I could write an entire love letter about Boulder, Colorado! In the foothills of the mountains, where the Rocky Mountains meet the plains, lies the home of the CU Buffaloes, Boulder, Colorado. It is known for its gorgeous mountain scenery, never ending sunshine, and is consistently ranked as one of the most active cities in America.
I lived in Chicago for most of my life, where I was raised on the idea that you were supposed to work yourself to death just to live in a small box apartment and have two weeks of vacation time a year. I knew there had to be more to life. I had passed through Boulder once before during one of those measly two week vacations, and it always stuck in my mind as somewhere I’d enjoy living. In January of 2020, I took a huge leap of faith, packed up my dog and whatever could fit into my car, and made the one-way drive to Boulder, where I lived for about a year and a half.
Life sure took a lot of twists and turns during that year and half. Life changed as we all knew it, and I personally was laid off five times that year. But during that time, I spent more days outside than inside, exploring the mountains, the cobblestone streets of Pearl Street Mall, and trying my hand at every activity under the sun. I watched every sunset from the Flatirons, learned how to ski at Eldora Mountain, and biked nearly 1,000 miles in Colorado — in one summer alone.
What I’m saying is…I love this city, and I can’t wait to share it with you. Without further ado, here is my list of the best things to do in Boulder, Colorado!
ELDORADO CANYON STATE PARK
Eldorado Canyon State Park is an underrated area of Boulder in my opinion! Here you’ll find hikes featuring famous ruins, the Continental Divide Overlook, and some of the best technical rock climbing routes. For lunch or camping, stop through the city of Nederland.
My favorite hiking trail in the park is the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail, which is not too technical and features views of both the Crag’s Ruins and stunning views of the Continental Divide Overlook. If you’re planning on going in the winter, be sure to bring microspikes or ice climbing gear!
Chautauqua Park is the most popular park in Boulder, because it features our home mountain, the Flatirons. There are plenty of hiking and bike trails to keep you occupied here, as well as some great photo spots, sunset overlooks, and technical rock climbing routes.
Some of my favorite hikes in the park for visitors include Royal Arch Trail and First and Second Flatirons Loop. Both are pretty short and reasonable to accomplish for most people. The Flatirons Loop has the best views of the Flatirons and isn’t too steep. Royal Arch is a little steeper than the Flatirons Loop, but has an iconic arch and great views of the city below.
If you’re just looking for a quick stop for sunset, drive up Baseline Road to Flagstaff Mountain. Depending on how far you want to go, you can drive all the way up to Lost Gulch Lookout, stick down to Artist’s Point, or find another pull off along the way.
Local tip: Make sure you have plenty of gas!
Boulder’s main attraction is its home mountain, the Flatirons. These mountains get their name from their flat mountain faces, and are best known for being the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. They are the backdrop of Pearl Street Mall, and seeing them from the road just feels like coming home. There are plenty of great hiking trails and bike trails, rock climbing routes, and more in the Flatirons.
If you’re looking for some easier trails, check out the ones in Chautauqua Park. If you’re looking for some tougher hikes, climb Flagstaff Mountain or Green Mountain.
MOUNT SANITAS TRAIL
The Mount Sanitas Trail is a great hike, but don’t let its short distance fool you. It is STEEP. But it’s a unique hike, as it features those famous Colorado red rock formations and an epic view of the city of Boulder down below.
The trailhead is not marked, but you’ll want to park at the base of Sunshine Canyon. Parking can be limited, so either arrive early or plan to walk. The hike itself is about a two and half mile round trip but has an elevation gain of about 1,300 feet. It’s definitely doable, but be prepared for a workout!
My absolute favorite hike in all of Boulder is Bear Mountain Peak. It’s probably the longest hike in Boulder, but it has the most epic views!
There are many ways to get to the top, and the view from above is more than worth any route. If you get to the top and want to keep going, less than a mile away is South Boulder Peak, featuring another great view of the Rockies.
Both of these peaks can be accessed from South Boulder, with trailheads in the NCAR parking lot.
BOULDER SKYLINE TRAVERSE
If your lungs are accustomed to the mile high altitude and you’re looking for an epic hike, I highly recommend the Boulder Skyline Traverse. This hike is about 18 miles long, and features all 5 major peaks in Boulder: Mount Sanitas, Green Mountain and Flagstaff Mountain (both in the Flatirons), Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak (south Boulder).
It’s not for the faint of heart, but worth every step. I once hiked it two days in a row, because I was babysitting a husky and got stuck in a hail storm the first day. So be sure to check the weather and plan for this hike on a clear day!
If you love water activities, make your way over to the Boulder Reservoir! There is over 700 acres of land to explore here.
Go swimming, paddleboarding, hiking, or have a picnic with the family. No matter what you decide to do, enjoy the water, the views, and a few days off in one of the most beautiful cities in America.
BOULDER CREEK PATH
Boulder is consistently named as one of the most active cities in America, and if you’ve ever been there it’s no wonder why! With its high altitude and sheer amount of outdoor activities available, there’s no shortage of things to do outside.
If your legs are burning from mountain hikes and you’re looking for a more chill activity to try outdoors, check out the Boulder Creek Path. This path is 5.5 miles long and is great for nature walks and biking. It takes you from Boulder Canyon, through downtown, to the Stazio Ballfields.
If you’re looking for a fun way to cool off, you’ll often find locals tubing in the Boulder Creek in the summertime, especially on the 4th of July!
ELDORA MOUNTAIN SKI RESORT
If you’re visiting Boulder in the winter time, you’ve got to ski or snowboard at least once! To stay in town, head over to Eldora Mountain Ski Resort! This mountain is pretty small, so it has a more laid back family atmosphere. If you’re a beginner or looking to ski on a budget and avoid crowds, Eldora is the mountain for you.
The resort has 40 kilometers of nordic trails, which can be accessed from the Eldora Nordic Center. Visit for a fun, chill day in the mountains with the whole family.
Local Tip: Eldora Mountain Ski Resort is included in the Ikon Pass.
PEARL STREET MALL
The shops and restaurants at Pearl Street Mall are a Boulder icon! Pearl Street Mall is a pedestrian-only outdoor shopping and dining center located right in downtown Boulder.
My favorite way to spend an evening is by enjoying happy hour or dinner somewhere in Pearl Street Mall, and then heading up Canyon Road to a pull off on Sugarloaf Mountain for sunset or camping.
Some of the best bars and restaurants in Pearl Street Mall are Mountain Sun Pub, Rio Grand “The Rio”, Avanti Food and Beverage, Hapa Sushi (great happy hour deals!), Boulder Baked, Pizzeria Locale, Foolish Craig’s, and Sundown Saloon (“The Downer”).
If you’re looking for a hotel to stay in during your time in Boulder, I highly recommend Hotel Boulderado, an iconic and historic building located right next to Pearl Street Mall.
BOULDER MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
If you’re a fan of contemporary art, stop by the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Boulder to admire the exhibits or take an art class. This innovative museum showcases both regional and international artists in various mediums such as oil paintings, sculpture, dance, and poetry.
Admission is only a few dollars, and it’s located right next to a lot of main attractions, so you can’t miss it on your trip to Boulder.
Located right on University of Colorado Boulder’s campus is Fiske Planetarium, a public museum dedicated to the world of space. It features different immersive astronomical and astrophysical exhibits meant to educate and inspire the community on everything happening in the clouds above our heads.
Stop by for a couple hours to explore the exhibits or attend one of their live events, star talks, or laser shows!
MUSEUM OF BOULDER
The Museum of Boulder is located in downtown Boulder and features exhibits that teach children and adults all about the history of Boulder. They have plenty of interesting interactive and immersive exhibits, and really encourage creativity throughout the community.
Stop by to learn about Boulder’s breweries, college, history, community, and more.
The Boulder Theater is an eclectic live music, film, and comedy venue located in downtown Boulder. I recommend checking their website to see what’s playing when you’re in town and stopping by for some laughs and a great time!
FLAGSTAFF MOUNTAIN & SUMMIT NATURE CENTER
If you drive all the way up Flagstaff Road to the summit, you’ll find the Flagstaff Mountain and Summit Nature Center. It’s mostly geared toward children, but it features interactive exhibits and games that teach children all about the natural beauty and wildlife of the area.
As a bonus, it also offers some of the best views in Boulder!
FLAGSTAFF HOUSE RESTAURANT
If you’re looking for a great dinner from award-winning chefs with great views, check out Flagstaff House Restaurant! This steakhouse is located just a short way up Flagstaff Mountain in the Flatirons, and features gorgeous views of them.
Make a reservation for a night in town that you’ll never forget!
THE BOULDER DUSHANBE TEAHOUSE
The Dushanbe Tea House is a beautiful building located right next to Pearl Street that was gifted to Boulder from its sister city, Dushanbe. Stop by for a unique cocktail, afternoon tea, and to enjoy the stunning architecture.
If you’re visiting on a Saturday, take a few steps behind you to grab some fresh produce and support the local Boulder community! Some great brands that expanded worldwide have come out of the Boulder farmer’s market, including Boulder Canyon potato chips and Bobo’s Oat Bars.
“The Hill” is a neighborhood in Boulder located right next to CU Boulder’s campus, so it’s a great place to go if you’re looking to have a good time with a younger crowd. There are some excellent restaurants located in this area, including Half Fast Subs, Cosmo’s Pizza, Illegal Pete’s, and The Sink.
The Sink is a legendary burger joint known for its massive and unique Sinkburgers, many of which are named after celebrities who have visited. There are signatures all over the wall from college students, celebrities, and local tourists.
Stop by for a delicious burger, some Colorado beer, and a meal you’ll never forget!
The Kitchen American Bistro was founded by Hugo Matheson and Kimbal Musk, Elon Musk’s brother, in 2004. It is a stylish, more upscale restaurant featuring bold American and international dishes.
Be sure to make a reservation and stop by when you’re in town for a delicious experience at the base of the mountains that can’t be beat!
AVERY BREWING COMPANY
This wouldn’t be a Colorado travel guide without mentioning the best brewery in town. Avery Brewing Company has been a Colorado staple for over 25 years with a single focus: bringing the Boulder community the best craft beer.
Located near Pearl Street Mall, stop by for the best local beers in Boulder, specifically the White Rascal and Avery IPA.
THE RAYBACK COLLECTIVE
I used to spend nearly every single day of my life at The Rayback Collective! “The Rayback” is a super trendy half indoor, half outdoor bar located in North Boulder. They have the best live music scene, food trucks every day of the week, and all the best Colorado beers on tap!
Stop by to get work done during the week, grab a drink with a friend, or for a night out on the town! A visit here is one of the best things to do in Boulder!
BOULDER 1-DAY ROAD TRIPS
Rocky Mountain National Park
If you have a day or two free during your trip to Boulder, you absolutely need to make a trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park! Known for its absolutely stunning scenery and towering peaks, this world-renowned national park is a must-see during any trip to Colorado. It’s only about an hour and half away from Boulder, so it’s the perfect day trip!
Spend your morning completing a range of hikes in the Bear Lake Corridor or the entire day hiking the tallest mountain in the park, Longs Peak, sitting at 14,259 feet. Afterwards, stop through Estes Park for a burger and a beer, some Rocky Mountain Chocolates, or salt water taffy.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
If you’re looking for a perfect day trip, head over to Golden, Colorado. Located just 30 minutes from downtown Boulder, this cute town is known for having hidden gem hiking trails, a historic western downtown area, and great sunset views.
If you’re looking for sunset views or a great rock climbing area, check out North Table Mountain. If you are looking for beer downtown, check out the Golden Brewery. If you’re looking to have some woodsy mountain hikes all to yourself, head to Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
Peak to Peak Highway (Black Hawk to Estes)
As I’m sure you can imagine, there is no shortage of scenic mountain drives in Colorado, and Boulder does not disappoint. If you’re looking for a quick and easy drive, head up Flagstaff Mountain or head to Switzerland Trail if you have a couple hours free and a 4X4 vehicle.
If you’re looking for an epic day trip, drive the Peak to Peak Highway. This iconic mountain route starts in Black Hawk, Colorado, passes through the quaint and scenic mountain towns of Golden, Boulder, Clear Creek Canyon, and Nederland, and ends at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park. It takes approximately two hours to complete from start to finish, but I’d recommend blocking off a whole day for it!
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO COLORADO
- DURANGO: 21 Amazing Things To Do In Durango CO You’ll Love
- BUENA VISTA: 9 OF THE VERY BEST THINGS TO DO IN BUENA VISTA CO
- GLAMPING COLORADO: 20 Amazing Glamping Experiences You’ll Love
- ASPEN: 18 Best Things To Do In Aspen For Year-Round Fun
- SMALL TOWNS: 18 Small Towns In Colorado Full Of Big Adventure
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