Tess Johnson's Vail Valley Gems

Tess Johnson is The Inn at Riverwalk's resident athlete and a professional mogul skier on the U.S. ski team. As someone who grew up in Edwards, she's sharing the best locally owned shops and restaurants, hiking spots, and more!

I grew up in Edwards, Colorado and so many of my childhood memories are rooted in the hidden gems that Edwards and the Vail Valley have to offer. Whether it was going to Marko’s with my family for a post-soccer practice ravioli, or watching the pastel colored sunset from Homestead’s open space trails, I’ve had the best times in these 5 spots that make up Edwards’ hidden gems. 

  1. Marko’s - This family-run Italian restaurant right across the street from The Inn at Riverwalk was my family’s all time favorite place to eat out. When my siblings and I were really little, we could play all night amongst the rocks and trees on the patio, and our waiter would bring pizza dough for us to sculpt into whatever our imaginations pleased. The ravioli was my go-to, but anything on the menu left me grinning from ear to ear, especially the brownie surprise that we could share with five spoons. If you’re not up for Italian, Fiestas (the Mexican restaurant right next door) is just as incredible, and The Gashouse (just up the street) serves deliciously hearty meals and opened before Vail was even established!

  2. Edwards Corner Farmers Market - Every Saturday we weren’t running around the soccer fields at Freedom Park, we would go to the Edwards Corner Farmers Market. It was at this market that I learned just how delicious a peach can be. The fresh, juicy selection of produce is unbeatable, and it’s the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning with friends and family. After you hit all the tents, make sure to get brunch or a pastry at Hovey and Harrison! This restaurant/cafe/bakery with farm fresh produce is the best of its kind in the entire Vail Valley. The vibes are friendly and trendy, and their monkey bread is to die for. 

  3. Homestead Hiking Trails - This is my personal favorite spot to hike in Edwards. I lived in Homestead until I was 17 in a house that my parents built together, so while I may be biased, I think you’d agree it’s unbeatable. The upper trail loop beyond the Homestead water tower gives a gorgeous down-valley view, and just about any trail in the open space gives a picturesque scene of the sunset. To this day, these trails are still my favorite place to watch a sunset! The Eagle River Preserve, East Lake Creek Trail to Big Lake, and the Miller Ranch Open Space hike along the Eagle River are also great hikes in Edwards. 

  4. Valley Girl, The Bookworm, Ptarmigan Sports - Growing up I never understood all the hype about Target or H&M because I had so many great local shops in Riverwalk. My favorite boutique is tied between Valley Girl (Riverwalk) and Wild Heart (next to Hovey and Harrison) with the cutest, affordable mountain chic pieces. Ptarmigan Sports is our go-to for Christmas shopping with everything you’d ever need for camping, hiking, and skiing. And the Bookworm is our quintessential independent bookstore with delicious lattes, smoothies and crepes - this is my favorite spot both to catch up with a friend or get some work done on my computer. Lacey’s, The Kind, and The Wildflower Farm are awesome shops too; you just can’t go wrong with shopping in Riverwalk!

  5. Mountain Biking and Fly Fishing - Berry Creek trail is a must for mountain biking in Edwards with an epic, mildly technical downhill! I’ve gotten into mountain biking the past few years and Berry Creek is one of my and my brother’s favorites. This ride is extra fun with a buddy or two because the uphill is a road. Fly fishing is another hobby I’ve recently picked up, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone as a way to peacefully enjoy the mountains. The Eagle River along the Miller Ranch Open Space trail is a popular spot in Edwards. 

While I’ve spent so much of my life in Edwards, I live in West Vail now and have been exposed to a few more Vail Valley gems that I’d be remiss if I didn’t share!

  1. Colorado Ski Museum - The newly renovated Colorado Ski Museum located just above the Vail Village parking garage is a must-see! The exhibits are interactive, educational and just so cool. Every time I stop in I learn something new. Fun fact: my Ralph Lauren 2018 Olympic opening ceremony jacket and gloves are on display there right next to some of Mikaela Shiffrin’s things! The gift shop is adorable with so many unique items and artwork for sale. If you are in the Vail Valley, you absolutely have to go to the Colorado Ski Museum. 

  2. Rocky Mountain Taco - Located in the town of Minturn (a hidden gem in and of itself), this restaurant is my current favorite taco spot in the world. The employees are really friendly, and each weekday has its own special taco. My favorites are their fish tacos and Korean BBQ, but any meal on their menu makes my mouth water just thinking about it. While this location in Minturn is an actual restaurant with a great patio and mountain view, they also have a food truck in Eagle Vail! If you’re in Minturn, definitely make time for Rocky Mountain Taco.

  3. North Trail (Hiking or Biking) - This is my favorite trail to bike and/or hike in Vail. While it’s not actually on Vail Mountain, it has the best views of Vail Mountain, the Gore Range, Vail Village, Meadow Mountain and Mt Holy Cross. You only need to hike for about 30 min to get great views, but you can hike atop the ridge along the valley for hours if you want! The downhill on a mountain bike is newly constructed and the epitome of smooth, flowy fun. I feel so lucky to have this trail right in my backyard!

Those are just a few of my favorite things to do and see in my hometown, but the list could go on forever. Edwards and the Vail Valley as a whole have so much to offer, so I hope this blog helps narrow things down. Thanks for reading!