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Free Things To Do in Boulder
- #1View all PhotosfreeThe Flatirons#1 in BoulderNatural Wonders, Free, HikingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Free, HikingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
These jaw-dropping rock walls flanking Green Mountain have become the symbol of the city, with many Boulder businesses sporting their image as a logo. Flatirons One through Five are the most prominent, but there are also several smaller formations – with more creative names – to explore. Altogether, these picturesque slopes are the most popular rock climbing areas around (you can even see markings left by some of the first climbers, dating back to the 1940s, on Number Three). But for those of you who aren't quite comfortable entrusting your life to a harness, you can still take in the Flatirons from one of the area's hiking trails – recent visitors said there's a trail for every age and skill level. For information about Flatiron trails, visit the City of Boulder website.
Previous visitors say that no trip to Boulder would be complete without spending time admiring the rocks. But if you plan on hiking, travelers recommend coming prepared: The trails can be steep in places, not to mention slippery. And don't forget your camera – reviewers said you'll want to capture the stunning views.
- #2View all PhotosfreeChautauqua Park#2 in BoulderFree, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Perched on the southwest edge of the city, this tiny extension of Boulder Mountain Park offers some of the city's most photo-worthy vistas. Originally established in the late 1800s as a verdant retreat, this National Historic Landmark now hosts a handful of community events like concerts and festivals. Even when there isn't anything marked on the social calendar, Chautauqua is still a place to go for a breath of fresh air: Numerous paths and gardens await hikers, bikers, picnickers and dog walkers, while more adventurous travelers explore the rugged mountains nearby.
Visitors are blown away by the park's landscape and its facilities, which include lodging, dining and auditoriums. However, some reviewers were less satisfied with the crowds and limited parking. Because of the park's accessible location just minutes from downtown Boulder, Chautauqua sees more visitors than some of the city's other hiking spots like Eldorado Canyon State Park and Flagstaff Mountain. If you can, try to get to the park early before your fellow hikers start clogging the trails.
- #3View all Photos#3 in BoulderFree, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Stretching from Eighth to 20th streets in downtown Boulder, this buzzing thoroughfare is a shopaholic's Yellow Brick Road. Here, you'll find familiar brand names like Urban Outfitters and Patagonia sharing sidewalk space with local boutiques, trendy galleries and laid-back cafes. If you're not much of a shopper, come to Pearl Street for the fabulous dining, entertaining street performances and the prime people-watching.
Recent visitors said the shopping options were a bit underwhelming, but they praised the food selection and bustling atmosphere and said a stroll through this district is a must-do for any first-time Boulder visitors. However, travelers were also quick to point out that this is area is heavily populated with panhandlers.
- #4View all Photos#4 in BoulderEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, Tours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and Nightlife, Free, Tours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
After you've conquered the Flatirons, what better reward than an ice-cold pint of local Boulder ale? Though Denver is often regarded as Colorado's reigning beer city, Boulder can keep up, offering 20 breweries in its 27.8 square miles. To acquaint yourself with the city's suds, embark on the bike-friendly Boulder Beer Trail (which also includes stops at wineries and distilleries). Or, take the advice of visitors and locals and start your tasting tour at Avery Brewing Co., beloved for its India pale ale, brewery tours and large patio.
For a bit of history, head to the Boulder Beer Company. Back in 1979, America's 43rd brewing license was issued to two University of Colorado professors, giving them the go-ahead to open Colorado's very first microbrewery, Boulder Beer Company. Stop in for a tall glass of Hazed, an unfiltered dry-hopped ale, or a warm-weather favorite, the Pulp Fusion Blood Orange IPA.
- #5View all Photos#5 in BoulderFree, Tours, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Tours, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
No wonder everyone in Boulder seems so relaxed: The city is home to North America's largest producer of herbal tea, which packages and sends more than 8 million tea bags every day. Founded in 1969, Celestial Seasonings has since grown to serve more than 1.6 billion cups of tea (including green, red, white and chai varieties) a year to consumers all over the world.
Recent visitors agree that a tour of the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory is well worth the time, even if you're more of a coffee person. You'll get the chance to see the entire packaging process, not to mention the Celestial Herb Garden and the popular Mint Room, where the company stores giant bags of spearmint and peppermint tea. (Recent travelers delighted in the chance to see how long they can bear the powerful aromas before they need to step out for some fresh air.) Plus, you'll have the opportunity to sample some of the factory's best-sellers. If you're not already sold, keep in mind that the tour (and the tastings) is completely free.
- #7View all Photos#7 in BoulderFree, Hiking, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Hiking, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Ask any Boulder resident for a hiking recommendation and they'll probably point you to the Boulder Creek Path. This 5½-mile-long trail – completely undisturbed by automobile traffic – traces Boulder Creek from Boulder Canyon eastward through downtown to the Stazio Ballfields on the eastern fringes of town. On any given day, you'll come across walkers, bikers, rollerbladers and even the occasional kayaker. Compared to other hiking trails in the area, Boulder Creek Path is fairly easy, and if you head from east to west, the second half of your walk will be all downhill.
Many hikers who recently followed the Boulder Creek Path described their experience positively: Travelers said they enjoyed the natural surroundings and marveled at all the different ways that Boulderites take advantage of the path, from dogwalking to yoga. However, some visitors note that parts of the trail have become respites for members of the city's homeless community.
- #8View all Photos#8 in BoulderFree, Hiking, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Hiking, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you're looking for a hike the whole family can enjoy, aim for the top of Flagstaff Mountain. Rising out of Boulder Mountain Park, Flagstaff Mountain sits about 5 miles southwest of the city. If you're a novice trailblazer, you may find this mountain challenging due its altitude of nearly 7,000 feet. But there are numerous paths to choose from that span a variety of difficulty levels, and kids will enjoy what awaits them at the top of the mountain. Sitting on Flagstaff's summit, the nature center offers interactive exhibits, games and activities that teach children about the area's geography and wildlife. Flagstaff's peak also boasts numerous picnic areas and viewpoints. As for the romantics, the family-owned Flagstaff House Restaurant serves locally praised cuisine with beautiful vistas.
Recent visitors raved about the stunning views, adding that this is a must-do when in Boulder. If you aren't up for a several-mile uphill hike, you can drive to the summit by following Flagstaff Road (accessible May through October), but previous road-trippers warn that tight turns and steep passes can turn a car ride into an adrenaline rush.
- #9View all Photos#9 in BoulderFree, Sports, Neighborhood/Area, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Sports, Neighborhood/Area, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Even if you're not a prospective student, recent travelers recommend you pay a visit to the beautiful University of Colorado Boulder campus, located just minutes from downtown Boulder. When you're not lounging at Norlin Quadrangle (a designated a National Historic District), learn about the university's history at the CU Heritage Center (housed in Old Main – the first building on campus). Or brush up on your astronomy skills at the Fiske Planetarium.
If you're visiting in the fall, head over to Folsom Field to watch the Colorado Buffaloes take on Pac-12 football rivals (just make sure to pick up some Buffs gear at the University Memorial Center before kickoff). And if you're in Boulder during the summer recess, check out the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. The professional theater company has been celebrating Shakespeare since 1958. The festival runs from June to August and draws crowds of more than 20,000 spectators. You can also check out concerts, plays, recitals and more on the stages of CU Presents, the home of performing arts at the university.
- #10View all Photos#10 in BoulderMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
You don't have to be a hiker, a skier or a rock climber to experience Colorado's scenery. For a more laid-back glimpse at the mountainous landscape, head to the Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art. This museum houses one of the largest privately owned collections of post-1950s Western-themed artwork. Along Leanin' Tree's walls you'll find everything from action-packed canvases portraying cowboy life to serene landscapes depicting the purple mountains majesty.
Recent visitors highly recommend taking a turn about the Leanin' Tree's sculpture garden, even if you aren't one for gallery-gazing. When you're not admiring the artwork or outdoor sculptures, reviewers suggest you take a free tour of the adjacent greeting card factory. Travelers also advised bringing some money as you'll be tempted to purchase some cards after taking a spin through the production process.
- #11View all Photos#11 in BoulderMuseums, Free, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Free, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Most people consider a conversation about the weather to be a desperate attempt at small talk. But at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, sun, rain, wind and snow are always important topics. At this stunning sandstone building atop Table Mesa – a landmark some might recognize from Woody Allen's film, "Sleeper" – scientists study weather-related phenomena such as ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect. On a visit to the center, you can see some of the tools used to conduct experiments, like weather balloons, satellites and even robots. Meanwhile, hands-on exhibits are sure to excite the budding meteorologist in your family. After you've sufficiently toured the complex, get some fresh air along the Walter Orr Roberts Nature and Weather Trail, where you can learn all about Table Mesa's wildlife.
Guided tours of the center are available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between noon and 1 p.m., and recent visitors recommend coming prepared to learn as knowledgeable tour guides are eager to answer your questions. You can also opt for a tablet or cellphone tour; whichever option you choose, travelers highly recommend taking some time to explore on your own before grabbing a snack and enjoying the view from the on-site cafeteria.
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