Trip at a Glance:
Day 1 – Get settled, make sure you have everything you need and then get onto the trails to hike, run, jump and clamber to your heart’s content. Hop onto a bicycle and explore Boulder on two wheels.
Day 2 – Put on the harness, helmet, and climbing shoes and belay on! Afterwards, peel off your sweaty gear, grab a tube or kayak or raft and go splash around in Boulder Creek (Unless its winter, then buckle on your boots and skis and carve some turns). Either way, get out there and enjoy Boulder the way you were meant to be — outdoors!
Colorado is famous for its recreational opportunities, and nowhere is this more apparent than Boulder. From biking to rock climbing, tubing to stand-up paddle-boarding, Boulder is a nirvana for outdoor enthusiasts. The city was named the “number one sports town in America” by Outside magazine, for good reason.
Set against the dramatic background of the Flatirons (the jagged sandstone formations west of town named for their flat, pointed shape), Boulder boasts 240 kilometres of hiking and biking trails and 18,201 hectares of what Coloradans call “open space” — publicly-funded protected lands that can’t be built upon or mined for natural resources. This is where the mountains meet the plains, and the terrain allows for practically any kind of recreation you can think of, from swimming to snowshoeing. On your way into town, stop at the Scenic Overlook at mile marker 42 to take a selfie of the Boulder Valley and see the Flatirons and the red roofs of the university.
If you have forgotten anything, or don’t want to lug all your gear across the Earth, don’t worry, 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. RED FOX started in Boulder and sells an assortment of outdoor clothes and gear for hiking, camping, rock climbing, meandering and such. BOULDER SPORTS RECYCLER is an excellent spot if you’re looking to buy, or sell, previously used clothes, shoes, or equipment. Get fitted by the nationally renowned folks at BOULDER RUNNING COMPANY, if running is your thing.
The go-to outdoor activity in town is hiking or trail running in Boulder’s OPEN SPACE AND MOUNTAIN PARKS. Make sure note to miss CHAUTAUQUA, and a required photo-op in front of the famous rock formations, THE FLATIRONS. To experience those famous Flatirons (old timers call them “The Crags”) up close, enter at Chautauqua Park. There are many, many hiking options within the park, so stop by the Ranger Cottage for advice from the park’s knowledgeable guides. You can also grab a trail map and find out about any closures. Once on the trails, expect to cross open fields, disappear into ponderosa pine forest, scramble over rocky scree fields, and enjoy incredible views of the city and surrounding open space. Visitor tip: On weekends from Memorial Day to Labour Day, a free shuttle whisks guests from downtown Boulder to Chautauqua every 15 minutes (parking is sometimes difficult on the narrow streets around the park, especially on weekends). Dogs are welcome to ride, too. More information is available on the PARKTOPARK website.
Another popular hiking option is the trails at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which is adjacent to City of Boulder Open Space land. Many of Boulder’s most beautiful trails are accessible right from the NCAR parking lot. The NCAR website lists short descriptions and highlights of each route. Bonus: you can also take a free tour of the NCAR facilities while you’re there.
Exceptional road riding (the best in the country, in fact) is everywhere in Boulder. Choice rides are Flagstaff Mountain, Lefthand Canyon, Sunshine Canyon, Lee Hill, and Fourmile Canyon, as well as the flats and gravel north and east of town in the winter. The legendary Morgul-Bismark ride is particularly beautiful. Featured in the Kevin Costner film American Flyers, this 21-kilometer loop south of town includes “the wall,” a long, steep hill also known as “the hell of the west.”
Boulder has a healthy mountain biking scene — Walker Ranch or West Magnolia Trails near Nederland are good options. Several tour operators in town have customized tours with guides who have the latest inside scoop on the city’s ever-evolving trail system. Another fun option is VALMONT BIKE PARK, a remarkable and large urban bike park with 17 hectares (that’s about 32 football [Soccer] fields!) of natural surface cycling terrain. The park has dirt jumps, slope style trails, dual slalom tracks, pump tracks, and competition-grade cyclo-cross racing trails. Even little ones can play here: there’s a learning loop, a trike track, a kids' play area, tables and restrooms. The best part? The park is totally free.
If you just want to wander around town (as opposed to training for the Olympics or an Ironman, like some of the cyclists who frequent these roads), there are many options for renting a bike throughout town. UNIVERSITY BIKES and FULL CYCLE are two great local shops that rent and sell bikes of all sorts. B-CYCLE, a bike share system, has 42 stations around the city. Cruise along the scenic BOULDER CREEK PATH, which runs along the creek through historic neighbourhoods for eight kilometres, beckoning cyclists to hop off and stick their toes in the water.
Recently a new breed of bike bars has popped up in Boulder. RAPHA is a “clubhouse” for cyclists with locations around the world, each with a unique spin on the cycling culture of the location. There’s a shop with cycling gear on-site, and a café with snacks, coffee, and lounge seating. And at FULL CYCLE, you can also grab a craft beer or a coffee while waiting on your bike rental or tune-up.
They don’t call it Boulder for nothing: this is home to some of the best rock climbing in the world, and mountaineers of all levels come here to play and to train. Some of the more popular spots for climbing are the Flatirons, Boulder Canyon, and the golden walls of ELDORADO CANYON STATE PARK, which boasts more than 500 technical routes.
You may not initially think “water sports” when you think of Boulder, but there are some fun options for water lovers in the area. TUBING DOWN BOULDER CREEK is a favourite summer pastime. Kayakers can hone their skills on a 20-slalom-gate course near Eben G. Fine Park; white-water rafting fans can rip down Clear Creek or the Cache La Poudre River not far from Boulder; or for a more serene experience, rent a stand-up paddleboard or small boat and drop your anchor in the tranquil waters of the BOULDER RESERVOIR. For pure relaxation, visit the historic ELDORADO SPRINGS POOL, in business since 1905 and open from Memorial (end of May) to Labour Day (early September). (Please note the pool will be closed for renovations and plans to reopen for summer 2021.) Fed by an artesian spring and located near ELDORADO CANYON STATE PARK, the waters are maintained at 27’C degrees.
You can rent or buy tubes, kayaks, raft, stand-up paddle boards, life vests, helmets and other water gear from WHITEWATER TUBING & RECREATION.
Colorado is well known for its epic skiing. The most iconic peaks are a bit further west, but Boulder’s offerings aren’t too shabby. ELDORA offers good downhills for Alpine skiing and is only 30 minutes from downtown. Eldora is one of the few ski resorts on the east side of the Continental Divide, and has beginner, intermediate and advanced terrain.
Eldora also boasts an extensive NORDIC CENTER featuring 40 km of snowshoe, classic cross-county skiing and skate-skiing trails. During ski season, public busses (which take about 45 minutes) run several times daily from Boulder. Take advantage of the rental shop at Eldora so you don’t have to carry all your equipment with you on the bus.
The nearby INDIAN PEAKS WILDERNESS is fantastic for winter recreation, including cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, hunting and snowshoeing.
Colorado is well-known for its Western and Cowboy Heritage, and Boulder is no exception to that history, though in modern-day Boulder you’re more likely to see people riding their bicycles or hiking and running the trails, there are still some remnants of Boulder western heritage to explore. SOMBRERO RANCHES and SK HORSES offer horseback rides and Western experiences nearby Boulder as well as in and around ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK.
As mentioned earlier, some of the world’s top athletes come to Boulder to train, and you can, too! The UP YOUR GAME program allows visitors to select multi-day, customized training packages for triathletes. Fitness testing and personal consultation with experts from the UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO SPORTS MEDICINE AND PERFORMANCE CENTER will provide data-based insights to your fitness regimen. The multidisciplinary approach includes sports scientists, physical therapists and athletic trainers to help clients soar to new fitness heights.
When you’re worn out from all the excursions, but still want to take in some scenery, hop onto BANJO BILLY'S bus tour. This traveling hillbilly-mobile repurposed from an old bus offers history tours of the city, with gorgeous mountains as a backdrop. You’ll hear ghost stories, Boulder legends, crime sagas and more from the animated, knowledgeable guides.
The UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO-BOULDER is a stunning architectural campus, and one of its most impressive features is FISKE PLANETARIUM. This state-of-the-art facility offers a wide range of programming that includes full-dome films, star talks, laser and liquid sky shows, concerts, and special events, and hosts large crowds for NASA-related events. The planetarium’s MegaStar projector shows 10 million stars and the entire Milky Way galaxy, making it one of the most impressive indoor skies in the country. Though it’s not technically outside, Fiske is definitely worth a stop if you’re a science buff or are traveling with kids.
One of truly spectacular ways to see Boulder is from the sky. Hop into a HOT AIR BALLOON and float soundlessly over the Boulder Valley's rolling hills, swaying fields, ponds and stands of trees while you soak up the early-morning sun and fresh air — all with the spectacular Rocky Mountains in the distance.