SET RIGHT AT the base of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder has little choice but to be the center of high-altitude Colorado explorations. Easy access to the outdoors, a celebrated dining and nightlife scene, and well-rounded activities for singles, families, and kids of any age make it a perfect starting point for exploring within the city limits and beyond.
And you don’t have to go far — adventure lives in Boulder’s backyard. Need proof? Here are 10 awesome things you can get up to within 10 minutes of downtown Boulder.
1. Going on an epic hike
No matter the time of year — even in feet of snow — the Rocky Mountains are the ultimate getaway playground. When the white stuff melts, the trails surrounding Boulder come alive with lush plant life that takes over the entire valley. Greens, purples, yellows, you name it.
For an easy trek that starts on the edge of town, the Bobolink Trail meanders right along South Boulder Creek. Much of the route is shaded, and odds are high that a deer might scamper across the trail, so keep that camera ready.
For something a bit wilder, check out the Flatirons. They offer an opportunity to explore the area no matter your hiking ability, the trails well-maintained by expert park rangers and volunteers who’ve spent their careers exploring these mountains. Set out early (by 9am) on the First-Second Flatiron Trail from Chautauqua Trailhead, and beat both the rush and the warmer parts of the day. This 2.7-mile loop winds hikers past beautiful wildflowers, incredible rock formations, and wide-open views of Colorado’s Front Range. With 360 degrees of high-country beauty, you’ll feel as though you’ve actually stepped into Instagram. We’ve yet to find a hashtag worthy of the challenge.
2. Taking a high-performance bicycle on a thigh-burning ride
Mountain biking Boulder’s Valmont Bike Park with the latest in two-wheeled technology is an experience everyone should have (you can rent top-of-the-line bikes from one of the many cycle shops in town). The public park has 40 acres of terrain with trails suitable for all ability levels, even brand newbies. Pump through the slopestyle course, cruise The Glades, or test your skills on the dirt jumps course. Outside of Valmont Bike Park, the city is flush with dirt trails, bike lanes, and nearby mountain passes that challenge even seasoned cyclists.
No matter how hard you push yourself, there’s no need to feel self-conscious. Helmet hair is always in season here, and biking is the quickest way to feel like a true local. The coolest part is that all of the trails and bike paths are free to the public — keeping cash in your pocket for a cool-down at one of Boulder’s nearly two dozen breweries and taprooms is priority numero uno.
3. Speaking of breweries…
Colorado’s microbrew boom started in Boulder back in 1979, when a couple of brew-crazed professors at the University of Colorado decided to make a professional go at their favorite hobby. The result: Boulder Beer Company. Now renowned for their Hazed and Infused ale, co-founders Randolf Ware, David Hummer, and Alvin Nelson pioneered a trend when there were fewer than 50 breweries in the entire country.
The rest of the city (and state) has since jumped on (or off!) the wagon. Boulder’s brew scene is now the point of much deserved celebration, particularly when paired with a dose of some of Colorado’s best live music.
4. Scaling a rock face you thought you’d only see from the bottom
Regardless of your prior experience, rock climbing is actually something you can do pretty easily with a guide — and have the photos to prove it to your friends. Case in point: Grab the family and stop into The Spot Bouldering Gym. Observe, absorb, practice. Then, take what you’ve learned and head to the Direct East Face of the First Flatiron, Eldorado Canyon State Park (“Eldo” to locals), or one of the many bouldering spots on Flagstaff Mountain. Bring an experienced climber with you, of course — you can find one at Colorado Mountain School. Who knows? Maybe you’re meant to be the next Lynn Hill or Margot Hayes (yep, both from Boulder).
Hiking will never not be fantastic, but rock climbing provides a mountain experience that’s simply unrivaled by anything else. Much like backcountry skiing, the view from the top looks so much better when you’ve earned it.
5. Testing your SUP skills
Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUPing, is the hippest new way to get out on the water. Rent a board at Boulder Reservoir, and futz around a bit close to the shore until you’ve got your feet underneath you — literally. SUPing is a floating contradiction, in that it’s quite relaxing and peaceful but also provides a great core workout. Fortunately, cooling off is as easy as a quick dip in the water. If this isn’t your thing, perhaps sitting in a canoe or kayak is the way to go — also available for rent at the reservoir.
For those feeling particularly limber, take your paddleboarding to the next level with SUP yoga. Water-born yoga turns SUPers into upside-down acrobats and instant stars of the lake. It’s surprisingly easier than it looks — and makes for some incredible photo opps.
6. Taking a two-wheeled cruise with the kids in tow
Boulder is among the most bike-friendly towns in America. That’s partly due to the infrastructure — bike lanes, bike paths, etc. — but also because here the whole family tends to get in on the fun. A cruise through downtown or on one of the many trails at Valmont Bike Park or Marshall Mesa will get ’em started young.
And if you’re looking for a package deal, another great spot is the Boulder Reservoir — there’s birdwatching, beach volleyball, and boats for rent, too. Get out first thing in the morning to have it nearly to yourself, or take in the sunset while working up an appetite for dinner. The loop is flat and just over five miles, and when you need to cool off, you can hop right in the water.
The kicker in Boulder is that so many of the trails are up against some of the most beautiful peaks and views anywhere in Colorado, making the ride equally as enjoyable for adults, no matter how kid-friendly the route.
7. Tubing down Boulder Creek with your teenagers
The first time you push out into Boulder Creek on a tube, be sure someone on the bank gets a photo. Odds are the face you’ll make will be one to remember. On the water, float through mild rapids, dips, and turns that’ll soak you just enough to mitigate any summer heat. Typically, the creek flows at 40-100 cfs (cubic feet per second), a mellow pace that allows the family to stick together. There’s honestly no better way to traverse the city.
Put in just off the Pearl Street Mall at Eben G. Fine Park, and float down to Boulder Public Library (or farther, if you’re feeling adventurous). There are plenty of spots to get out of the water. Walk along the creek back to your vehicle, or park a second vehicle at the takeout point and shuttle back after the float. Don’t worry about getting lost — there are typically plenty of locals out on the water, so if all else fails, just follow the pack!
8. Scouting for bald eagles
There are few places in the country where viewing wildlife is more a part of the daily routine. Deer are practically our roommates here, frequently seen trotting down the street or having a snack at Green Mountain Memorial Park. But sometimes we locals encounter a neighbor of a more renowned status. While breaking for a sandwich on the Boulder Canyon Trail, you may just look up and spot a bald eagle flying overhead. Remember when I mentioned feeling as though you’ve stepped into Instagram? Perhaps it’s time we bring #boulderepic to life. Here are other spots to catch a bald eagle:
- Boulder Reservoir – Located just out of town off the Diagonal Highway, Boulder Reservoir offers the chance to spot an eagle without having to hike too far into the wilderness.
- White Rocks Trail – Keep your camera at the ready as you make your way up the White Rocks Trail. An eagle or other photogenic member of Boulder’s wildlife community may fly overhead at any moment. Pay particular attention to sturdy branches on tall trees.
- Lagerman Reservoir – Another easy walk to wildlife. The trail around Lagerman Reservoir provides ample viewing of some of the Boulder area’s most notable creatures, eagles and deer among them.
9. Discovering the Bat Cave
Common misconception holds that bats are mystic creatures to be feared — Boulder takes a more positive approach. Venture up the Mallory Cave Trail to the mouth of the cave, a popular roosting spot for the Townsend’s big-eared bat. The cave is gated off in order to protect the bat habitat, but checking out the iron gates themselves is almost worth the journey, even without a bat sighting.
The hike is family-friendly but does require a bit of a scramble up some rocks at the top. Nothing a typical Boulder-bound adventurer can’t handle, and hey — the story is definitely going to be better than that Batman-themed birthday party you threw as a kid.
10. Enjoying a meal the way it was meant to be enjoyed
Boulder is at the heart of Colorado’s dining scene. With over 850 farms in Boulder County alone, it’s no wonder the city’s acclaimed restaurants serve the state’s freshest food. The culinary scene here is a community, always open to spreading the love to anyone seeking a high-quality, sustainable local meal. Here’s how to keep your plate full:
- Take in the Boulder Farmer’s Market – On Saturdays and Wednesdays from spring through fall, the area’s farmers bring their best offerings to the market. You’ll sample tomatoes right off the vine, bite into a sandwich piled with ingredients produced just up the road, and stock up on farm-fresh staples to feed the entire family. The kicker is that the market has live music and the ambiance of a neighborhood block party — try finding that at your grocery store.
- See a familiar face preparing your dinner – Many of Boulder’s most celebrated restaurants stock up on the locally grown ingredients grown on the county’s farms. Don’t be surprised if the person you chatted with at the farmer’s market on Saturday morning is the chef cooking your dinner. The dining scene in Boulder is the envy of much larger cities around the country — the fact that your meal truly is farm-to-table is a big reason why.
- Chase sustainability – The best ingredients are the result of a healthy growing environment. Sustainability is at the core of Boulder’s farm operations, and you can have a look for yourself on the Boulder County Farm Trail. There’s no better way to get closer to the source, and you’ll see how every meal can be as low-impact as it is delicious and memorable.