Home » 2005 Cross Country Road Trip

Vail, CO

Wednesday, July 27, 2005 - 9:30am by Lolo
164 miles and 3.5 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Tommy had been talking about Vail for most of the trip. I'm not sure just what he expected, but I have a feeling he was hoping for a repeat of the great time that we had at Whistler, another premier ski resort that we had visited several years ago. As part of his birthday bash, we promised him that we would try to find a mountain biking park--the kind where you take your bike up on a gondola and then ride the trails back down the mountain. We had done this in Whistler and it was really a lot of fun. We figured Vail would be a good bet.

Lolo and boys on Vail singletrackLolo and boys on Vail singletrackWe arrived in Vail late afternoon, after the mountain bike park had closed for the day. No problem, we thought. We would just camp nearby and do it the next day. Easier said then done. According to Woodall's, there wasn't a campground within 20 miles. Apparently, RVs didn't fit in with Vail's ritzy image of the playground of the rich and famous. It's funny how ski resorts have different personalities. Breckenridge, just 20 miles down the road, is a much more down-to-earth kind of place and has one of the nicest campgrounds in the country--Tiger Run RV Resort. Fortunately, I had done my research before the trip, and knew about Gore Creek, a National Forest Service campground about 5 miles east of Vail. It wasn't listed in the Woodall's, but I had found it in the Moon Colorado book. When I inquired about Gore Creek at the Vail Visitor Center, they told me that they had heard it was closed because of bear problems. Oh, great. I could see Tommy's hopes crumbling before me. Like a mother bear protecting her own young, I wasn't going to give up that easily. I found a number for the National Forest Service and called to inquire about Gore Creek. They confirmed that indeed there was a problem with a particularly aggressive bear that was hanging around the campground, but they did allow enclosed units (as in RVs, not tents) stay there. Not particularly inviting, but since it was the only game in town, we decided to go for it.

Another problem was that we were practically out of water, and this campground was totally primitive. It was going to have to be very short showers or no Vail. We decided on very short showers.

Gore Creek campgroundGore Creek campgroundThe campground was very pretty and located right on the Gore Creek. You could hear the flowing water from the site. I must admit, though, that I was pretty spooked by the bear thing. No barbecuing for us tonight--perhaps some pasta in our enclosed unit. It was still too early to settle down though, and we had been sitting in the RV all day, so I decided to bike ride along with the boys on their run. Also, this way I could protect them from bears. Herb stayed back to get first dibs on the shower water.

The next morning we got an early start and headed over to Village to get in a full day of mountain biking. After purchasing our lift tickets ($29 each), we rode over to the Eagle Bahn gondola, where extremely polite employees took our bikes and loaded them onto the gondola for us. I guess this is the service one expects at Vail. The gondola let us off at Eagles Nest about halfway up the mountain where there were restaurants, shops, and even an adventure center. For a mere $20 or so more a person, we could play disc golf, laser tag, horseshoes, etc. Fortunately, the kids agreed that we had come here to bike, not play lawn games.

There were trails, theoretically, for all levels of rider and they were marked just like the ski slopes--green circle for beginner, blue square for intermediate, and black diamond for expert. We started off with a beginner trail, which was the longest ride down the mountain--I think something like 7 miles. It was really more of a road than a trail and there were even instances where we had to peddle uphill--how insulting when you pay for a lift ticket so that you can ride down a hill. This trail was not nearly exciting or extreme enough for the boys, so the next time down we tried a different trail. This one was a bit better--it was a trail rather than a road and being an intermediate rather than a beginner trail, it was quite a bit more challenging. The boys liked it much better and were itching to hit an expert trail. I, however, was having more than enough of a challenge on this one.

Lolo planning the bike ride down Vail MountainLolo planning the bike ride down Vail MountainI like a challenging trail as much as the next guy--I'll even jump the occasional log or weave my tires between jutting rocks--but these trails just weren't what I hoped for. They were either too easy, but still rough surfaced enough to give me a good bouncing, or just too ridiculous for me to attempt. There weren't the in-between types that I loved so much when we did this at Whistler Mountain.

Not wanting to hold the boys and Herb back, I finally told them to go ahead and do the more challenging stuff, and I would meet them at a picnic table along the river back in the village. So, I headed off by myself down the rough road, which they call a beginner trail. I found a vacant picnic table along the Gore Creek, which flows through the village, and quite contentedly awaited the arrival of my men. I waited and waited, and after about 15 minutes passed, I began to get concerned. I tried calling all their cell phones. Andrew finally answered and told me not to worry and that they were almost there. A few minutes later they showed up with Tommy looking quite bruised and battered. Andrew must have forgotten to mention this on the phone. His explanation was that they didn't want to worry me--a little too late for that. They had made it through the challenging expert stuff, but then Tommy's back wheel had skidded out on the gravel road and he took a fall. Now he had a torn open hand with half the road embedded in it. It looked awful.

I think we all agreed it was time to call it a day, so we went back to the RV and began the process of trying to remove the gravel from Tommy's palm. After much soaking, we managed to get most of it out, but it still looked pretty raw.

Boys on Vail Pass to FriscoBoys on Vail Pass to FriscoAt this point, I very selfishly began wondering if we had blown our chance to ride down the Vail Pass Parkway. Two years ago when we had passed through here, we noticed a bike path running alongside I70 all the way from the top of Vail Pass (at 10,600 feet) down to the village of Frisco, about 12 miles away--all downhill. I had jokingly told Herb that if we ever passed this way again, I would love for him to drop me and the boys off at the Pass and pick us up again at the bottom. He willingly agreed. Well, here we were 2 years later, but Andrew and I didn't have the heart to do it without Tommy. However, what we didn't realize was that Tommy had no intention of missing out on this opportunity either. He put some gauze on his palm, bandaged it up really well, and assured us that he would be just fine. It was another one of those instances, which seem to be happening more and more frequently lately, where we wondered whether we were making the right parenting decision. We decided to go for it.

The ride was amazing--definitely the most exhilarating bike ride I have ever been on. I felt terrible that Herb was missing out on it, but he assured us that he was happy that at least we got to do it. I thought that was pretty sweet. The ride took us through meadows of wildflowers, past rushing streams, and through quaint ski villages. In fact, we got quite lost for awhile in Copper Mountain. The bike path sort of just dumped us into the middle of the village and we had no idea where to pick it up on the other side. Fortunately, Herb, knowing that I'm somewhat navigationally impaired, noticed this potential situation from the highway and pulled over to wait for us. He watched us somewhat confusingly emerge from the village and pointed us in the right direction again. What a fantastic ride! Although a bit sore, Tom had no regrets whatsoever.

This part of Colorado really is beautiful and I think none of us was ready to leave it just yet. We all knew that the Plains were only about a 2-hour drive east and that once we left the Rockies behind our journey was pretty much over. So, we called the Tiger Run RV Resort in Breckenridge, booked a site for the night, and delayed our journey's end.


Vail is located in the beautiful Gore Creek Valley approximately 100 miles west of Denver. Unlike the other ski towns in Colorado that began as mining towns (such as Breckenridge and Telluride), Vail is relatively young. Also, its personality is different. Unlike the earthier Breckenridge, Vail is a playground for the wealthy, and its prices reflect that.

Although Vail is best known as one of the premier ski resorts in the world, its natural beauty and extensive recreational opportunities are making it a destination for all four seasons. Some highlights for outdoor lovers include:

  • Hiking the 2 miles to Booth Falls, a 60-foot waterfall along Booth Creek
  • Biking the paved bikeways through the village
  • Riding the gondola from Lions Head to Eagles Nest and hiking or biking down the trails
  • Biking the 20-mile Vail Pass Bikeway over the 10,600 foot pass into Vail
  • Fishing for trout in the Gore Creek
  • Rafting the Eagle River
  • Taking a hot-air balloon trip
  • Taking a llama trek out into the wilderness

Or, for the less adventurous:

  • Shopping in one of the many boutiques, gift shops, and galleries
  • Dining out at one of its many fine restaurants
  • Listening to classical music at a Bravo! Colorado Music Festival concert
  • Riding the gondola from Lions Head to great views of the village from Eagles Nest

Unfortunately, there are very few camping opportunities near Vail. Perhaps, that goes with its exclusiveness. The only camping available in the area is in the White River National Forest at Gore Creek, five miles east of the village.

Vail location map

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