When you are traveling to Colorado for a mountain getaway, two towns that are quite popular and are worth a visit are Breckenridge and Vail. These two fun ski towns are the ideal locations for families, couples, and those that are looking for a more upscale experience.
Neither ski town is as luxurious as neighboring Aspen, CO. However if you are looking for a summer or winter vacation in a location with a relaxed and friendly vibe, you cannot go wrong with Breckenridge or Vail.
When considering Breckenridge vs. Vail, there are some distinct differences that should be considered before making your travel plans. In this article, I will delve deeper into the differences between Breckenridge and Vail. However, here are a few to get us started.
First, if you are heading to Colorado in the winter and are not confident with driving in winter conditions, Breckenridge is a better option for you. Located just over an hour from Denver, you’ll travel on I-70 and will not have to maneuver any mountain passes. Traveling to Vail is a longer drive, and you must travel over Vail Pass, which can be difficult in the winter.
Vail on the other hand offers visitors a more luxurious travel experience. A step down from Aspen, Vail has high-end shopping opportunities, luxury hotels, and more upscale restaurants.
We do love that both communities offer charming villages. One difference between the towns is that the ski village for Breckenridge is the town. Visitors can pick up the chair lift from a parking lot just on the edge of the main street. Vail’s ski village is separate from the town so if you want to explore outside of the ski resort, you’ll have to catch a shuttle or drive.
A Quick Overview & Comparison: Breckenridge vs Vail
- Quaint small-town vibe
- Hit the slopes from the downtown area
- Plenty of affordable lodging options
- Great skiing for intermediate and beginning skiers
When planning your visit to Colorado for skiing or for summer activities Breckenridge is the spot for you if you are looking for a town that has everything you need in one place. Convenience is the name of the game in Breckenridge. The town is The Ski Village. There are multiple base areas at the ski resort most with ski-in lodging. Parking is easy in Breckenridge, with tons of free public spaces. Even the town shuttle is easy to ride and free.
Besides being all of the best skiing things in one place, “Breck” is great for summer activities as well. There are hundreds of hiking trails that are accessible from town or any of the lodges. One thing that you should be aware of if you are traveling in the summer, many of the restaurants and bars located in hotels may be closed, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the shuttle system and be prepared to eat downtown.
Downtown Breckenridge is full of boutique stores, breweries, distilleries, and some surprising restaurants offering an upscale dining experience.
- Legendary Vail ski bowls are great for experts
- Access Vail directly by plane
- Luxury shopping
- Variety of lodging options
There are two reasons that you may choose Vail. First Vail is one of the easiest Colorado ski towns to get to. If you are coming from Denver, Vail is just an easy 1.5 hour drive down Interstate-70. The town and ski resort are just a few minutes directly off of the highway so you don’t have to work too hard at finding directions.
Vail is also accessible by plane. Eagle-Pitkin County Regional Airport has daily flights from around the country, so if you want to skip the hustle of Denver, a flight to Vail is a possibility. From this airport, you’ll have about a 35-minute drive to Vail.
The other reason you should consider Vail is that it offers a more luxurious experience than some other ski resort towns in Colorado. Other than Aspen, you will not find a more upscale, luxurious experience than Vail. You’ll find plenty of high-end shopping, luxury brands, and fine dining in the ski village and in town. It is good to note that the ski village at Vail is separate from the actual town, so you will have two places to explore when you visit Vail.
Suggested Reading: Aspen vs Vail: An Honest Comparison
Breckenridge vs Vail: A Quick Guide to Choosing
If you are still not sure which of these two great Colorado towns to visit, I offer a quick guide to both communities. I hope that this information will allow you to further decide between Vail and Breckenridge.
Breckenridge Mini Guide
- Location Size – 047 square miles
- Population – 5,024
- Rainy Season – July
- High Season – December to April
- Top Sights – Breckenridge Ski Resort, Peak 8 Base Camp, Breckenridge Distillery, Breckenridge Nordic Center
- Major Airports – Eagle/Vail Regional Airport and Denver International Airport
Breckenridge is one of my favorite ski towns. It is hard to beat the availability of amazing amenities that are available in this town.
The ski resort is by far the dominant feature in Breckenridge. As you drive into town, a gondola lift across the road, shuttling skiers and boarders from downtown public parking onto the mountain. Breckenridge has 5 unique peaks that offer a variety of ski terrain. Peaks 6,7,8,and 9 offer terrain that is accessible for beginners to experts. Peak 10 is the only all-expert area of the mountain. All five peaks with their main lifts will also get you to the Breckenridge back bowls which are a playground for expert riders.
In the summer, the ski resort becomes a mecca for hikers and mountain bikers. The gondola runs year-round and you will see many people swap their skis for their bikes on the gondola. The summer offers a town that is highly walkable and just as busy as during the peak of ski season.
Breckenridge is ideal for families with a wide range of restaurants, lodging options, and activities.
Vail Mini Guide
- Location Size – 72 square miles
- Population – 4,735
- Rainy Season – March-April
- High Season – December to March
- Top Sights – Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, GoPro Mountain Games,10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company
- Major Airports – Eagle Regional Airport and Denver International Airport
Vail is the spot to visit if you are committed to skiing some of the best runs and bowls in the world. Frequently home to World Cup skiing, the Winter X-Games, and other extreme skiing and boarding events. The back bowls at Vail are legendary and should be on the bucket list of every expert skier.
Vail is also great if you are looking for a Colorado vacation that offers an experience that is more upscale but not pretentious. Vail offers plenty of upscale lodging, dining, and shopping opportunities, which is great if you are not interested in making the 4-hour drive to Aspen. What you’ll notice about Vail, is that despite the upscale options, the people and town have a much more relaxed feel than other high-end ski resort towns.
In the summer, if you like to golf, Vail Golf Club is another reason to visit. Other than golf, summer activities in the Vail Valley include white water rafting on the Colorado River, mountain biking, and hiking. Vail is also just a short drive from Palisade, CO where you can visit wineries and try locally-made wine.
The 8 Key Differences Between Breckenridge and Vail
Breckenridge and Vail are in many ways fairly similar Colorado mountain resorts. They both offer plenty of activities, great dining, family-friendly lodging, and some of the best skiing in the United States. However, there are some differences that may help you decide between visiting Breckenridge and Vail.
Which Is Better for Activities?
Both Breckenridge and Vail offer plenty of activities in both the winter and summer seasons. However, I love visiting Breckenridge because no matter the season, there is a ton of stuff to do. Obviously, the biggest attraction and obvious activity in Breckenridge is skiing and snowboarding. Breckenridge boasts one of the largest ski mountains in the state. When the snow is gone, the ski area turns into a favorite spot for hikers and mountain bikers.
If you aren’t into skiing or biking, Breckenridge offers a ton of other great activities. Kids love to visit the Stephen West Ice Arena for a bit of ice skating all year round. Or try your hand at a round of golf at the Breckenridge Golf Club.
Since Breckenridge was originally a mining town, there are plenty of activities that highlight this past. Try your hand at gold panning at one of the many local mines that share the colorful mining history of the area. If you like to learn more about the community while also having a unique experience, check out one of the local tours like the Breckenridge Ghostly tour or the Fat Bike Beer and Distillery tour.
While Breckenridge is the winner in the activity category, Vail isn’t lacking in great things to do. If your goal is great skiing, Vail offers some of the best runs, and legendary back bowls. Everyone from beginners to experts will find some excitement on Vail Mountain.
If you want something a little more unique, try a scavenger hunt. Many communities offer visitors scavenger hunts as a way to encourage tourists to see more of the town. Vail has a great scavenger hunt that is family-friendly and affordable. Another way to experience Vail is to head out on a segway tour through town. This guided tour will show you around Vail and the history of the community.
Which Is More Family Friendly?
With so many great activities, a huge ski area with a great ski school, and affordable lodging and dining, my pick for the better town for families is Breckenridge. Whether you are visiting in the winter or the summer, there are plenty of things for all ages to enjoy.
Breckenridge has one of the most popular ski schools in Colorado. If you are traveling to Colorado to give your children the opportunity to enjoy skiing and snowboarding, start them out at the Breckenridge Ski Mountain ski school. Here they will be taught the basics by some of the best instructors around.
Wintertime also offers fun, family experiences like the annual ice carving festival. This fun activity allows you to wander through some fanciful figures carved in giant blocks of ice. It is a great time for the whole family. Speaking of ice, in the evenings, hop on the Beaver Run Gondola to the top of the mountain and explore the ice castle. Every year the ski resort builds an ice castle at the top of Beaver Run Gondola for kids and kids at heart to enjoy.
Though not in Breckenridge, if you travel just a short distance to the town of Frisco, you can have a great day of snow tubing. Frisco has a great tubing hill and it is a fun time for everyone.
In the summer, Breckenridge offers just as many fun activities. Mountain biking is one of the most popular activities at the ski resort during the summer. The ski runs are crisscrossed with trails for both hiking and biking. If you are new to mountain biking, hit up some of the local bike shops for tips and beginner or family-friendly trails.
If you don’t love mountain biking, there are plenty of hiking trails that are family-friendly. You also may want to visit Isak Heartstone. This kid-friendly sculpture was a submission to the Breckenridge Summer Art Festival a number of years back. Isak Heartstone is a giant made of wood that sits comfortably at the end of a short trail. It is incredibly popular with kids and families.
Which Has Better Nightlife?
If a great nightlife is an important factor for selecting a Colorado mountain town, there is not much difference between Breckenridge and Vail. Honestly, they are fairly similar in their offerings. Both towns offer great restaurants, including upscale options. You can find wine and spirits tasting rooms and some great breweries in both towns. And both towns offer great spots in the winter and summer to enjoy live music and entertainment.
It is hard to pick one over the other. However, if I’m selecting based only on the nightlife opportunities, I prefer Vail. Vail’s lean towards more luxury options really takes the nightlife offerings up a notch. Yes, both communities have similar amenities. But, Vail’s bars, tasting rooms, and restaurants are just a little bit classier than what you will find in Breckenridge.
Which Is Cheaper?
Breckenridge is one of the most popular ski towns in Colorado because it has both luxury offerings, but most of the available lodging is really affordable. The other thing that is great about Breckenridge is that there are affordable chain hotels, but most lodging options are condos and vacation rentals. This means that for the same price as a hotel room in Vail, you can get a condo or house. For families, couples, or even a group of friends traveling together, this is really a great advantage.
Spots that I really like to stay at when visiting Breckenridge include condos at the Beaver Run Resort. And the Resort at Peak 8 is also a really great option. Beaver Run Resort is the most convenient of the many resorts in Breckenridge. If you stay here, you can walk from the resort to the ski village, Beaver Run gondola, and into downtown Breckenridge.
Vail actually has one of the most affordable, and comfortable resorts you’ll find in a ski town. During the ski season (high season for Colorado ski towns) Vail Racquet Club Mountain Resort is one of the most affordable spots for winter lodging. However, it fills up fast, so if you want to travel to Vail, plan ahead if you want a room here at a great price.
How Does the Food Compare? Or Which Is Better for Restaurants & Eating Out?
I think when it comes to eating out in Breckenridge and Vail, selecting one based on food and restaurants really depends on who you are feeding.
Vail is home to some of the best dining in Colorado and the United States. In fact, it is probably only second to Aspen. If you are looking for world-class, upscale restaurant options, Vail is really the place you want to stay. The local’s favorite for fine dining is Sweet Basil. This gourmet restaurant has been a staple of the Vail Valley since 1977. It is hard to question the quality of a restaurant that has been around and a community favorite for over 45 years.
Now, if you are looking for a spot where you don’t have to stress to find a great place for your family to dine, Breckenridge is your spot. The restaurant options in Breckenridge run the gamut. Breck offers amazing comfort food like burgers or pizza. You can also find great upscale options if you need an adult night out. I really enjoy Hearthstone Restaurant. This is one of the best restaurants in town, it is upscale, and housed in one of the oldest and most beautiful Victorian homes in town.
Which Is Easier to Get To?
Neither Breckenridge nor Vail is difficult to get to from Denver. However, if you are really considering simplicity and convenience, Vail is your pick. Vail is a straight shot from Denver International Airport. Hop on I-70 from the airport and in about 90 minutes you’ll be in Vail.
If you don’t want to drive, there are also plenty of shuttles from DIA that you can take from Denver to Vail. If you want to spend minimal time in the car, take advantage of the 14 daily flights to the Eagle County Regional Airport, on American Airlines. From this airport, Vail is just a short 35-minute drive.
Which Is Easier to Get Around Town?
Vail is really spread out across the valley. Sure, there is plenty to do in the ski village, but if you really want to have the full experience of this community, you will have to drive, take the local bus, or hire an Uber.
Breckenridge is one of the most accessible mountain towns in Colorado. There is a free shuttle that runs year-round between downtown and all of the resorts. If you don’t mind walking, most resorts are within walking distance of downtown and local activities. If you want to drive, there is plenty of free public parking. Or, hire an Uber or Lyft to take you from your hotel to downtown locations.
Which is Better for Summer Activities?
Breckenridge, I think, is the better spot for summer activities. Both Breckenridge and Vail offer similar summertime activities including golf, hiking, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting.
However, Breckenridge gives you access to water sports that you won’t find in Vail. Breckenridge is just a short drive from Dillon Reservoir. This large man-made reservoir is a great place to fish, boat, paddleboard, or just enjoy a lakeside picnic.
5 Questions to Help You Decided to Travel to Breckenridge or Vail
Is Breckenridge or Vail Better for Resorts?
While Vail offers plenty of luxury resort options, I like the variety of resort styles that you will find in Breckenridge. There are options that are great for families. There are also options for travelers that are looking for luxury resorts. Keep in mind that most of the resorts in Breckenridge offer condominium style rooms, which have full kitchens and living spaces. This may not be the ideal lodging style for everyone. If you want a room in a luxury resort, that is a traditional hotel style room, Vail is really where you want to plan your holiday.
When Should You Visit Breckenridge or Vail?
Both towns are mostly known for their ski mountains. So, naturally the best time to visit is between December and early April. This is considered the high season in both towns, so you will pay higher lodging rates. But if you want to ski or snowboard, this is the time to come.
If you aren’t really into skiing or boarding, the summer months between June and September are the warmest months and also offer the greatest number of activities. However, this is also a busy time for both towns, so you will find that lodging rates are a bit higher.
If you are looking for the most affordable time to travel to Breckenridge and Vail, check out the shoulder season. This is mid-April to late May and late September to early November. This time of year is called “mud season” because in the spring, you can still ski, but there’s lots of mud. And in the fall, you can hike, but look out for mud.
Mud season is a great time to visit either town. Lodging is more affordable. Crowds are smaller, and the weather is cool and crisp without too much snow or rain.
Is Breckenridge or Vail Better for Skiing?
While Vail is known for its legendary back bowls and expert skiing, I cannot think of a better resort to ski at than Breckenridge. Breckenridge has 5 unique peaks with terrain that is great for beginners to experts. The bowls at Breckenridge are just as good as those at Vail, but they are bigger and more extreme.
Breckenridge really gives you the feeling that you are at five different ski resorts with the variety of terrain that each peak offers. Depending on your skill level, you could ski one peak each day and have a completely unique experience each time. There is even an entire peak dedicated to advanced and expert riders. Peak 10 is where the hardcore skiers and riders spend their time when visiting Breckenridge.
Is Breckenridge or Vail Better for Christmas?
You really cannot find a better mountain town for Christmas than Breckenridge. Colorado locals travel to Breckenrige just to wander the quaint downtown area and enjoy the holiday decorations. You truly feel like you are wandering through a small European village with all of the festive decorations. Breckenridge has lots of holiday time activities and Christmas markets.
Breckenridge or Vail: Which Is the Better Choice?
Breckenridge and Vail are two fairly different mountain towns in Colorado. While both offer great skiing and snowboarding, and lots of outdoor recreation activities, this is where the similarities stop.
When I consider my favorite places in Colorado, Breckenridge is at the top of my list. Not only is Breckenridge a great place to ski and snowboard, but it is a fun town to hang out in as well. Breckenridge offers a bit of something for everyone. Families love the wealth of kid friendly opportunities. Grown-ups will love the outdoor recreation, upscale dining, breweries, and shopping.
Though Breckenridge is not as convenient to get to, from Denver, it is my pick for the better choice. When considering Breckenridge vs. Vail, Breckenridge is just the more versatile option for a wider variety of travelers.