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Outdoor Adventure, Culinary Capers and Free Fun in Vail, Colorado During COVID-19 Summer

A two night stay in Vail, Colorado, is just an appetizer to its outdoor adventure and amazing culinary scene. If you think it’s just a ritzy resort town, you’re wrong. There’s actually a lot of free fun you can have in this mountain town. I road tripped to Vail to see how this popular tourist town is allowing visitors to return for some heat relief and summer fun during the COVID-19 pandemic. All hotel, restaurant and shop employees are wearing masks. You’ll see signs to remind you to wear yours too.

The first thing that is different is hotel check-in procedures, which vary. As I checked into my room at the Sonnenalp, I was asked my name before I even got out of my car. Michael, the guy who welcomed me, went inside and let the front desk know I was there. I was in the lobby no more than two minutes. I didn’t take my face mask off until I was in my room. Some changes in rooms include toiletries like cotton swabs and all glasses wrapped in plastic. Turn down service is not offered this summer. Housekeeping procedures are different and turn-over time between guests is 24-48 hours for each room. As I walked into my room, I was immediately drawn to the oversized soaking tub and balcony with colorful flower boxes. As I relaxed in the European elegance of my room, I felt as if I had been whisked away to a Bavarian resort in the Alps.

Across the street from the Sonnenalp is one of my favorite outdoor dining experiences in Vail. I couldn’t wait to eat bruschetta and sip sangria at La Bottega. That’s where my friend Kristen and I started our Saturday evening culinary caper. The bruschetta and sangria were as wonderful as I remembered. I tried to get both recipes from the owner. She told me the sangria recipe is so top secret, she doesn’t even know it! For the bruschetta, the homemade focaccia bread makes the difference.

Donning our face masks, Kristen and I strolled through Vail Village exploring its “Art in Public Places.” First stop was the interactive mural by Kelsey Montague, a fourth generation Coloradan and has big name celebrity fans like Taylor Swift. The “Urban Jungle” mural on the parking garage wall features butterflies holding up a swing. If you pose just right, it looks like you are sitting on the swing! Look for the hummingbird, bumble bee and columbine, which is Colorado’s state flower. Vail always has a lot of outdoor dining in summer, but as we walked, I noticed this summer there’s even more. There’s also a lot of outdoor shopping with many stores putting some racks outside. We saw folks playing outdoor games in the ink rink outside of the Solaris and heard live music in several places. In the alleyway behind Vendetta’s and near Two Arrows Coffee, Kristen showed me riddles in stone that I had never seen before. We laughed as I tried to figure out each one!

Our next stop was at El Segundo, a fairly new and lively taqueria and tequila bar on Gore Creek. There was a wait to get a table on the balcony, so we ordered cocktails to go. This summer you can wander around part of Vail Village with an open alcoholic beverage. I thoroughly enjoyed my margarita by the river while we waited for an outside table. Once seated for dinner, I couldn’t make up my mind on which taco to order. The waitress said absolutely get the ahi poke. I paired it with their grateful veg taco. Both were wonderful and worth the wait.

I got up early the next morning hoping to get some quiet time in the free Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. It’s one of my favorite serenity spots in Vail. I walked along the Gore Creek and along one of the trails near the Vail Nature Center first. Didn’t see any wildlife but I did see a guy fly fishing.

My wish came true shortly after 7 a.m. in the alpine gardens. I had them to myself! I took my time enjoying the colorful flora and listening to the soothing sounds of the small waterfalls before ending up at the top of the gardens with a great view of Vail Ski Resort.

Getting hungry I headed back to the Sonnenalp for breakfast with a friend. I squealed with delight when I saw the giant floral motif coffee mug. Flowers were a definite theme of my Sunday in Vail. The Sonnenalp is famous for its brunch buffets, but with COVID19, those are a no go this summer. I ordered a egg Benedict (minus the meat) and thoroughly enjoyed every bite. I needed a big breakfast for a hike.

Kristen picked me up and we headed up Red Sandstone Road. The drive up the winding dirt road is part of the adventure as you head to Piney River Ranch. The 40-acre mountain retreat has that take your breath away kind of beauty. We started our 3-mile hike to Piney Falls on the edge of Piney Lake as we crossed the meadow taking in the beauty of the Gore Range. The hike takes you through aspens groves, into a conifer and pine forest, across a couple of streams and up and down some switchbacks to a beautiful cascading falls.

After we hiked the three miles back, we enjoyed a great late lunch from Lodge Restaurant. This year they’re only doing to go. We sat out at one of the picnic tables and devoured our food enjoying the picturesque setting. We were getting short on time so didn’t get to paddle board or canoe in the lake. I highly recommend heading out to Piney River Ranch early so you can enjoy a full day of hiking, food and lake fun. You can stay overnight at the ranch. Staying in one of their glamping tents is on my wish list for later this summer or fall.

We got back into Vail Village late afternoon. I was doing some television live shots the next morning so I retreated to my room to edit videos and do some segment prep. I did take a break to enjoy a fabulous cotton candy pink sunset turn bright orange from my balcony.

Sunset at the Sonnenalp

I got up really early the next morning to take a walk before my tv live shots. As I up above the village, I realized how much I had missed exploring Vail with its plethora of outdoor adventure, culinary capers and unexpected free fun things to do. I can’t wait to return.

Author Jennifer Broome also shared blogs on the Sonnenalp, La Bottega and Piney River Ranch. Check out those for more information on each. For more stories in Colorado, head to the Explore Colorado section.

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