The city of Boulder, tucked against the Rocky Mountains northwest of Denver, is filled with cultural activities, museums, stellar restaurants, and some of Colorado’s best scenery and outdoor adventures. Boulder, defined by its landscape, is the place to let your natural athlete loose by going rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and fly fishing. Boulder is called America’s best sports city, the thinnest city in America, the healthiest place in Colorado, the most bike-friendly city in America, and climbing town USA. Here’s the lowdown on getting your best Rocky Mountain high during your weekend in Boulder.
Day 1—Flatiron Hiking, Pearl Street Mall, NCAR, and Celestial Seasonings
Breakfast is the first order of the day after you pull into Boulder. The Boulder Farmer’s Market, every Saturday from April to November, offers over 150 stalls selling locally-grown veggies and fruits, fresh bread, Colorado wines, and pastries. Buy a selection and have an impromptu picnic.
The morning is perfect for hiking The Flatirons, a series of tilted sandstone slabs that form Boulder’s iconic skyline. Park at Chautauqua Park and stop by the Ranger Cottage to pick up a trail map. A good 3.2-mile out-and-back hike is up Chautauqua and Royal Arch Trails to a unique arch and great views across the city. If walking a path isn’t enough adventure, hire a guide with Front Range Climbing Company and climb the First Flatiron or the easy East Face of the Third Flatiron, an 800-foot-high slab that’s considered the best beginner climb in Colorado.
Head down to the pedestrian-friendly, four-block-long Pearl Street Mall, the heart of downtown Boulder. Stroll down the closed street and check out eclectic shops and boutiques, street performers, benches for people-watching, and restaurants. The mall is the epicenter of Boulder eating so picking which restaurant for lunch is tough. Good choices are Oak at Fourteenth with a killer kale salad; The Kitchen; The Mediterranean Restaurant just south of the Mall; and Cajun and Creole food at Lucile’s Creole Cafe north of the Mall.
Spend the afternoon getting a grip on Boulder’s diverse arts scene and scientific community. Drive to the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s (NCAR) Mesa Laboratory below the Flatirons and take a self-guided tour. First, start in the theater and watch Air, Planet, People, and then roam through several exhibit galleries and learn about clouds, weather, atmospheric layers, the sun, and the center’s unique design by architect I.M. Pei. Afterward, take a hike on the 0.4-mile NCAR Weather Trail and read interpretative signs about the weather.
A couple other great tours are at Celestial Seasonings and Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMOCA). The 45-minute Celestial Seasonings tea tour takes you through the largest tea manufacturer in the United States. Visit the production floor and learn about making tea from herbs and leaves which are dried and blended into famed teas like Red Zinger and Sleepytime. Later sip hot cups of tea at the Celestial Café and shop for tea gifts. The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Boulder offers spectacular exhibitions of modern art, as well as performances and presentations.
If you didn’t have tea at Celestial Seasonings, head over to the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse near Boulder Creek for a foreign experience in one of the city’s most interesting attractions. The teahouse, hand-built in Dushanbe in Tajikistan, Boulder’s sister city, was shipped as a gift. The building is paneled with tiles, has a hand-carved painted ceiling, and a fountain graced by seven copper sculptures. A traditional afternoon tea features cakes, scones, pastries, finger sandwiches, and, of course, tea.
It’s hard to pick where to eat dinner with so many great choices. Boulder favorites include Brassiere Ten Ten, Riff’s Urban Fare, Pizzeria Locale, Rincon Argentino, and Flagstaff House Restaurant. Vegans like the Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant. The city also offers over 20 breweries, most serving gastropub food, like Avery Brewing and Mountain Sun Pub.
Day 2—Eldorado Canyon, Boulder Falls, Nederland, and Mountain Biking
The next day is reserved for getting outside and enjoying the natural amenities that make Boulder the best sports town in Colorado. First, get a hardy sit-down breakfast at Walnut Café, Snooze an A.M. Eatery, Foolish Craig’s Café, or Chautauqua Dining Hall with its views of the Flatirons.
Head south to E ldorado Canyon State Park, a cliff-lined gorge that’s one of the best climbing areas in the country with hundreds of routes on cliffs like The Bastille, Wind Tower, and Redgarden Wall. It’s also a superb place for hiking. Fun trails include Streamside Trail along South Boulder Creek, Fowler Trail to an overlook, and Rattlesnake Gulch Trail to hotel ruins.
Take a late-morning drive up Boulder Canyon on highway 119. The highway twists up the canyon, passing popular climbing cliffs and deep holes in Boulder Creek that are perfect for fly fishing. Stop at Boulder Falls, a 70-foot plunge reached by a short trail. After 17 miles, you’ll reach the quaint town of Nederland, the gateway to Indian Peaks Wilderness Area and the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. Take a walk around the old mining town and have lunch at Kathmandu Restaurant or Crosscut Pizzeria, then head down the canyon to Boulder.
Boulder’s a bicycle town, with hundreds of miles of bike paths, singletrack mountain bike trails, dirt roads, and paved country roads for road bikes. Rent a bike at University Bicycles and hit the trails. Families like the easy 5.5-mile Boulder Creek Path, passing the University of Colorado. For singletrack adventures, great rides include the Marshall Mesa trails, the Canyon Loop Trail at Betasso Preserve, and Walker Ranch Loop. Strong cyclists gain 3,000 feet of elevation in ten miles on roads up Sunshine Canyon to Gold Hill. Boulder also has a bike-sharing program with 38 B-cycle kiosks where you can check out a bike for an hour ride.
Finish your perfect Boulder getaway by driving 1.1 miles up the Flagstaff Mountain Road to Panorama Point, a spectacular overlook above Boulder. The city’s tree-lined streets spread below to the tawny prairie horizon, while the First Flatiron’s massive slab rises to the south.