Ah, summer! Long warm days and life at a slower pace; doesn’t it sound great?
It does, until the days get hot and the kids get bored. Rather than getting grouchy or obsessively counting the days until school begin, get out of the city and head for the mountains.
Free Summer Fun
Many ski resorts offer summer activities, including chairlift served downhill biking, hiking, adventure rides like zip lines, alpine slides or coasters and more, making summertime almost as fun as winter at most destinations.
And in addition to attractions that cost money for lift tickets or admission, resorts offer plenty of active, free fun.
Here are some suggestions at resorts near four cities. If your city didn’t make the list, check your favorite resort’s website to see what’s available.
Take the 2.7 mile Sandia Peak Tramway from the Albuquerque foothills to the summit or drive up the backside of 10,679’ Sandia Peak. Enjoy mountain biking and hiking on forest service trails before refreshing and refueling at the resort’s new restaurant with 360° views.
For mountain bikers, the consensus choice is the 9.3 mile Winsor Trail. The trailhead is near the Ski Santa Fe parking lot. The trail starts steep and technical, before settling into a more intermediate pace. MTB Project rates it the #1 mountain bike trail in New Mexico.
Wheeler Peak above Taos Ski Valley is the tallest peak in New Mexico. The 4.1 mile trail to the top begins about two miles past the ski area parking lot. For families interested in history and culture, Taos Pueblo and the Taos town plaza are musts.
North of Taos, check out the historic mining town of Red River. Red River Ski Area has a free summer concert series, as well as lift-served hiking, biking, mountain tubing and an aerial park. While you’ll either have to hoof it uphill or spring for the lift pass, a good way to learn more about the area’s history and geology are scheduled Walks With a Ranger at the top of the mountain.
If hiking is your family’s jam, Vermont ski resorts have a lot of options. While known for its downhill bike park, Mount Snow has free hiking within the resort and is close to six Vermont state parks.
The Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail pass over both the summit of Bromley Mountain and Stratton Mountain, Vermont’s highest peak. In addition to hiking, Bromley has free family activities most summer weekends as well as attractions galore at the Mountain Adventure Park. Additional summer experiences at Stratton include yoga and wellness meetups and stand up paddle boarding.
In neighboring New Hampshire, dog-friendly Gunstock Mountain Resort features hiking on three mountains. Trails range from an accessible wetlands boardwalk to 2-3 hour expeditions into the surrounding forest. Fifty km of cross-country mountain bike trail calls to biking families and dogs are welcome to hike, bike and swim at Gunstock.
With the San Bernardino mountains just two hours away, summer in LA can be as much mountain as beach.
Neighboring resorts Big Bear Mountain Resort and Snow Summit have summer escapes dialed in with golf, adventure rides, hiking and biking.
The one-mile scenic chairlift ride requires tickets, but each paying adult can get two free tickets for kids under 12, and 20% off the adult ticket if purchased 72 hours in advance.
The easiest hiking trail for families is the one-mile mountain loop trail, while the Log Chute trail back to the base (1.5 miles) is more challenging. From the top of the lift ambitious hikers can explore the surrounding national forest on longer trails.
Bikers are all about the Snow Summit Bike Park with gravity-fed downhill and cross-country trails. Buy a summer season bike park pass and get unlimited access to both the Snow Summit and Mammoth Mountain bike parks.
If you spend the night at Big Bear, don’t miss free, family-friendly Movies in the Meadow on select Saturdays beginning in July.
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City is nearly in the mountains, making it easy to get out for a day or an evening after work.
Deer Valley Resort has a wealth of hiking and biking, combining the region’s mining history with the beautiful Wasatch landscape. Ride the lift up, and pay for the privilege. But if you’re willing to hike to the top, the payoffs include big views and a free chairlift ride down. On summer evenings, look for the resort’s free Grand Valley Bank Community Concert Series at Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheatre.
Also in Park City, visit the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, a 1,200 acre nature preserve operated by Utah State University. Admission is free, although a $5 donation is suggested.
Hop the mountains to Big Cottonwood Canyon and you’ll find Solitude Mountain Resort, with biking, hiking and free disc golf. The deal is pretty much the same — hike uphill to play disc golf and it’s free. Take the lift and you’ll need to purchase a pass. However, lift access for hiking, biking and disc golf is free for 18/19 and 19/20 Solitude Season Pass holders and Ikon Pass holders.