7 kid-friendly hikes near Vail, recommended by locals

Young girl enjoying the mountains in the Wilderness, Colorado
Seven gorgeous kid-friendly hikes in and around Vail, recommended by locals (Image credit: Cavan Images)

If you’re coming to Vail with kids this summer, you definitely want to get them outside exploring the Rockies as much as possible, but dragging your five-year-old up a 14er might be a recipe for disaster. Vail makes for an amazing family holiday, but many of the best hikes in Vail are challenging for active adults, never mind kids with short legs and sea level lungs, so we spoke to some Vail locals including parents and hikers to find out what are the best kid-friendly hikes in and around Vail.

For any hiking in Vail, it’s a good idea to set off in the morning after breakfast before it gets too hot and finish before any afternoon thunderstorms roll in. The trails are well-maintained, but you’ll want proper footwear – meaning hiking boots or shoes – for the entire family and make sure you load your backpack up with several water bottles to help cope with the dry air. 

Finally, Penny Hurd, who is a mother of a two-year-old and has vacationed in Vail several times, advises that if you're coming with young kids you forget about trying to reach a summit or complete a lengthy climb.

“With young toddlers, it's all about letting them explore and experience, not about the destination. So any trail that has some big rocks to see in the first 200 meters or so, or a bridge or any moving body of water to observe. Little kids don't care about scenery, they just want to touch rocks and explore.”

Keeping that in mind, here are seven kid-friendly hikes in and around Vail, recommended by locals.

Mother and Son hiking in Colorado

For any hiking in Vail, it’s a good idea to set off in the morning after breakfast before it gets too hot and before any afternoon thunderstorms roll in (Image credit: Steve Glass)

1. The Vail Trail 

Longtime Vail local, former hiking guide (and two-time Everest summiteer) Ellen Miller recommends the Vail Trail for any kids younger than teenagers. This trail is a little tricky to find, but once you do it's great for all ages. The Vail Trail traverses the mountainside for a rolling trail with some cool wooden bridges that lend it an Indiana Jones feel and lots of wildflowers.

Find the trail winding off to the left into the woods from the top of beginner skiers’ magic carpet at the bottom of the Golden Peak gondola. It runs for about 1.5 miles before spitting you out into the neighborhood next to the golf course, where you can follow Vail Valley Drive back to town, or walk back the way you came.

2. Son of Middle Creek

For older kids, Miller also recommends heading across I-70 for Son of Middle Creek Trail. Drive for four miles up Red Sandstone Road and take a right on Lost Lake Road to find the trailhead.

This trail winds through pretty forest with great views of Vail for four miles to reach Spraddle Creek Road, though it is used by mountain bikers for downhilling so keep your kids close by.

Family hiking in the Holy Cross Wilderness, Colorado

Vail makes for an amazing family holiday, but many of the best hikes in Vail are challenging for active adults (Image credit: Cavan Images)

3. Grouse Creek 

Also for older kids, Miller suggests heading to nearby Minturn and doing some of Grouse Creek Trail, which is one of our favorite spots for snowshoeing in Vail come winter. 

Just a little further down 24 from Meadow Mountain, Grouse Creek gets you quickly into deep forest. Park for free right off the road and pick up the trail. At the junction, you can go left towards Grouse Lake (4.5 miles in) or right to stay on the Grouse Creek Trail. This long trail climbs up the north ridge of Grouse Mountain past several alpine lakes but they are both many miles in, so just turn back when you are tired and head to the historic Minturn Saloon for lunch.

4. Cross Creek 

If you want to give your kids more of a taste of the wilderness, you don’t have to drive very far, with Miller’s suggestion of Cross Creek Trail in Holy Cross National Wilderness. From Minturn, drive just under five miles along Tigiwon road to find the trailhead.

The trail initially drops down toward the creek, making it an easy entry and after a mile of hiking through the forest there’s a river crossing to a pretty wildflower meadow and views of Mount of the Holy Cross (for the grown ups).  It is a nice introduction to wilderness for kids and an easy day hike for the whole family.


The trails in Vail are well-maintained, but you’ll want proper footwear (Image credit: Art Wolfe)

5. Shrine Pass

Vail local Katie Nottingham and her husband are avid rock climbers, and their three young kids have already hiked a 13er and done a multi pitch climb as a family, so it’s safe to say they’re on the adventurous side. That said, she suggested two beautiful hikes near Vail that really are kid-friendly with spectacular views for adults.

The first is Shrine Ridge Trail, one of the most popular hikes in the Sawatch Range. Beginning at well over 11,000ft in elevation you get all the gifts of a high alpine hike without much climbing at all.

Take exit 190 from I-70 and follow the sign to join Shrine Pass road. Follow the gravel road to the trailhead and begin walking towards Shrine Mountain Inn to join the trail to the left. Shrine Pass was originally a Ute Indian trail until it was taken over by silver miners. This hike ambles by two ponds and through alpine meadows with spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges, ending in Shrine Ridge which leads up to Shrine Mountain, named for its views of Mount of the Holy Cross.

6. Mayflower Gulch

Nottingham recommends Mayflower Gulch as another high altitude hike that doesn’t involve much climbing and has some amazing old mining ruins that are fascinating for little ones. 

This hike is actually near Frisco, so if you’re out that way hitting the outlet stores, bring your hiking boots. Park in the large parking lot next to the pond and head up a forested mellow road that opens up into a spectacular basin dotted with the ruins of the old Boston mine. 

Mayflower Gulch Ghost Town

Mayflower Gulch has some amazing old mining ruins that are fascinating for little ones. (Image credit: Carrie Thompson)

7. Grand Escape 

When she has friends and family in town with kids, Vail barista Johnny Marie likes to head up the gondola to hike across the top of Vail mountain, which offers tons of excitement for kids of all ages.

Ride the Gondola One up then hike across the Grand Escape (one of our top picks for trail running in Vail), a ridge top stroll taking in stunning views of the back bowls and Gore Range. Hike across to the top of the Eagle Bahn gondola where you’ll discover Adventure Ridge and enjoy tons of kid-friendly activities from the mountain coaster to the bungee trampoline, then take the Eagle Bahn gondola back down to the village.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.