months, when bursts of color from dozens of species of wildflowers are at their height.

Cost: Free

And, as a bonus, here are four places where you can grab a bite without breaking the bank:

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After a summer ride up Beaver Creek Mountain, head back to Avon for a bite at the Avon Bakery and Deli.

Avon Bakery and Deli
Step in and inhale the intoxicating aroma of bread baking. A freshly baked bagel for breakfast will set you back 89 cents, while most hot, made-to-order sandwiches are only $7.99. Pick up artisan bread to go with soup for a hearty dinner. This spot is swarming with locals, which tells you you’re in the right place. The lunch line is out the door, so be sure to call ahead and place your order for pickup.

Finnegan’s Wake Irish Pub
Go for the traditional Irish fare at this pub, which features dark, authentic décor, including a massive carved bar imported from Ireland. The fish and chips are a perfect balance of fluffy batter, moist and flaky fish and good chips just made for a squirt of malt vinegar. Or go authentic with the highly recommended classic corned beef and cabbage or Celtic chicken pot pie. Most entrees are between $9 and $12.

Marko’s Pizzeria
If the idea of a chewy, soft pizza crust that is still crispy intrigues you, you’ll want to give Markos a try. (I don’t know how they do it, but this is easily the best pizza crust I’ve ever had.) With choices ranging from New York-style pizza to calzones to old-school pasta with fat-butt sauce, you can’t go wrong. The top–notch service doesn’t disappoint, either. From a cheese pizza for two at $5.99 to an 18-inch, fully-loaded Greek pizza for $19.99, this local favorite will go easy on the wallet, too.

Smiling Moose Deli
Every item makes you want to return to try another creative combination, from a hot, oven-toasted Parisian sandwich with grilled chicken, melted brie, avocado, sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto for $5.75 to $7.75, to a Mountain Sunrise breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs, sausage, seared spinach, roasted red pepper and melted pepper jack cheese snuggled in a tortilla for $4.75. This place is jammed for lunch, but is well worth the wait.

Michele Angello is a freelance travel writer, photographer and copywriter. After living and traveling overseas, she received her degree in mass communications and public affairs from the University of Denver, and is now based in Aurora.

From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.

If You Go

Nestled in the center of Colorado, the Vail Valley is situated along Interstate 70, easily accessible from the Eagle County Airport to the west and Denver International Airport to the east.

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

183 Gore Creek Drive

Vail, CO  81657


The Gardens are located in Ford Park

500 South Frontage Road

Vail Valley Cares Thrift Shoppe

Edwards and Eagle Store Hours
Monday-Friday 10:00am-6:00pm Saturday 10:00am-4:00pm
Free Donation Pick-up  (970) 926-7134

Edwards Thrifty Store        Eagle Thrifty Store
34520 Hwy 6, #C2               1160 Chambers Ave.
Edwards, CO 81620             Eagle, CO 81631
(970) 926-7134                     (970) 328-1444

Beaver Creek Village

Cost: Free to $25