Introduction and Background
With no international trips to report, and Philly and I rarely venturing beyond our local Kroger and Tom Thumb grocery stores, it was quite an adventure for us to travel to Colorado last week. We took a road trip, our first long driving experience in several years, and the farthest we’d ever road tripped together. We thought we’d publish a mini trip report, to share some observations about travel and a father-daughter getaway to Vail.
Our trip was motivated by two wonderful life events. One was the recent arrival of the first-ever Middle Age Miles grandchild, Sophia Gabrielle. Sophia lives with her parents, Middle Age Miles son & daughter-in-law, Zack & Erin, in the suburbs of Denver. The other was to celebrate, as best we could under virus restrictions, Middle Age Miles daughter KB finishing her college degree. True to her family roots, KB earned a degree in Hospitality with emphasis in Hotel Management. Not the best timing for that, but we it’s yet another reason that we have our fingers crossed that travel will rebound soon. KB also passed her Certification in Hotel Industry Analytics (CHIA) exam on her first try, which was yet another achievement worthy of celebration.
We decided to do a road trip rather than fly, to try to minimize our potential virus exposure, especially as we’d be visiting a one-month old little girl carrying precious few immunities.
From Dallas to Denver, it’s almost exactly 800 miles. Google Maps says that it’ll take about 12 hours driving time with light traffic. Each way took us between 12.5 and 13 hours, including fairly minimal stops for eats, gas and restrooms. We did one long driving day in each direction, so we didn’t have any hotel stops along our route.
Our route took us northwest in Texas through Wichita Falls and Amarillo, through the northeast corner of New Mexico until we connected with I-25 in Raton, NM, then north into Colorado, through Pueblo and Colorado Springs before arriving in Denver.
We made a point to appreciate the scenery along the way – the vast plains of northwest of Texas along with its interesting hills and canyons, Capulin Volcano and its surrounding area in northeast New Mexico, and the Rockies to our west as we drove up through Colorado. I enjoyed crossing over the Arkansas River in Pueblo, as I grew up in its valley many miles downstream in western Arkansas. And we both had fun spotting the Air Force Academy and Falcon Stadium northwest of Colorado Springs.
We were surprised at how many restaurants remained closed to indoor guests. Almost all were open for drive-through, but there were many where you couldn’t go inside. This presented an unexpected challenge for using the restroom. (I’m sure Philly isn’t the only person who prefers to avoid convenience store/truck stop-type restrooms if possible.) At one point, we exited to a long strip of restaurants in Pueblo and not a single one was open to come indoors. We managed to survive by slipping into the lobby of a couple of hotels along the way, along with finding a few restaurants where you could at least enter to use the restroom, even if indoor dining was closed.
Along the drive, we listened to hours of podcasts. Of course, we didn’t use the time to educate ourselves, but rather to get the inside scoop from cast and commentators about some of our favorite reality TV shows, like Survivor and Big Brother. Oh well …
The Trip to Vail
On the last 2 days of our Colorado visit, KB and I drove 2 hours west on I-70 into the Rockies to visit Vail. We placed the Vail getaway at the end of our trip so that KB and I wouldn’t be close to Sophia after being exposed to more of the world during our trip.
Somewhat surprisingly, I had never visited Vail before. I really enjoyed it. The town is very pretty, reminding me a bit of a couple of European mountain towns we’ve visited, Zermatt, Switzerland, and Chamonix, France. I didn’t realize that the ski slopes were so close and that the lifts are right in town – how incredibly convenient if you’re skiing!
We ate at 3 restaurants in Vail Village, and all 3 were really good:
- Lunch on the patio at La Bottega – it had a limited lunch menu, but our sandwiches were generous and very tasty
- Pizza dinner on the patio at Vendetta’s – highly recommended; excellent pizza with one of the best, crispiest crusts I’ve ever tasted
- Indoor Mexican dinner at El Segundo – we were lured in by the $7 margarita sign, but we ended up ordering top-shelf margaritas that were outstanding; queso and specialty tacos were also very good (this was my first sit-down restaurant meal in several months, and it was nice – the room was appropriately distanced; staff wore masks and were sensitive to Covid concerns)
As many readers may know, there are 2 “villages” in central Vail – Vail Village and Lionshead Village. While we were there, Vail Village was active (including at night) but not at all crowded. Lionshead Village was a virtual ghost town, with most businesses closed and the few open restaurants closing very early.
We found it quite a nice touch that parking was free at the major city-run parking garages in Vail Village and Lionshead Village. Both garages are also conveniently-located, which we appreciated. There’s also a private parking garage in Vail Village run by Solaris, which requires payment (and it’s expensive). But there’s really no need to pay to park there; it’s really no more convenient than the free city garage that’s about 2-3 blocks away.
We stayed for 2 nights at the Highline DoubleTree in West Vail (about 2-3 miles west of central Vail/Vail Village). We’ll post a separate article about our hotel experience there. There are plenty of high-end hotel options in Vail, including a Four Seasons, Grand Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton. Those hotels weren’t open while we visited, and we wouldn’t have chosen them anyway, given that the luxury experience wouldn’t be the same in light of virus-related restrictions.
Our Hikes Around Vail
KB and I spent our days hiking around Vail. On the afternoon we arrived, after a late lunch we did a short-and-steep hike the East Vail Falls Trail. And on our second day, we hiked the popular and excellent Booth Falls Trail to Booth Creek Falls.
East Vail Falls Trail
We hiked only part of the East Vail Falls Trail, but it was a doozy. We went no more than a half-mile in, but our adventure included a challenging creek crossing, a fair bit of scrambling, and a section of climb of about 75 feet where there’s a rope along the trail that you’ll need to use to haul yourself up, and then semi-rappel yourself back down. The falls themselves, though, were worth the effort, cascading down the side of the mountain fueled by plenty of June snowmelt.
If you go, prepare to get dirty, maybe even a little muddy. It’s a tough hike/climb – not impossible, but not for the weak or faint of heart for sure. We had the trail almost to ourselves while we were there. We saw 2 people on our way up, but they bailed out and the creek crossing and headed back down. Then we saw 3 young guys who were just entering the trail as we were exiting. It was very nice to have the place to ourselves, to enjoy at our leisure with no human noise besides our own (which mostly consisted of me panting for breath!).
The parking lot for the East Vail Falls Trail is near the East Vail exit off of I-70, on the south side of the interstate. Use Google Maps to find the trailhead, which is a short quarter-mile walk and well-marked. Then head uphill! Vail’s elevation is 8,150 feet, so you’ll be breathing hard before long if you live at <1,000 feet like we do!
I’m pretty certain that we didn’t complete the entire trail. We reached a point where the waterfall went higher but it wasn’t clear to us exactly where to go to continue ascending. More adventurous hikers can let us know how it would be if we had continued to the top of the trail. From reading reviews after our visit, it seems like there were even more rope-assisted climbs ahead if we had continued.
Booth Falls Trail
On Day 2 of our trip, we had a full day to hike. After a hearty breakfast, we headed out to Booth Falls Trail, which had been highly recommended by the locals.
They were right – this was an absolutely excellent hike. It’s very popular, so you won’t have the trail to yourselves. It’s moderately challenging and you’ll probably stop and rest a few times on your way up, but many people will be able to do it. We saw people from ages of about 8 to about 65 on the trail. The scenery is great, the length of the hike is good (a little over 4 miles total out to the falls and back; we took about 3.5 hours but really took our time, including a long time enjoying the falls at the top), and the reward at the top of the trail to see the falls is worth it.
In total, you’ll ascend about 1,400 feet on the Booth Falls Trail to the falls, which makes for a good workout. You’ll top out at almost 10,000 feet at the falls. There are 2 creek crossings, but they aren’t particularly difficult. The trail actually continues past the falls up to Booth Lake, but that would make for quite a long day as the lake is another 2.4 miles past the falls. This would turn the hike into about 9 miles total, which would make for a very long and active day.
To get to the Booth Falls Trail – from the East Vail exit, get on the North Frontage road, go west for about a half mile, and turn right where the sign indicates. There’s a small parking lot at the top of the road near the trailhead. This lot fills up very early in the morning, and it was full when we arrived around 10:00 am on a weekday. Back down the road, there’s overflow parking at Vail Mountain School. If you park in overflow, you’ll have an uphill walk of more than a quarter-mile just to reach the trailhead!
To reiterate and summarize – Excellent hike, highly trafficked but also highly recommended for a great day outdoors with terrific views of the falls and surrounding mountains.
Our drive to Colorado and the getaway that KB and I made to Vail were quite different than our ordinary travels, but they were really nice. It certainly was good to get out of our neighborhood and back out into the world. And to do so in this beautiful mountain area was a real treat.
We’ve had several friends recommend visiting the mountains of Colorado during the summer, and we certainly see why. Even with many activities closed and limited for virus reasons, we had a very good time with some excellent outdoor activities. And spending quality time with family was the most precious gift of all.
Where are you heading this summer for outdoor activities that are reasonably “safe” under the circumstances? And if you’ve been to Vail, what else would you recommend? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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