Nestled up to the iconic Flatirons- and boasting some of the country’s best open spaces- with an interconnected trail system running throughout town, Boulder is a great place to explore. The Flatirons striking, sloped rusty-red limestone formations make up the Boulder foothills, and are the backdrop of just about everywhere you stop. Tying it all together is the pristine Boulder Creek, working its way through town. A seamless transition between nature and city, Boulder is best experienced by walking.
Boulder is an amazing biking city with great hiking options in the Flatirons and Royal Arch area, as well. I will cover those in another post. This post is focused on what you can reach comfortably with your feet. I plan on keeping you out of traffic, relaxed, and engaged the whole trip through. On to the itinerary:
– Getting Started with Parking or Home Base
– Boulder Creek Path
– Central Park
– Colorado University Campus
– Pearl Street
– Heading Back via Pearl Historic District
– Strategery and Waypoints
Parking or Home Base- Boulder can be extremely expensive for the people who never venture past Pearl Street. But you don’t have pay a dime to enjoy everything the city has to offer. You should never pay to park in Boulder- there are just too many options if you’re willing to look. Eben G. Fine Park is a great starting point; just far enough from down town, it usually always has parking spots. If it’s full and it’s the weekend, there are always spots at the Boulder County Justice Center Lot on 6th street. Weekday’s not so much, closed to public, Monday – Friday, 7am – 5 pm. For out of towners looking for a home-base, I’d go no farther than the Foot of the Mountain Motel. It’s cozy, low key, and affordable!
Boulder Creek Path- Like a fine wine, Boulder Creek ties the city together flawlessly. You could spend the day without crossing a single street if you so choose. From the parking lot take the steep stairs down to Fine Park, make a bee-line straight to the creek to relax and get your bearings. In the summer heat, you could follow the trail west out of town to where the creek opens into swimming holes. Frequented mostly by college kids, is a popular spot to relax along the water, in what I can only imagine as some Boulder mating ritual. Not too many people are actually in the water, snow melt from the Rocky’s stays near freezing year-round. Take a right (east), and cross the bridge out of the park. Ditch the concrete path, and take the dirt path along the creek. Covered with towering cotton woods, you start to forget you’re in a city. Working your way along the river you pass a sculpture garden and a stern statue of Chief Niwot, read the plaque to understand why he is so angry. Farther up, you’ll pass bass pros of the future, fishing at the kid’s pond. The dirt path finally merges back up with the concrete trail, just in time for a quick shot of caffeination at Seeds.
Right over the Boulder Creek, this Library Café boasts the best views in the City. Enter through the main library entrance, and say hi to the nicest security desk I’ve ever met. Frequented by locals of all kinds, Seeds not only has great views, but has great people watching as well. As I sit watching the water flow by, with the Flatirons in the background, I can’t help noticing a young lady eating fresh garlic cloves. She explains it’s to purge all the cannabis and cigarette smoke from her lungs. Washing it down with some “raw” water, from what I can only imagine was pulled from the creek below. There’s a used book store next to café as well, with a great selection. Find a good one for reading by one of the many micro-waterfalls on your journey.
Central Park – Back on the trail, you work your way up to Central Park. European vibe meets the Rockies with an outdoor amphitheater, lounging locals, and a weekly farmers market. For a cheap alternative, pick up some picnic supplies at the market. Framing the park are two contrasting styles of beautiful architecture. The Boulder Dushanbe Tea house was built by hand in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, then shipped stone by stone to its destination in Boulder. This mosaic masterpiece is the perfect place to sip on some tea and reflect.
Next to the tea house is the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Housed in a 1906 historic brick warehouse, with unique rotating galleries- it’s worth the price of admission. FREE! On Saturday’s and 1$ Tuesday through Sunday. Donations are much appreciated, though. A recent construction project will have you searching to get back on the Boulder Creek Trail, just follow the detour signs, to get back on track. With any luck, you managed to grab some picnic supplies and packed away a few beers, as well. We are coming up to my favorite spot on the Boulder Creek. Just under the 17th street bridge, there’s a little hide away. A great place to relax, with large flat rocks to lay on, a small water fall into a swimming hole, and never crowded. Jump into the brisk refreshing water, crawl back on a hot rock, and repeat. Back on the trail, Boulder Creek continues to work its way through town, break off the path, and take the bridge across to Colorado University (CU) Campus.
Colorado University Campus- The short-cut to campus makes you earn it-with a path that runs practically straight up. Catch your breath at the top, and enjoy panoramic views of the City. CU’s campus has distinctive coarse sandstone walls, and sloping red-tiled roofed buildings, set with the Flatirons as a backdrop. When the powers that be were deciding on where to put their flagship University- it was between Boulder and Canyon City. Apparently, the consolation prize was the state prison. Canyon City has six of those now, explaining all those “no hitch hiking signs” out there. The best way to experience the campus is to Zig Zag aimlessly, discovering interesting buildings and greenspaces along the way. Don’t miss the Old Main and Varsity Lake on your travels. For another caffeine fix, swing by the Laughing Goat Coffee shop at the Norlin Library. One thing I really like about this coffee shop is its open most days until midnight,
nourishing those all-nighters. For a taste of more campus life, head up to The Hill-via the underground tunnel on college avenue. The Fox Theater, multiple bars, and restaurants line the streets. For the younger crowd head to Illegal Pete’s, to rub elbows with the alumni swing by the Sink. The Sink, is my vote for best pub grub in town-plus its funky vibe, and iconic art covering the walls, makes for a great experience regardless. Staying traffic free, we head back across to CU campus. Work your way to a hidden trail at the end of 15th Street. Covered in thick overgrown vegetation, you wind down past the CU practice Field and back onto the Boulder Creek Path. Cut back across Central Park, and make your way to the Pearl Street Mall.
Pearl Street- Pedestrian friendly, historic buildings, a multitude of unique expensive shops, and big crowds. Pearl Street can be a lot of fun popping in and out of shops, listening street performers busking and juggling, who knows what. Unfortunately, most tourist never seem to want to leave this area. There are plenty of gems hidden in all those expensive shops worth exploring though. Head over to the courthouse, one of the best examples Art Deco around. Take a seat next to the fountain, and examine the many details on the exterior. Swing around the courthouse and stroll next to the Boulder Theater, another Art Deco gem, built in 1906. Stop in at the bar, or better yet, take in a show at this intimate venue. From the theater, hang a left on Spruce, and head up to the Hotel Boulderado. Pick up some oysters and truffle fries at happy hour (daily 3-6) at the Corner Bar inside the hotel. Mixing great atmosphere and an interesting menu, in the historic space of a bygone era. Make sure you take time to check out the impressive stained glass ceiling in the lobby- and a sip of pure cold water from their Boulder owned Arapahoe Glacier fountain.
Jump back on the Pearl Street for some window shopping. Some good options are the multi-level Boulder Book Store, and Peppercorn store-for anything you didn’t know you needed. Keep an eye out for the basement shops, there a lot of eclectic, new age items. If you’re looking for dive bars head to the Sundown Saloon or the Attic Bar. At the Sundown, cheap PBR pitches, free pool, Christmas lights, and sticky floors, await you at this sociable basement bar. If you are looking for great cocktails and atmosphere, check out the Bitter Bar or T/aco on Walnut St. Both seem to be able to pull off being artsy and yet still inviting. If an affordable quick bite is what you’re looking for, stop in the back deli at Lolita’s Market, or across the street at Nick-N-Willy’s Pizza.
Heading Back via Pearl Historic District- Take a stroll through Boulder’s impressive historic district on your way back to your vehicle or hotel. Once a town of itself, West Boulder, this neighborhood boasts full, mature trees- with each house seeming to have its own unique architecture. In no particular fashion, meander your way to Campbell Robertson Park, admiring the exceptional details along the way. Rest your feet for a bit at Campbell Park, for your final push home. Take the cobbled Mountain View Road from here and connect back onto the bike path. This leads you past Settlers Park, a very miniature Garden of the Gods. If you still have the energy, take the Red Rocks Trail up for great views of the City. Afterward, take the underground tunnel across Boulder Canyon Drive- and you find yourself back where your started, Eben G. Fine Park.
All in all, the day trip took a leisurely seven hours- and about six miles of walking. It didn’t feel like six miles, though, with all the stops to relax and take in this great city.
Thanks for reading!
Load some waypoints on your google maps, to give you a basic guide lines to get your around the City. I challenge you to stray form the path a bit and find your own gems. If you got any good suggestions, please report in the comments below!
Eben G. Fine Parking and Foot of the Mountains Hotel (40.012625, -105.2961220)
Boulder Creek Path (40.0138310, -105.294249)
Seeds Library Café (40.014538, -105.282116)
Central Park, Market, Tea House, & Contemporary Art (40.014561, -105.277744)
Boulder Creek Swimming Hole (40.011892, -105.272404)
Bridge to CU Campus (40.011411, -105.270133)
Laughing Goat Coffee House (40.008668, -105.269951)
Tunnel to The Hill (40.007530, -105.274611)
The Sink & Illegal Pete’s on the Hill (40.008270, -105.276228)
Secrete Path through Practice Field (40.011739, -105.274671)
Pearl Street & Art Deco Courthouse (40.018498, -105.278080)
Boulder Theater (40.019103, -105.277576)
Campbell Robertson Park (40.017179, -105.289125)
Settler’s Park & Tunnel to Eben G. Fine Park (40.013679, -105.296554)
Nothing too special here. I made sure I had a day bag, with water, picnic supplies, a few beers, sunscreen, chap stick. I had no issues walking into bars & restaurants with my day bag. A good pair of walking shoes goes a long way as well…
Special thanks to Editor Andi