Vail Mountain (11,250’) is visited year around by skiers in winter and hikers in summer. My description of this hike is for summer/fall use when the hike from the trailhead in Lionshead Village involves hiking about 5.1 miles (one way) and gaining about 3,150’ from the bridge next to the base station of the Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lionshead Village at Vail to the nominal summit at the top of the Mountaintop Express chairlift. There is a nice lunch platform near the top. The views of the Vail valley are great with numerous Gore Range peaks lining up on the north side of the valley. To your SW is one of the famous Colorado 14ers, Mt of the Holy Cross, in the near distance. In the winter, skiers can tag this summit riding various chairlifts, but miss out on the exercise and satisfaction of climbing Vail Mountain under your own power. Technically, one could hike an additional 4.5 miles east along the gradually undulating ridgeline and tag the USGS benchmark which is several hundred feet higher, but for purposes of this hike, I have accepted the Vail summit as claimed by the ski resort.
Make your plans to visit Vail and either fly in to one of the surrounding airports that offers you the best fare or put on your road trip mode and hit the highways as I did from Las Vegas. (Denver is about 100 miles from Vail)
Interstate 70 goes right through Vail and there are a few exits…the closest is probably exit 176 and you need to get on the south side service road heading west to get to Lionshead area of Vail. There is a free parking garage on your left when you get there (during the summer, at least). From the garage, walk SSW a couple of blocks to the base Gondola station which is the start of the Berry Picker trail that climbs up to the top of the Gondola run at Adventure Ridge (10,350’).
There is no problem hiking the well marked trails on Vail Mountain. See the summer trailmap
Eagle Bahn base station
Start at the Eagle Bahn Gondola base station in Lionshead and cross the bridge over Gore creek to reach the beginning of the well marked Berry Picker trail. This trail covers about 3.2 miles up to the top of the Gondola at Eagles Nest(10,350') where you can relax and enjoy food and beverages along with the views. From Eagles Nest, continue SE heading up the Ridge Route toward Wildwood (10,981’). There are various options for this including a service road that runs parallel to the Ridge Route.
picnic lunch platform near summit
Just below this point, take the service road E down into the small saddle between Wildwood and the summit which section contains signs naming it Kloser’s Klimb…it is a road sometimes used by mountain bikers as well as service vehicles. The hike from the Eagles Nest to the top is about 1.9 miles one way. At the top you will also find the top of the Mountaintop Express chairlift as pictured above(11,250’).
summit view south
From here you can reverse your ascent route back to the top of the Gondola at Eagles Nest and either hike back down or enjoy a free (in 2011) ride back to the base on the gondola. In September, 2011, it was also possible to ride up on the gondola after 4 pm for $15 which included a $10 credit for food at top (about the price of a bbq sandwich and side dish) if you wanted to do the climb in less than 1,000’ of elevation gain. This special was available on site for customers without advance reservations. See external links for official information.
In the winter you can visit the summit by chairlift upon exiting the Mountaintop Express chairlift that starts midway up the mountain at Mid-Vail which can be reached using the Vista Bahn Express from Vail Village as well as riding the Riva Bahn Express/Northwood Express combination from Vail Village.