We were among the gaggle of parents, kids, grandparents and dogs decked out in our patriotic best, milling around on the pedestrian path in Vail, Colorado, waiting for the traditional Vail America Days Fourth of July parade to begin.
“Half the people in town march in it, and the other half watch,” laughed Ellen Grady, who has vacationed here with her three kids for more than a decade.
There were kids marching while playing the drums, cheerleaders, gymnasts, hockey players -- puppies being trained to be companions for those with challenges, firemen and the local bookmobile in a decorated school bus. I especially loved the Precision Lawn Chair Demonstration team. And like most small-town parades, there were veterans in vintage cars, dogs wearing colorful red-white-and-blue bandanas, locals on skates and bikes and horseback, all throwing out candy to the waiting kids.
Kids who are veterans of this parade have brought bags for the candy and sunglasses tossed by marchers.
The lemonade stand located along the pedestrian path of the parade is being run as a benefit for a local nonprofit at the Four Seasons Resort Vailwhere we’re spending the weekend. The resort is about halfway between Vail Village and Gore Creek where the kids love to splash and where there are a lot of restaurants. In the other direction, Lionshead Village offers a gondola to the top of the mountain.
Later at the Four Seasons, there would be a free kids’ carnival for guests, and a short walk away a rousing, free patriotic concert at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater where there are free concerts all summer long.
“I feel like Vail is a hidden gem in the summer and especially around the Fourth,” said Andrea Grohman, who counts herself lucky to live here. “There is just so much to do.”
These days across ski country you’ll find not only plenty of old-fashioned celebrations for Independence Day but also a growing number of mountaintop and mountainside activities -- everything from zip lines and Alpine coasters to adventure courses and guided hikes. The best part -- lodging is considerably cheaper in summer (as much as 30 percent off at the Four Seasons, for example; more than half off winter peak prices in Snowmass, Colorado, and Park City, Utah) and there are plenty of free activities -- hiking amid the wildflowers, biking on rail trails, cooling off in creeks and concerts.
In Aspen, Boogies Buddy Race on July 4, now in its 32nd year, offers everything from a five-mile race to a one-mile family and canine run/walk, attracting more than 1,000 participants, half of them tourists. Hundreds of others watch and cheer.
Aspen has an Old-Fashioned July 4th Parade and Community Picnic and “America’s Birthday Carnival” that offers carnival games, bounce houses and face-painting. And everyone turns out for the Aspen Music Festival & School’s Free Fourth of July concert.
Just down the road from Aspen, Snowmass offers free concerts (every Thursday night), mountain-biking on more than 80 trails and the weekly Snowmass Rodeo, which is celebrating its 45th year. Check out the new on-mountain Lost Forest, complete with Alpine coaster, climbing walls and zip lines. Join an Aspen Center for Environmental Studies naturalist for a guided hike.
And in Park City, Utah, Park City Mountain will host a celebration and fireworks show on July 3 at Canyons Village and another July 4 celebration and city fireworks show at Park City Mountain Village. All summer visitors and locals enjoy free concerts, Utah’s longest Alpine coaster, a 3,000-foot Alpine slide, the ZipRider and Flying Eagle Zip Line, scenic lift rides, hiking, mountain-biking, mini golf, climbing wall, gem panning, a kids’ ropes course, tubing and more. (Park City Mountain’s all-in-one Adventure Pass is one of the best ways to experience it all in a day.)
The thing about Vail and other snow resorts in summer is that some activities are pricey (the zip line, for example) but others are free. Bring a picnic to save more money, suggests Renee Hamilton, in Vail with friends and a bunch of kids. “It’s so safe for the kids here,” she added. And for those too young for their own phones, bring walkie talkies so the kids can race around on their own, but with parents keeping tabs on them.
If you want to do the Game Creek Zipline Tour -- complete with seven zip lines and aerial bridges high above the forest -- the Adventure Pass may be your best bet to enjoy all that Vail Mountain has to offer on the mountaintop -- Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster, Holy Cross Adventure Course, Gore Range Adventure Course, Pine Cone Adventure Course, Golden Eagle Zipline, Little Eagle Zipline, Eagle’s Nest Tubing, Marmot Mini Tubing, and more. Buy three passes and get the fourth one free ($99 for adults).
(This summer, one kid (12 and under) rides the gondola to the top of the mountain free with an adult; download the free Vail app with everything from parking updates to interactive maps, events and activities.)
Also check out the Vail Daily, suggests Nate Goldberg, who has lived here for 27 years, and has worked for the resort. His kids love to ride bikes, splash in Gore Creek and, of course, watch the parade.
Just make sure you are prepared for the mountains -- the right shoes (no sandals at the top of the mountain!) extra layers of clothes, a rain jacket, hat and sunscreen.
Be prepared for crowds, too, especially on a holiday weekend.
The good news is no one seems bothered by the crowds, tiny in comparison to a big-city celebration.
Have a happy Fourth!
(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow “taking the kids” on www.twitter.com, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. Looks for Eileen’s new travel book “The Kids’ Guide to Maine,” available now.)
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