Penny-pinchers can still live the good life in Eagle County |

Penny-pinchers can still live the good life in Eagle County

Kim Fuller
Daily Correspondent
There are many town parks and playgrounds in Vail that can make for great (free) afternoon adventures, including Pirateship Park at the base of Vail Mountain in Vail Village.
Daily file photo |

While there are a lot of amazing things to do here, playing in this mountain vacationland isn’t always as much of a pleasure for your pocketbook. Here are some ideas to keep your days fun and wallet full.

❱❱ Take a nature bath

Hiking is free, and there are miles and miles of trails to explore in and around Vail, and with the fall colors, now is a great time to get out there. If you hike up Vail Mountain (straight up on Berry Picker or meander around for a group game of disc golf), you can ride the gondola down for free, but this coming weekend, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., is your last chance for the season. Dogs are allowed to download on the gondola if you hike up, but need to be on a leash at all times. Visit mountain/summer-gondola.aspx for more.

The White River National Forest is 2.3 million acres of natural area with eight distinct wildernesses — one of which surrounds the valley. For detailed information on hiking in the area, stop into the Holy Cross Ranger District office, just off the Minturn exit, to purchase maps and discuss routes with rangers. For more, visit

Picking wildflowers isn’t really celebrated here (it’s actually illegal to pick the Colorado state flower, the columbine), so head to the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, just east of Vail Village, to enjoy the last of the blooms, take a walking tour or rest on a bench. Visit http://www.bettyfordalpine for more.

❱❱ Indulge your taste buds

The open-air markets in the valley are ideal for complimentary strolling. The final Vail Farmers’ Market & Art Show fills Meadow Drive in Vail Village on Sunday.

Every Friday evening from 4 to 6 p.m., West Vail Liquor Mart offers free tastings of its beer, wine and spirits of the month. Check out for the schedule.

❱❱ Once you have the gear

Some of the best free things to do in the mountains are only free once you have the gear. So until you can afford to invest in your life of recreation, borrow from another friend’s abundance.

The aforementioned Holy Cross Ranger District office is also a great place to get information on camping in the area — some free, some for small fees. For some great free (and very popular) camping spots, head up Red Sandstone Road in West Vail and go toward Piney Lake. As you approach the lake, after about 40 minutes of dirt-road, you will pass about 15 dispersed campsites on your right, along Piney River. See for a good overview of the area.

The Two Elk designated shooting area, known locally as the Minturn Gun Range, is open through November and has free entry if you bring your own firearm.

“Minturn Gun Range is pretty awesome because it’s free and you can shoot any type of gun and any type of ammo,” said Denver resident Miles Meese. He said he comes up to the range about four times a year. “At gun ranges in the city, you pay for a lane to shoot, and you can only shoot a certain gun and a certain ammo.”

The shooting area has four shooting lanes separated by buck and rail fence. There is a picnic table at each lane but no shooting stands, so you have to bring your own. The Forest Service nearly shut the range down a few years ago, as people were leaving a lot of blown up junk at the range — old computers, televisions, etc. Avon resident Mathew Bayley has worked with the Forest Service for eight years to do a volunteer monthly cleanup, and the town of Minturn donates a dumpster for debris. Visit main/whiteriver/home and look under “Recreation,” then “Other Activities.”

Head back over to Vail, and you can use the athletic fields for pick-up soccer, football, lacrosse and ultimate Frisbee games, or head to the skate park on the Lionshead parking structure, the sand volleyball courts near the athletic fields toward East Vail and free tennis courts to use at Golden Peak. See

Harry A. Nottingham Park in Avon has 48 acres of open space with recreational paths, tennis, basketball and sand volleyball courts for free use. Just bring your active wear, balls, rackets, rain gear and plenty of water. Visit for more.

It’s true, road and mountain biking are expensive sports to get in to, but once you have your wheels, you can check out all local rides for free. Head up Battle Mountain on your road bike from Minturn to Leadville this fall to see some great foliage or check out the new mountain-biking trails in Avon before the snow starts to fall. Visit home.aspx under “Things to Do.”

❱❱ Don’t miss these …

The Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame features exhibits, photographs, memorabilia and films that give guests a look back into the history of skiing. The museum is located in the Vail Village parking structure, which offers free parking until the mountain opens for ski season. A $2 donation is suggested for entry, and the museum offers free, guided tours every Tuesday. Visit for more.

Vail’s free 15-mile long riverside recreation path is perfect for walking, running, biking or roller skating along Gore Creek (be aware of traffic intersections), and it winds its way from the start of Dowd Junction in West Vail all the way through the village and to the base of Vail Pass in East Vail. There are lots of free town parks with playgrounds in the valley to stop at as well (some of them are along or right off the recreation path), including Ford Park, Pirateship Park, Donovan Park and Bighorn Park in Vail. Each park is different, and they are all perfect places to keep kids active and in close range. Visit http://www.colorado for more.

Local libraries are great places to hang your hat and read for free, especially as it gets colder outside or while you spend some time relaxing from recreation. There are libraries in Vail, Avon, Eagle and Gypsum.

September is Library Card Sign-up Month at the Vail Public Library, so go sign up for your free card.

Free kids story time is at the Vail Public Library every Tuesday and Wednesday — baby story time (ages 0 to 18 months) is Tuesdays from 10 to 11 a.m.; toddler story time (ages 18 to 30 months) is Wednesdays from 10 to 11 a.m.; and preschool story time (ages 2 to 5 years) is Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to noon.

“Our services, resources and programs are free, and we welcome all locals as well as visitors to come see all that we have to offer,” said Lori A. Barnes, Vail town librarian.

Evenings of Engagement has a new lineup of programs beginning in October. There are free events that take place every month at all the local libraries.

The free annual Build a Scarecrow event for kids ages 5 and older, accompanied an adult, takes place in the Vail Public Library community room Oct. 26.

“Here is an opportunity to put together a team and build a scarecrow to decorate the Vail Public Library,” according to the library website. Find out more about upcoming events at the libraries at http://www.avonpublic and

Support Local Journalism