We recently enjoyed a fall week in Vail Colorado at a time share. The first two weekends of September in Vail are occupied by Octoberfest (yes, in September) celebrations, a large, open-air Farmers’ and Art Market and a small but nice display of classic cars. Although we planned to go to a restaurant for lunch, the Farmers’ Market stands provided more than enough sustenance. We were so pleased with our first dish (a smoked salmon plate) with German potato salad, cucumber salad and dill pickle) from Chef Neubold, that we bought extra salmon for dinner. Our next course, barbecued ribs from Wildwood Smokehouse, were just as satisfying. And since I had to wash this meal down with something, I decided that a tipple of locally-distiller whiskey would be just the ticket. So, I made a brief stop at the Tenth Mountain Distillery Tent for a sample of four of their spirits–a potato vodka, corn-based moonshine, rye, and finishing off with a 92 proof bourbon.
A nice start to our trip, but our primary objective was hiking. Of the dozens of trails in the area, we targeted moderate length (typically between four and eight miles) half-day trails with moderate elevation gains as we acclimated to the altitude (generally between 1,000 to 2,000 feet). This trip included five trails around Vail.
Vail Area Trails
- Booth Falls Trail. We took this short, relatively easy 4-mile (round trip), 1,400-foot elevation gain trial to get acclimated to Vail’s 11,800 foot altitude. Although the trail actually extended for another 2 miles to Booth Lake, we, like most of the other hikers we ran into that day, were more than satisfied with the beautiful aspen forest, the colors (even though we were there before most of the aspens turned) and magnificent views along the trail to the falls. True, we ended up with only a partial view of the 60-foot tall falls. We, however, had no complaints.
- Upper Piney River Trail. Although the trail is more than seven miles each way, most hikers stop around 3.1 miles up, at the site of a rushing river and pretty waterfall. The trail itself is relatively easy, with moderate inclines and declines on the way to the falls. The valley is also scenic, beginning at the aptly named Piney River Ranch and lake, and following a green and yellow valley with a meandering stream. The south side of the valley (on which the trail runs, is primarily aspen. The north side, primarily pine. One of the most lovely sights, however, s as you return to the lake in mid-afternoon and see tall strands of grass, growing in the lake to the point that they lay upon the surface. In the sun, the effect is magical.
- Hanging Lake Trail. Although this trail is almost 30 miles west of Vail in the lovely Glenwood Canyon, it is a must-do trail for anyone looking to experience some of the region’s most scenic trails. It begins with a roughly three-quarter mile paved walk between a tall cliff face and a pretty lake, when you hit the trailhead, you go almost straight up, about 1,000 feet in elevation in 1.2 miles. Very steep, many steps and not many views along the way. But, when you get to the lake, which is perhaps two-thirds of the way up the cliff, you are more than amply rewarded by views of the crystal clear lake and its dissolved carbonate shoreline. Even more impressive is the beautiful waterfall that feeds the lake. And don’t stop with the postcard view of the lake and falls from the wooden path. Be sure to take the short trail, which ends just behind the waterfall, and to glance up at the hanging moss gardens, from which the water is falling.
- Beaver Creek Trail. This 3.1 mile (1,700 foot elevation gain) trail begins at one of Beaver Creek resort’s ski lifts and proceeds upward, alongside Beaver Creek to Beaver Lake. While the trail is well-maintained and passes through a few pretty aspen stands, it is generally boring: relatively straight and so locked in by tall spruces that you have virtually no views, including of the stream. This having been said, the lake is pretty and affords a nice place for a snack. Overall, a very disappointing trail.
- Trapper’s Run. Since it was raining and threatening thunderstorms, we decided to take this short, low-altitude trail. We began by walking through Vail West’s Chamonix Chalet development, to the end of Cortina Road, and about three-quarters of a mile up the dirt access road to a white gate to the Trapper’s Run mountain bike trail. We then circled down for perhaps a mile along the narrow trail though a reforesting area that offered panoramic views through a beautiful landscape filled with aspen trees and bushes of bright yellows, oranges and reds. A tranquil, lovely and easy trail.
Vail and Beaver Creek Restaurants
Hiking builds up appetites. Although we had, and took a few opportunities to grill some of our own meals, we also visited a few of the area’s restaurants. Our choices for this trip were:
- Mirabelle (Beaver Creek). This, one of the most upscale, and most expensive restaurants in the valley is in Avon, just outside inside the entrance to Beaver Creek. It is housed in a nicely refurbished, historic Victorian, with many period furnishings. After an amuse bouche of salmon fillet the on phyllo, we shared three dishes. We began with a somewhat disappointing seared foie gras with caramelized pear and vanilla coulis, accompanied by a glass of Sauterne. (Although pretty good to foie gras-starved Californians, the foie was a bit burnt and the unripe pear was hard and lacking in sweetness.) We were more pleased with our main courses. The elk medallions with broccoli/cauliflower mash and black truffle reduction were good, but surpassed, in our views, by the rack of lamb with red-skinned mashed potatoes and rosemary garlic jus.
- Lancelot (Vail Village). My elk sirloin was cooked perfectly (rare to medium rare) and the green beans were al dente. While the meal was straightforward, it was very good. Joyce’s grilled salmon (after initially being reined for being medium well rather than medium rare as ordered) was moist and moderately tasty, with again, well prepared al dente vegetables (green beans and asparagus). We then took the unusual step of ordering dessert, a very nice, and large vanilla cream brûlée.
- Westside Cafe (Vail West). A casual, perpetually filled breakfast and lunch spot at which we had two very good light dishes: Lamb/beef gyros with sweet potato fries and Baja fried cod taco with black beans and rice. We were so pleased with our lunch that we couldn’t resist the 4:00 to 6:00 offer of an amazing 50 percent off all drinks and appetizers. We returned for the nachos, ahi taco and crab cake sliders–and oh yeah, a couple beers and wines.
- Piney River Ranch (Vail). Driving ten miles up a dirt road, you are not likely to run into this inn and restaurant unless you are specifically targeting either it or the popular Upper Piney River Trail. The location, the setting and the menu fit the bill for a post-hike lunch, we split two sandwiches, a quarter pound Angus burger with cheddar cheese and the fixing and a particularly large and delicious turkey, bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato club with garlic aioli on whole wheat toast, and to round things off, a Crazy Mountain Amber Ale.