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There are few places as magical as Vail in autumn. Sunny afternoons warm the spirit before crisp evening mountain breezes flutter through the golden aspen leaves. Breathe deeply to inhale the fresh mountain air as you find solitude in the early mornings or relish the hum of energy at any of the many autumn events that grace the cobblestone streets of the town, nestled at the base of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Vail is comprised of two charming villages, each with lift access to the mountain. Both Vail and Lionshead villages offer autumn events to delight the senses. Each village offers a variety of lodges and restaurants, as well as shops, art, and parks for all ages to enjoy.

The architecture in Vail’s two villages is inspired by Alpine towns in Europe © Caitlin Fullam / Discover Vail

Vail Village

Vail Village is the original base area of the ski mountain. Gore Creek runs through town, offering multiple bridges with views of kayakers and kids joyously playing in the water. The most iconic is the Covered Bridge, which looks up the cobblestone Bridge Street, lined on each side with Vail’s original Bavarian buildings. 

Vail Village is also home to the vibrant-yet-tranquil Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. It’s located next to the Gerald R Ford Amphitheater, host to an incredible variety of live music, dance, and other performances. The nearby Vail Nature Center is a home base for hiking excursions, birding tours, beaver pond tours, wildflower viewing, stargazing, and more. Here, one can become truly immersed in Vail’s natural beauty.

Another highlight of Vail Village is Solaris Plaza. It hosts games, evening fun, and even free yoga classes throughout the summer and fall. Enjoy local coffee, tea, or beer while watching or joining in on the fun. 

There are indoor activities in town as well. As Vail was founded by members of the 10th Mountain Division, mountain troopers of World War II, it’s fitting that it would be home to the Colorado Snowsports Museum. Stop in at this small institution, located at the top of the Vail parking structure, to learn about the history of the 10th Mountain Division, as well as Colorado’s ski and snowboard industry icons.

Lionshead Village

Built just a few short years after Vail Village and then revitalized between the 1990s and 2000s, Lionshead is reminiscent of a charming European Village, but with surreal architecture reaching for the sky. 

The Eagle Bahn Gondola runs out of Lionshead Village, transporting visitors on autumn weekends to the mountaintop playground of Epic Discovery Vail. Here, kids and adults alike can speed through the beautiful mountain landscape on an alpine coaster, whizz down the tubing hill, and more.

Vail Square hosts outdoor music performances throughout the summer and fall. Just above the square is SunBird Park, also known as “Pod Park.” It offers a sort of pod nest for kids to climb into, a small rock wall to climb, and a splash pad for frolicking.

The Lionshead area of Gore Creek is known for its Gold Medal fly fishing waters. Let a guide show you where the best waters are and educate you on how best to care for Gore Creek and its natural habitat.

Autumn Outdoor Adventures in Vail

Vail is well-known as a mecca for outdoor sports and adventures. Whatever outdoor sport or activity you love or have just been wanting to try, you’ll find it here. And autumn is a beautiful time to enjoy the outdoors here.

Does hiking or biking make you happy? There’s plenty of both in Vail and in the surrounding area. 

Take a leisurely hike to see changing aspen leaves or head up a mountain incline to an alpine lake on trails such as Lost Lake Trail. Hikers can also drive down an aspen-lined dirt road to Piney Lake, where you’ll find the trailhead for a hike through golden aspens to a rushing waterfall. Of course, Vail Mountain itself offers plenty of meandering trails too. 

The mountains around Vail offer many opportunities for biking between spring and fall. © Discover Vail

Fall is a great time to grab your bike and take it up the mountain on the gondola for a leisurely bike ride downhill. Local outfitters will shuttle you up to the top of Vail Pass so you can soar down on your own two wheels. Or get in a more intense workout by biking up the mountain yourself before the enjoyable ride back down. For a slower pace, take a leisurely cruise along Gore Creek. There’s a bike path that connects the Vail and Lionshead villages. Remember to remain aware of dismount zones. 

The Vail area isn’t just about trails; it’s home to more water activities than anyone could ever imagine. Ethereal Piney Lake is the perfect place to watch the sunrise or set, with the glassy lake reflecting the majestic Gore Range. Piney Lake is a great place to kayak, paddleboard, hike, or horseback ride, too.

For more of an adrenaline rush, several local outfitters will take you white water river rafting through your choice of rapids. Or take it easy with a float down the river on a duckie, or inflatable kayak.

Vail is Alive with Fall Festivals

Fall in Vail also means that festival season moves into high gear- just check their events calendar for proof. The mountains are always alive with the sounds of music here, but this is especially true leading up to Labor Day. Jazz can be heard through July and August, and Labor Day weekend brings the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Visitors can take in a lively performance at Vail Square in Lionshead or enjoy an exciting Sunday at Solaris Plaza.

The Vail Jazz Festival attracts locals and visitors alike each fall. © Discover Vail

Fall in Vail also brings exciting food, wine, and beer together to be enjoyed outdoors at the area’s many culinary festivals. Most of these festivals follow a pay-as-you-go model. Entrance is usually free, and visitors can purchase goods from vendors that pique their interest as they browse. 

Gourmet on Gore is typically the first of the fall food and wine festivals, taking place each year on Labor Day weekend. Gore Creek Drive in Vail Village turns into a celebration centered around food and wine, although it hosts other events and classes like yoga and hiking. 

Taste of Vail also offers special and intimate experiences that typically occur throughout the fall. 

In Colorado’s Bavarian-inspired villages, Oktoberfest is an annual tradition. Locals and visitors dust off and don Lederhosen for two weekends of German food and fun. Brewers show off their craft beer while the local Bavarian restaurants dish out traditional German and Austrian fare. But the highlight for many is dancing to the accordion, yodeling, and alpenhorn music and entertainment from iconic Vail performers such as Helmet Fricker.

Vail hosts an annual Oktoberfest celebration on two weekends each September. © Discover Vail

Don’t forget the cars and bikes. For bike and van enthusiasts, Vail offers the Outlier Offroad Festival. And for gearheads in search of classic cars, there’s the Automotive Classic

Vail in the autumn has something for everyone. The fall season in this quaint mountain town will delight all of your senses with its natural beauty and unforgettable events. 

Sponsored by Discover Vail

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This story was crafted collaboratively between Discover Vail and Lonely Planet. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

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