With its epic scenery, world-class skiing, diverse food and shopping, and upscale accommodations, Vail, Colorado is a popular town in both winter and summer. As tourists flock to the Rocky Mountain mecca, the town can quickly feel overcrowded and expensive. Drive a bit farther west on Interstate 70, however, and you’ll find the small town of Edwards. It’s a true locals’ town with a vibrant, yet laid-back vibe with plenty to offer year-round without the large crowds.
Here are the top three reasons to choose Edwards over Vail for your next trip to Colorado.
1. It’s a Year-Round Destination
With a population just under 10,000 people, Edwards is a small mountain town 15 minutes west of Vail. Unlike typical Colorado tourist towns like Vail, Breckenridge, and Steamboat Springs that empty out in the off seasons (typically April to May and September to November), Edwards is a year-round destination that keeps its doors open when tourist towns are closed.
Many mountain employees live in Edwards due to its lower cost of living compared to the more popular and touristy mountain towns. This creates a true community feel and allows more choices for visitors any time of the year. Edwards appeals to visitors who like good food, epic activities, and a locals’ feel without breaking the bank.
2. Edwards Has a Great Food Scene
One of the main draws of Vail is its diverse food scene. It has everything from après-bar food to upscale date night, plus mouthwatering pizza and traditional mountain fondue. As recently as late 2023, Vail features five restaurants recommended by the Michelin Guide. While Edwards may not have that high distinction, the food choices there are vast.
Hands down, Etown Colorado has the best happy hour in town. For starters, happy hour is every day from 3:30 until 5:30 PM across the entire restaurant and dog-friendly patio. The portions are big and the cocktails are delicious. Favorites include the warm pretzel, cheese curds, and blackened salmon Caesar salad. Wine, beer, and well drinks are also included in the happy hour. Outside of happy hour, Etown has plenty of televisions for watching sports, a fire pit on the patio, and live music.
In the mood for seafood? Try the Gashouse Restaurant. Housed in an unassuming log cabin, the Gashouse manages to serve fresh seafood dishes that you wouldn’t expect in a land-locked state. Nosh on fresh mussels, lobster tail, or crab cakes surrounded by big game mounted on the walls. Or try something new, like the spicy jackalope, wild boar, grilled quail, or the ever-popular Rocky Mountain oysters (if you don’t know what these are, you better ask before ordering).
Fuel up with a hearty breakfast at the Smiling Moose Rocky Mountain Deli before a day of hiking or skiing. The Edwards deli was the first to open in the beloved Colorado chain and specializes in breakfast and lunch. The breakfast burritos are jam packed with eggs, potatoes, chicken, cheese, and vegetables and are hard to finish. The breakfast sandwiches come on fresh bagels stacked high with eggs, breakfast meat, and cheese. For lunch, the hot and cold subs are bigger than your mouth. There are only a handful of these delis in the state, so eat here while you can.
3. You’ll Love Edwards’ Proximity to Tourist Attractions
A main reason Edwards is an excellent alternative to Vail is its proximity to year-round attractions. Look in any direction and you will find skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, and biking, plus spas and beautiful drives. Edwards itself has a variety of trails, ranging from easy to difficult. Skiing and snowboarding is within a 15-minute drive, making the town an affordable home base for your trip to the Vail Valley.
The Riverwalk Hike and Bike Trail begins in Edwards and follows the Eagle River into Avon, Colorado. It’s paved, pet friendly, and has small elevation changes, making it an easier walk or bike ride. If you prefer more of a nature walk, head to the Miller Ranch Open Space. The trail also runs along the river, but it’s not paved. However, it is well maintained and rated easy.
For pet lovers, there is a large dog park in town: Freedom Park. It has a small lake perfect for your pooch to cool off on hot summer days, a beach, and a large grassy area fit for long fetch sessions. For humans, next to the dog park is a playground, skate park, splash pad, and soccer fields.
Day Trip to Vail
Vail is an easy five-minute drive from Edwards, making it an easy day trip or evening outing. There are plenty of parking options in both the main Vail Village and the nearby Lionshead Village, Gold Peak, and Cascade Village. Be sure to arrive early on busy winter days as parking does fill up.
One downside of driving into Vail instead of staying there is that parking will cost you up to $40 a day during peak times. There is good news, though; if you can wait to go into the village, parking is free after 3 PM. Or you can take the free public bus from any of the numerous Edwards bus stops into Vail.
Vail is spectacular, but don’t overlook another mountain resort that’s even closer to Edwards: Beaver Creek. Just a five-minute drive from Edwards via a side road (no need to drive on the interstate), Beaver Creek has more than 2,000 skiable acres in the winter and a mountain-full of hiking and mountain biking trails in the summer. Arguably the best part about Beaver Creek is its tasty apres-ski tradition: fresh cookies. Chefs walk around the resort handing out fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. They’re so good, you’ll often see skiers and boarders running in their boots to grab one (or five). There is a fee to park in Beaver Creek, but, like Vail, the public bus will take you there for free from Edwards.
Less than an hour away from Edwards is Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Known for its plethora of natural hot springs, the town aims to rejuvenate your body and spirit. From Edwards, just hop on Interstate 70 and head west; when you exit the tunnel, you’re there. The Glenwood Hot Springs Resort is the first pool you’ll see coming out of the tunnel, and it is by far the busiest spot in town. This is a great place for families, but if you want a more intimate spot, head to the relatively new Iron Mountain Hot Springs. It has smaller pools with varying temperatures and two dining options.
With so much to do and see, any trip to the Vail Valley will be spectacular and memorable. Staying in Edwards is an alternative worth checking out, because it still gives you easy access to all the area has to offer, but possibly at a more affordable price tag.