Boulder’s backyard is famously wild. Right at its doorstep are trails, trees, wildflowers, creeks and wildlife. And just a little further afield are even more natural riches.
Make Boulder your home base and explore the four outdoor escapes covered below — a national park, two state parks and a wilderness area — all within an hour's drive or less. Get out, breathe some fresh air, let the sun warm your back, have enchanting encounters with wild animals and reconnect with your sense of adventure.
When you're exploring these beautiful areas, please remember your Mountain Manners.
Important: You will need an advance reservation to enter the park late May through mid-October. Find more information here.
This is truly Colorado wilderness at its very best. Crystalline lakes, jagged peaks rising up all around you, wildlife encounters, trickling alpine streams — it’s all here. That’s why it’s no surprise that Rocky Mountain National Park is America’s third most visited national park.
Drive Time from Boulder: 1 hour. It’s a lovely drive up through the town of Lyons, where you can stop at The Stone Cup for a breakfast burrito, then continue up Hwy. 36 to the picturesque mountain town of Estes Park, situated on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.
What to Do
Take note: Reservations are required to enter the park from late May through mid-October. Find more information here. Pets are not allowed on trails or in natural areas — only in parking, picnic and campground areas.
Eldorado Canyon State Park was named in Outside magazine's "6 of the Best State Parks in America." The park was known as a getaway resort for well-to-dos in the first half of the 20th century. In fact, the Eisenhowers visited as newlyweds. Dazzled by the geology and natural beauty, guests continue to make the pilgrimage today, but as day hikers, climbers, picnickers and bikers.
Drive Time from Boulder: 20 minutes. That’s it: 20 minutes! You’ll go through the teensy town of Eldorado Springs and pass by a charming, old-timey natural-hot-springs-fed pool, open for a brisk dip in summertime.
What to Do
Take Note: Stop in the ranger station for hiking suggestions and advice on how far up the canyon to drive to the trailhead. Bonus: The ranger has dog treats.
Beautiful Brainard Lake is ringed by thick forests and nestled in a valley carved by glaciers in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Recreation is abundant and year-round, ranging from gentle hikes to advanced cross-country ski trails. It’s the most popular spot in the Front Range to connect with nature, and you’ll see why as soon as you arrive.
Drive Time from Boulder: 55 minutes. The drive will take you up through Nederland (see below for some highlights of Nederland) and then north on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, which is awe-inspiring any time of year, but especially in fall when swaths of aspen light the hillsides in gold. A scenic way to return back to Boulder would be to continue north on the Peak to Peak highway for just a few miles. Then turn east on Hwy. 7 and down to the town of Lyons, where you can stop in at Oscar Blues Grill and Brew for a craft beer and burger.
What to Do
Take note: Brainard Lake is one of the most popular day-hiking spots along the Front Range, so it will behoove you to get an early start to secure parking and avoid crowds. Stopping by the Boulder Ranger District is a good way to nail down directions, fees, rules, etc. before you begin your drive.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is easily accessible from Boulder yet it feels like a remote, high-mountain escape. Its 12,000 acres are filled with aspen trees, granite boulders, tall grasses and fields of wildflowers, and the landscape is as inspiring as it is unique to the area.
Drive Time from Boulder: 45 minutes. If you choose the southerly route (Hwy. 93), you can make a stop in Golden, with a cute downtown that retains its Western heritage. Stop in D’deli for a corned buffalo Reuben or the Aspen Buddha sandwich. Another option is to take the westerly route up Canyon Blvd. and through Nederland to pick up some gemstone souvenirs, ride the historic and aptly named Carousel of Happiness and have hot chocolate and mini donuts at The Train Cars Coffee and Yoghurt Company.
What to Do
Take note: Temperatures at Golden Gate Canyon State Park’s higher altitude tend to be at least 10 degrees cooler than Boulder, so don't forget to bring extra layers.
Important note: Check these parks’ and wilderness area’s websites for fees, hours, regulations and more advice on how to enjoy your visit.