10 Ways to Explore the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail, CO

On a recent visit to Vail, Colorado, we spent a wonderful morning at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and enjoyed our visit so much, we decided to devote a full post to the gardens. The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is considered the highest (8,200 feet above sea level!) botanical garden in the world. The word alpine means “above treeline” and the gardens are organized by regions, including the Eastern Himalayas, Patagonia, and Scottish Highlands. Vail’s higher evaluation and cool, dry climate make it possible to grow alpine plants from around the world. The complex, located inside the Ford Park, includes 19 gardens with well marked walking paths and plenty of signage to explain the name and origin of each plant, flowers, bush, and tree. Betty Ford, wife of US President Gerald Ford (who is the namesake of the adjacent amphitheater and park) “gave her name” to the center in 1988. Today, the gardens are one of the most popular attractions in Vail Valley and for good reason.

Travel Tips:

  • The gardens are open 24 hours a day with two entrances, one near the Education Center and one near the museum and gift shop side of Ford Park.
  • The Education Center is open year round from and museum and gift shop are open Memorial Day weekend through Labor day weekend 9:30am-4pm. There is also a second gift shop located in nearby Vail Village, open year round from 11am-7pm, closing at 5pm on Sundays.
  • There is no admission fee, but donations are encouraged.
  • Restrooms and water fountains are located in Education Center.
  • Themed tours of the gardens are given three times a week during summertime for a $10 per person fee- more information here. There are also tons of special programs like Yoga in the Gardens, Chefs in the Gardens, and special guest lectures. Read more about programs and events here.
  • Most of the gardens are handicap accessible; there are two sets of natural stone staircases. There are several benches throughout the garden to sit and enjoy the beauty of nature.
  • Free daytime parking is available in the Vail Village parking garage during the summer; it is less than a ½ mile walk alongside the Gore Stream. Another option during the summer is the Ford Park Parking Lot, but fees many apply during events in the park. Consider taking the free Vail bus- more information on routes here.
  • There are dozens of dining options in the nearby Vail Village- here is a good index.
  • Plan on one to two hours to fully explore the gardens, more time for a guided tour.

 10 Ways to Explore the Betty Ford Gardens 

  1. Start in the Education Visitor Center and check out the exhibits which explain the various regions of alpine plants. There are hands on activities for kids such as coloring stations, microscopes, and matching games.
  2. Walk through the warm alpine house indoor garden, featuring dozens on small plants, succulents, and cacti from around the world.
  3. Learn about how plants survive in various weather conditions by reading the many placards on display throughout the gardens.
  4. Notice the details of the recreated miniature wetlands and Aspens in the upper level gardens.
  5. Choose a favorite variety of plant of flower spread throughout the 18 acres of gardens.

6. Ignite all 5 senses throughout the sensory garden in the Children’s Garden section.

7. Read about the original schoolhouse (now home to a small museum and gardens gift shop), built in 1922 in West Vail and used for over 15 years for grades kindergarten through grade 8. Because of the extreme winter conditions, the school year ran from late spring through December. The schoolhouse was later used as a shepherd’s cottage and ski cabin until it was moved to its current location as part of the gardens.

8. Play pretend at Betty’s Market, a replicated miniature market.

9. Skip over the rock path in the stream and explore the Children’s Garden. Check here for daily activities and weekly events.

10. Check out the adjacent Ford Park, which includes athletic fields, two playgrounds (toddler and larger), half-court basketball court and four square court, swings, and several picnic tables.

For more fun throughout the Vail area, check out our Vail City Guide. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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  1. It looks beautiful there! We’re going to Colorado next spring for a wedding, and I think we’re going to make a trip out of it. 😊

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