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A day, a week or the whole summer
The whole summer
Boulder offers an embarrassment of riches for residents and summer visitors alike. With a climate that’s the envy of the nation — OK, not everyone envies our May snowstorms — a beautiful mountain paradise minutes from our doorsteps and a wealth of restaurants, boutiques, galleries and festivals, Boulder is a summer paradise. It’s quite possible to live here for a decade and not exhaust your opportunities for recreation, cultural enrichment and fun. So whether you’re passing through, you’re new to the area or you’ve been here for 15 years but haven’t gotten out from in front of your TV, here’s a guide to getting the most out of your summer.
If you’re in Boulder for a day…
First, we just have to ask: What were you thinking? A day?!? OK, OK — we’ll work with it. But we can guarantee the first thing you’re going to want to do is schedule another, longer vacation in our lovely city. You might as well get on the phone with your travel agent right now. In the meantime, here are some suggestions about how you can spend that single, precious day.
Pearl Street Mall
If any single place could be called the beating heart of Boulder, it would be the Pearl Street Mall. An outdoor pedestrian mall, it’s part cultural center, part shopping center, part recreation. Start your day with breakfast or brunch at one of Boulder’s restaurants — try the beignets at Lucile’s, 2124 14th St. — then enjoy a morning of strolling, shopping and people-watching. Finish your time on Pearl Street with lunch at any one of dozens of top-notch restaurants and cafés.
Other major shopping areas include the 29th Street Mall, with more than 70 shops, eateries and department stores, and University Hill, which features an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues and is known for its vibrant student culture.
If you’re in town on a Wednesday or a Saturday, be sure to stop by Central Park to join in the festivities that mark the weekly Farmers’ Market, where you’ll find lots to nibble on and drink while enjoying live music and more.
Those mountains you see to the west are what drew the first settlers to Boulder Valley. They were looking for gold. But the real gold, it turns out, is the opportunity for recreation and adventure that these mountains offer.
Boulder was the first city in the United States to tax itself specifically to fund the preservation of open space. As a result the city of Boulder now owns more than 43,000 acres of open space land, much of it in the mountains.
Here’s what you shouldn’t miss:
900 Baseline Rd. / 303-413-7200
This local landmark has beautiful scenery, outstanding hiking trails and is the location of the Chautauqua Auditorium, built in 1898 as part of the nationwide Chautauqua movement. Featuring wide lawns and a renovated playground, Chautauqua Park is the perfect place for a family picnic followed by an easy, child-friendly hike along the McClintock Nature Trail. Or enjoy a hike along the trails of Chautauqua Meadow, followed by lunch or dinner on the deck at the Chautauqua Dining Hall.
You can pick up the McClintock Nature Trail behind Chautauqua Auditorium. Follow it as it connects with the Mesa Trail and brings you back around toward the park. For more information on city trails, go to www.ci.boulder.us and follow the links.
Past Chautauqua on Baseline Road
A winding drive up Flagstaff will take you past stands of ponderosa pine and lots of local fauna. In particular, you’ll see “homo boulderus,” a curious primate that spends its days climbing and dangling from the red boulders that are so plentiful in our foothills. Seemingly impervious to gravity, homo boulderus flocks to the canyons and mountain parks in search of places to get vertical. (Note: Make sure you have good health insurance if you try this without training or the proper guidance and equipment.)
Flagstaff features lots of picnic areas and trails, as well as one of the most scenic spots in the city — Flagstaff Amphitheater. Located near the summit of the mountain, the amphitheater looks out over the entire Boulder Valley, giving you a breathtaking view of the plains.
The Flagstaff Nature Center is located on the summit of Flagstaff Mountain and teaches visitors about the wildlife, plants and history of the area. There are activities and games designed to challenge children of all ages, and friendly and knowledgeable volunteers can answer your questions about plants, animals and trails.
Advice from locals: Rather than starting on Pearl Street, get up early, catch breakfast at the Chautauqua Dining Hall, then head up Flagstaff for a hike. Pearl Street is most fun to stroll in the evening while enjoying an ice cream cone. Then you can take in the sunset over the Flatirons from one of the patios or rooftop bars.
If you’re in Boulder for a week…
This is more like it. Still, we guarantee you’ll want to come back again. In addition to enjoying Chautauqua Park, Flagstaff and the local shopping scene, you’ll want to sample these delights:
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
Celebrating its 50th year, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival brings the Bard to life in the 1,000-seat Mary Rippon Outdoor Theater on the University of Colorado campus. One of the most renowned summer Shakespeare festivals in the country, CSF is presenting Macbeth, Love’s Labour’s Lost and Henry VIII, as well as Woody Guthrie’s American Song and The Three Musketeers in alternating performances from June 20 through Aug. 16. Make your reservations when you arrive in town and enjoy Shakespeare while watching the sun set over the Flatirons — a perfect end to any summer day. Order tickets online at www.coloradoshakes.org, or call 303-492-0554.
A tourist destination since the late 19th century, Boulder Falls is located on the north side of Boulder Canyon Drive, about 11 miles west of the city of Boulder. The falls, which have been called the “Yosemite of Boulder Canyon,” form where North Boulder Creek tumbles roughly 70 feet to enter Middle Boulder Creek. It’s a long way to fall, though, so don’t try climbing.
Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 Highway 36, Estes Park, CO 80517-8397
Visitor information: 970-586-1206
Campground reservations: 877-444-6777
Covering 265,769 acres, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of America’s national treasures. A day spent here will yield memories for a lifetime. Featuring hiking trails, camping grounds, picnic areas, parking and wildlife viewing, it draws millions of visitors each year. Backpackers are required to get a backcountry permit. User fees are charged for park entry and for backcountry use and help defray the costs associated with restrooms and heavy land use. Scenic Trail Ridge Road bisects the park, leading over the Continental Divide, offering you the closest thing you’ll ever get to a view of eternity. Take Highway 36 (28th Street) up through Estes Park and follow the road signs.
The Mesa Trail could be called the artery of Boulder’s Mountain Parks. Running from Chautauqua Park south to Eldorado Springs, the trail offers hikers seven miles (one way) of unbeatable views, wildflowers and ponderosa pine forest. A well-maintained trail that’s popular with hikers and trail runners, it can be part of a long day hike or can be hiked in short segments. Many of Mountain Parks’ other trails branch off from the Mesa Trail, making it a popular destination on weekend mornings. Be sure to follow all wildlife closures. For more information about Boulder Mountain Parks trails and regulations, go to www.ci.boulder.us and follow the links.
Think you’re tougher than the average tourist? Altitude not getting you down? Then grab your hiking boots and head up to Hall Ranch, where 12 miles of multiuse trails await you. Part of Boulder County Open Space, Hall Ranch can be extremely hot during the summer months, so bring lots of water and sunscreen. The reward for your sweat is some of the most beautiful riparian and meadow habitat on the Front Range. If hiking is too tame, rent a set of fat tires, mount ’em on your rental and test yourself on Hall Ranch’s single track. To reach Hall Ranch, take Highway 36 north to Lyons. In Lyons, veer off onto Highway 7 and look for the ranch entrance one mile west of town.
For mountain biking regulations, safety recommendations and other information, go to www.bouldercounty.org/openspace.
Advice from locals: Be sure to order your tickets for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival the moment you arrive in town so that you’re assured of having seats. And remember — that little cushion they offer you for an extra buck is well worth it when it comes to keeping your posterior happy through the performance.
Head up to Rocky Mountain National Park early, then enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants in Estes Park. Be sure to take plenty of water, as the altitude and dry air will leave you thirstier than you realize. And if you’re newly arrived in the state, wait to hike or mountain bike until later in the week, when you’ll be more acclimated to the altitude. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
If you’re in Boulder for the summer…
Maybe you’re in town for a class or a seminar. Maybe you’re here because you’ve landed a cushy fellowship at one of the federal labs. Maybe you live here and have taken Boulder for granted all these years. Regardless, this is your chance to get out, get around and really get to see what Boulder has to offer. You’ll want to spend more time at the places we’ve already mentioned, but don’t forget to experience these wonders while you’re here:
Boulder History Museum
1206 Euclid Ave. / 303-449-3464
Founded in 1944, this private, nonprofit museum brings the history of Boulder alive with its collection of more than 35,000 objects donated by Boulder families and a variety of programs and community events.
Colorado History Museum
1300 Broadway, Denver / 303-866-3682
Constructed in 1977, the Colorado History Museum preserves the story of Colorado with its collection of historic and prehistoric artifacts and documents. Local legend Baby Doe Tabor is commemorated in the exhibits, which feature her beautiful wedding dress.
Denver Art Museum
100 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy.
A piece of architectural art all by itself, the Denver Art Museum offers a host of activities, including lectures, classes and all-day camps for kids, as well as its enormous collection of permanent and temporary displays for visitors to enjoy at their own pace.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
2001 Colorado Blvd. / 303-322-7009
With an IMAX theater and hundreds of exhibitions, programs, lectures and activities, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is the place for people of all ages to learn about the past, present and future of the world around them. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is one of only 750 of the nation’s 16,000 museums to be officially accredited by the American Association of Museums. Be sure to feed the saber-toothed tiger!
2300 Steele St. / 303-376-4800
As fun for adults as it is for the little ones, Denver Zoo is home to nearly 4,000 animals representing 700 species from around the world. Visitors may plan events, such as birthday parties at the zoo, or merely partake in a tour or one of many activities. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
University of Colorado Natural History Museum
University of Colorado / 303-492-6892
The University of Colorado Natural History Museum offers a wide range of special events, including guided tours, educational programs and family days, and its exhibition galleries are open to the public seven days a week, free of charge.
University of Colorado Heritage Center
1600 Pleasant St.
Located on the third floor of the University of Colorado’s (CU) Old Main, the CU Heritage Center features exhibits exploring the history of the university. Attractions include the President’s Room, Distinguished Alumni Gallery and the Athletics Room, which showcases trophies from CU’s many victories.
Dinosaur National Monument
4545 E. Highway 40, Dinosaur, CO 81610
Entrance fees are charged Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on the Utah side of the Monument. Fees include admission for 7 consecutive days.
$10.00 per vehicle
Motorcycle: $5.00 for single rider, $10.00 for double rider
Individual (Hiker, bicyclist): $5.00
Travel west on Interstate 70 to Rifle. Take the exit for Highway 13, and follow 13 north toward Meeker. About 40 miles past Rifle, take a left on Highway 64 west toward Rangely. Follow 64 west to Dinosaur. Turn east on Highway 40, travel 2 miles. Turn north on Harpers Corner Road and make the first right into the parking lot.
A five-hour drive across the state gets you access to the past. Survey the craggy hills and explore fragments of a long-ago world where the largest land creatures of all time once roamed and died. While the dinosaurs that once walked these lands became extinct 65 million years ago, their smaller cousin — the lizard — is a common sight at Dinosaur National Monument, proving that bigger isn’t always better. Make sure you view the rock art, check out the fossils, enjoy the amazing scenery and explore homestead sites. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even go whitewater rafting.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
11999 Highway 150, Mosca, CO 81146
Visitor Center — 719-378-6399
Entrance fees: $3 per adult (age 16 and older). Entrance fees are valid for one week from date of purchase. Children are free at all times.
The fastest route from Boulder is south on I-25 to Walsenburg, west on US 160, north on state highway 150. For a more scenic drive, you may also get on US 285 south, then state highway 17 south, then County Lane 6 east.
If you’re staying in Boulder long enough to take a weekend trip, a roughly four-hour drive gets you to one of the most incredible spots you can imagine: Great Sand Dunes National Park. Here you’ll find the tallest dunes in North America — amazing unto themselves. But these giant mounds of sand are surrounded by alpine peaks, a desert valley and creeks flowing on the surface of the sand. The exceptional beauty of the park offers the perfect setting for hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, camping, mountain climbing, and, of course, sandboarding and sledding on the dunes. This national treasure is truly a must-see spot.
Royal Gorge Bridge and Park
4218 County Road 3A, Cañon City, CO 81215
Tickets — Adult: $23.00, Child (age 4-11): $19.00, Senior: $21.00
Travel south on Interstate 25 to the exit for US-85 south. Take the ramp onto US-50 west. Turn left at CR-3A until you reach Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.
Known as a classic Colorado vacation destination, there’s plenty to do at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. With 21 rides, shows and attractions on 360 breathtaking acres, you’ll need a whole day to experience what this park has to offer. Luckily it’s only a three-hour drive from Boulder. The park’s crown jewel is the world’s highest suspension bridge, floating 1,053 feet above the Arkansas River, but don’t forget to experience the other attractions that the park offers, such as the cliff walk, inspiration point, a petting zoo, the mountain man encampment and the only water clock in Colorado. This magnificent park is truly worth the trip.
Here are some of our favorite places to hike and bike in Boulder County. Each has its own regulations. Some require those with license plates from outside Boulder County to pay user fees. Be sure to read the regulations.
Located at the junction of Boulder and Fourmile Canyons, Betasso Preserve is a 773-acre preserve managed by the county. Check the county website for mountain biking regulations. It is located six miles west of Boulder off Sugarloaf Road.
5565 51st St. / 303-441-3461
The ocean it ain’t. But it’s still lots of fun. The reservoir has a 600-acre lake and is available for kayaking, fishing, volleyball, motor boating and water skiing. For directions, regulations and activities, visit the city’s website.
Caribou Ranch is a pristine patchwork of wetlands, meadows, woodlands and streams. Off limits to dogs, the 2,180 property is open to hikers and horseback riders. Seasonal closures protect sensitive wildlife. Off-trail use is prohibited. Caribou Ranch can be accessed north of Nederland or south of Ward on County Road 126 off of the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.
Eldorado Canyon State Park
9 Kneale Road, Eldorado Springs / 303-494-3943
Eldorado Canyon, known affectionately by climbers as Eldo, offers more than 500 technical rock climbing routes, some of the most classic climbing in the country. In addition it offers hiking, mountain biking, picnicking and fishing. However, there is no camping. For information about trails, regulations, fees and activities, visit the state website.
Heil Valley Ranch
With a variety of ecosystems, including prime breeding habitat for many species of birds, Heil Valley Ranch consists of 4,923 acres of backcountry with a picnic shelter and almost seven miles of multiuse trails. The entrance to Heil Valley Ranch is located on Geer Canyon Road off of Left Hand Canyon Road northwest of Boulder. For information visit the county’s website.
If you’re more interested in mountain climbing than hiking, or you want to try whitewater sports, you’ll need someone to help you get started. In Colorado, carelessly entering the wilderness or taking on more than you can handle is often the prelude to injury or tragedy. So always respect your own limits and take advantage of the experience offered by the area’s guide companies.
Boulder Outdoor Center
2525 Arapahoe Ave., Ste. E4-228 / 303-444-8420
The Boulder Outdoor Center provides equipment, instruction and guide trips for a variety of summer activities, including rafting, kayaking and more. Their knowledgeable staff is trained to work with people of all ages and skill levels.
Colorado Mountain School
The Colorado Mountain School has been guiding since 1877 under various names. CMS is the largest guide service in Colorado and has more AMGA and International Federation of Mountain Guides Association certified guides than any other guide service in the state. They remain the exclusive climbing organization for Rocky Mountain National Park.
Front Range Anglers Inc.
629B S. Broadway / 303-494-1375
This business offers a wide variety of fly fishing equipment and accessories. Front Range Anglers offers guided tours and maintains strict ethical and conservation guidelines.
Highside Adventure Tours
2350 Riverside Dr. / 800-997-3448
Highside Adventure Tours offers some of the best outdoor tours in Colorado, including rafting, fishing, biking and kayaking. They offer individual tours or group trips.
Women’s Wilderness Institute
5723 Arapahoe Ave., Ste. 1B / 303-938-9191
This organization offers outdoor experiences for women and teen girls. This program is designed to meet the unique needs and learning styles of women.
Advice from locals: The key is to enjoy your summer, so don’t bite off more than you can handle. People are hurt and killed each summer because they pushed themselves too far or mixed alcohol with climbing. Also, rather than trying to cram in a bunch of different activities, pick the most important things you’d like to do and build your summer around safely enjoying those activities.
Tips for staying safe in Colorado’s mountains
Bring lots of water. Between the heat and the dry air, you’ll need more than you think.
Slather on sunscreen and repeat every couple of hours or after swimming.
Respect gravity. Don’t climb beyond your limits.
Stay sober. Drinking and climbing don’t mix. Also, alcohol can add to dehydration.
Be prepared for changing weather. It gets cold at night, and it can snow any time of the year in the Colorado high country.
Stay away from lightning.
Don’t slide on snowfields. They look fun, but the rocks at the bottom are unforgiving.
Keep our mountains clean. Take only your own trash with you, and leave nothing behind but footprints. Help preserve the mountains for generations to come.
Stay on trails. It helps to minimize your impact on the environment.
Hike with a friend. If you head out on your own and run into trouble, you’ll be glad you did.
Leave the wildlife in peace. You think the critters are cute, but they’re just not into you.
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