Distance from Denver: 97 miles
“Winters are good, but summers are why we live here,” is every local’s one-liner at this swanky resort best known for skiing. Granted, it lacks the Wild West antiquity (it was built from scratch in 1962), but Vail’s summer vibe is unmistakably enticing -- the valley is ablaze with wildflowers, you can get a bed on the cheap, and you don’t have to put up with the fur-lined brigade. For getting out in the fresh air, head to East Vail for the most scenic and robust hikes. Booth Falls is one of the shorter and more accessible trails (although the first half mile is a slog), with views of the crystal waters flowing between the dark crags of the Gore Mountains.
Spend your morning basking on the rocks of the Village centerline -- Gore Creek -- with a latte from Yeti’s Grind. The Village becomes a sea of tents and bodies (human and canine… even puppies in backpacks) every Sunday for the Vail Farmers Market & Art Show -- I can personally vouch for the fruit and vegetables, local honey and, when freshly made crepes. The Vail Jazz ensemble provides a soundtrack of salsa and swing in the background.
On balmy evenings, hit up Hot Summer Nights, a free concert series at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, where locals gather to catch up and kids spin themselves dizzy on the lawn. To keep things even casual-er, grab beers at Vail Brewing Co. and strike some pins at Bol (it’s also an unsung foodie favorite, with a solid menu of seasonal pizzas, burgers and creative cocktails).
The town’s most iconic building is also one of the most affordable places to stay -- the Austrian-chalet styled Gasthof Gramshammer (aka Pepi’s). You don’t get centralized air-conditioning, but there’s a certain charm about the shuttered windows, clumpy wooden wardrobes and dusty outdoor decks. And there’s no beating the location, next to the Children’s Fountain and in the shadow of Pepi’s Face (the Vail Mountain slope named after Austrian ski racer Pepi Gramshammer, who you’ll likely see in the evenings, wandering around his hotel).