Three-Day Itinerary: Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park
Trip at a Glance:
Day 1 – Get settled and explore Historic Downtown Boulder
Day 2 – Start with a scenic drive from Boulder to Rocky Mountain National Park (60-90 minutes’ drive), visit Trail Ridge Road and end with a hike on the Wild Basin trail (1-6 mile options) with plenty of chances to see wildlife. Return to Boulder (60-90 minutes’ drive) and enjoy the Foodiest Town in America.
Day 3 – Boulder Adventure Continues
Day One – Getting settled
Welcome to Boulder, Colorado!
On your way into town, stop at the Scenic Overlook at mile marker 42 — take a selfie of the Boulder Valley and see the Flatirons and the red roofs of the university. Once you get your feet on the ground, Come explore pine-scented trails, taste the flavours of "America's Foodiest Town," tour CRAFT BREWERIES, stroll historic PEARL STREET and soak up this creative community's laid-back lifestyle.
Pearl Street is busting at its seams with fabulous food. Peruse the menus of locally-owned restaurants along the main drag and pick a spot that sounds good to you – you can’t go wrong. Pearl Street, and Historic Downtown Boulder, is the heart and soul of Boulder and the perfect spot to see Boulder’s distinctive lifestyle. Four blocks of Pearl Street are closed to traffic and make up the Pearl Street Mall. It is full of independently owned shops, open-air cafes, hanging flower baskets, free public wi-fi, and the best people watching in the state. Also popular are the seasonal art shows, craft fairs, musical presentations and street performers who entertain enthusiastic crowds with their antics.
When you’re feeling hungry, find great food and libations at the area’s restaurants and bars. RIVER AND WOODS ($$), one of Boulder’s newest offerings, has Colorado Comfort Cuisine on Pearl Street and is open for dinner only during the week (closed Monday) and brunch and dinner on the weekends. FRASCA ($$$$) is one of Boulder's (some might say America's) best upscale Italian spots and has James Beard award winning wine selection year after year. Nearby, MOUNTAIN SUN PUB AND BREWERY ($) is a good go-to spot for local craft beers and pub grub, plus folk, acoustic & bluegrass music some nights. (Mountain Sun is temporarily closed.)
If you’re looking to gear up for your road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, Boulder is a veritable cornucopia for purchasing outdoor equipment. NEPTUNE MOUNTAINEERING has serious gear for serious adventurers — plus an in-store museum that includes equipment that’s been to the top of Everest. Visit UNIVERSITY BICYCLES for its awesome, parts-dispensing vending machine and “bike museum in the rafters.” Get fitted by the nationally renowned folks at BOULDER RUNNING COMPANY, if running is your thing. If MCGUCKIN HARDWARE doesn’t have what you need, we’re not sure you need it! The best part is the friendly staff of this family-run store.
Overnight in Boulder
Day Two – Boulder to Rocky Mountain National Park, on the Backroads
Good morning sunshine! Kick start your day of adventure with a quick breakfast bite, a famous breakfast Boulder dish, or a leisurely brunch that stretches well into the afternoon. THE BUFF ($) (Try: The Saddlebags), WALNUT CAFÉ ($) (Try: Duzer’s Breakfast Burrito), PARKWAY CAFE ($$) (Try: The nopales con huevo), or FOOLISH CRAIG’S ($$) (Try: The Homer) are just a few of Boulder’s best local breakfast spots. You may want to stop by ALFALFA’S MARKET ($$) to pack a picnic lunch and some snacks, and water and sunscreen, for the road.
If you’d like a personal guide, or guided tour, for your Rocky Mountain National Park outing, COLORADO WILDERNESS RIDES AND GUIDES offers an assortment of adventures out of Boulder, including photography, hiking, mountain biking, climbing, snowshoeing, and other guided trips to Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer and winter. SOMBRERO RANCHES and SK HORSES offer horseback rides and Western experiences in and around Rocky Mountain National Park.
To take the road-less-travelled to Rocky Mountain National Park on your own, head West out of Boulder on Boulder Canyon Drive/Canyon Blvd (Colorado State Highway 119) to Nederland and then head north on CO-72 W and CO-7 W along the PEAK TO PEAK SCENIC BYWAY to Estes Park, about an hour and a half drive from Boulder. This route is open year-round, has small service stops along the way, and is a scenic stretch of highways that pass through splendid mountain views, historic locations, quaint towns and plenty of good places for photos! After a spectacular drive along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway you will arrive in Estes Park.
Just 60-90 minutes outside of Boulder is the east entrance to ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK. With its crystalline lakes, fragrant ponderosa pine forests and sprawling meadows you can hike, picnic, drive Trail Ridge Road, spot wildlife and enjoy the spectacular terrain.
The fourth most visited National Park in the United States, Rocky Mountain National Park is a 1075-square-kilometre protected high-country playground that some spend a lifetime exploring, but if you only have a day or two you still have enough time to get a taste for what Rocky Mountain National Park offers, one of the most iconic landscapes in the United States.
With more than 571 km of hiking trails, you can choose from flat lakeside walks to steeper, more challenging mountain climbs. The easy 1 km Bear Lake trail is a popular hike featuring a nature trail along a subalpine lake at the end of Bear Lake Road. For a stunning waterfall hike, make your way to Alberta Falls or Ouzel Falls.
Many Visitors come from around the world to travel America’s highest continuous paved highway, TRAIL RIDGE ROAD. Open only between late May and late September (check NATIONAL PARK SERVICE for current status), the two-lane Trail Ridge Road takes explorers across the Continental Divide, the line that determines to which ocean (Atlantic or Pacific) a drop of rain or snow will flow, past weathered tundra overlooking sweeping valleys and into the clouds at 3713 metres in elevation.
Once you’ve roamed Rocky Mountain National Park to your heart’s desire, it’s time to head on back to Boulder. We know you’re hungry and ready to hit the town, so take the shorter, but no less scenic, route back to Boulder via US-36.
Welcome back to Boulder! Take the weekly LOCAL TABLE TOUR of selected hotspots in Boulder. The locations change weekly and Megan, the owner, makes it her passion to stay on top of Boulder’s foodie scene. Megan runs various tours in town including coffee and chocolate tasting tours, happy hour tasting tours, dining tours, cocktail tasting tours and farmer’s market tours. This is a spectacular way to visit one of America’s Foodiest Towns!
After a low-key dinner, if you’re looking for something more relaxing then catch a theatre, dance or art show at the DAIRY ARTS CENTER or an indie movie at the Dairy’s BOEDECKER CINEMA. Or, assuming that Colorado’s mountain air has you invigorated and ready to Rock N Roll, check out who’s playing at two of Boulder’s iconic venues with top-notch performances. The FOX THEATRE was named by Rolling Stone as one of the best venues in the united states to see a show. The BOULDER THEATER’s Art Deco style and intimate setting make any show a special experience. Shows do sell out, so book ahead of time. Check our searchable EVENTS CALENDAR for ideas.
Overnight in Boulder
Day Three – Your Boulder Adventure Continues
Breakfast at The BOULDER DUSHANBE TEAHOUSE ($$). The building itself is a work of art with its hand carved and painted interior and exterior. The Tea House building was a gift from Boulder’s sister city, Dushanbe, Tajikistan. In exchange, Boulder gifted Dushanbe an internet café. The teahouse has a very worldly and yummy menu! They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you find yourself here on a Saturday, stroll through BOULDER FARMERS MARKET where you can get your provisions for the afternoon: cheese, bread, fruits, veggies and maybe some prepared foods from the food court. While you’re here, stop in the BOULDER MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART (which is free on Saturdays). If it’s not a Saturday, visit ALFALFA’S MARKET ($$), DISH GOURMET ($$) or CURED ($$$) for some picnic-perfect local foods.
With the day before you and Boulder your playground, it’s good to know you have got options. Feeling up for a scenic drive? You could take a 20-minute drive to reach ELDORADO CANYON STATE PARK — take Hwy. 93 south to Eldorado Springs Drive — and set off on a trail through sandstone cliffs or along South Boulder Creek to find your perfect picnic spot amongst the pine trees and golden rock walls.
Feel like staying in Boulder? There’s hiking at CHAUTAUQUA PARK. Boulder is located where the mountains meet the plains and Chautauqua is located right at the base of the mountains. Here you’ll find Boulder’s iconic Flatirons. Boulder has 18,000 hectares of open space—that’s nearly the same as the amount of skiable hectares in all of Colorado. The proximity to top-notch outdoor recreation is why Boulder has earned the accolade of the “Fittest City in America,” we love to be outside all year long. From biking to hiking (here are some other Boulder HIKING spots) to outdoor yoga classes, Boulderites like to get outside and stay active.
How about lunch at a Brewery and a tour? Boulder is home to 23 breweries, 4 distilleries and 6 wineries. Boulder’s AVERY BREWING COMPANY, in its new, state-of-the-art brewing facility is a delicious option. Avery’s tours last about 30 minutes and depart at 4pm and 5pm on M-F, 2pm and 3:30 pm on Saturday and 2pm on Sunday. Grab lunch in their restaurant and take the 2 o’clock tour.
Time to do some shopping — kids will love INTO THE WIND kite and toy shop, cooks can’t resist THE PEPPERCORN and readers will get lost among the shelves at BOULDER BOOK STORE. Sit and sip a latte at OZO COFFEE, or wander down to East Pearl Street and hit up BOXCAR for finely crafted coffee. On the way, stop to admire the historic BOULDER THEATER and the old county courthouse for their art deco architecture, and pop into ART SOURCE INTERNATIONAL to view historical photos of Boulder, old maps and retro posters. R GALLERY & ART BAR features a selection of handcrafted American gifts from artists from Colorado. Most items are one-of-a-kind or produced in very limited quantities.
After some retail therapy, continue your exploration of Boulder with dinner at nearby BLACKBELLY MARKET ($$$), Top Chef champion Hosea Rosenberg’s first restaurant, or James Beard nominated FRASCA. ($$$$ - Reservations recommended).