Boulder's central location on the Colorado Front Range affords quick access to numerous destinations. Rocky Mountain National Park is only an hour away. The lesser-known Indian Peaks Wilderness area is even closer.
The Garden of the Gods park (shown to the right) near Colorado Springs — along with nearby Pike's Peak — can be visited in a day.
Boulder can be a jumping-off point for longer trips to Telluride, Aspen, Steamboat, and other locations. We've detailed some popular destinations below.
Estes Park, affectionately known as the "gateway to the Rockies," is a mountain town of 6,000 people adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park. The town is busy and bustling in the summer; however, in the off-season, Estes Park becomes a quiet retreat. While you're there, stroll along the riverwalk with its various cafes and restaurants. If you're seeking a cup of coffee, try locally-owned Kind Coffee.
Slightly outside of town on the peak-to-peak highway is Lily Lake — a beautiful summer spot for a family walk and picnic. Be aware that large herds of elk often wander directly into downtown Estes Park. Drive carefully!
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the finest parks in America. It's also one of the largest. There are three popular destinations within the park — all quite unique, and distant from the others.
The highest part of the park can be visited by driving up the winding Trail Ridge Road. Near the Alpine Visitor's Center at the top, you can stroll along the Arctic-looking Tundra trail. While Boulder is wilting in July heat, temps on this trail will usually be in the 50°s.
Bear Lake, at a lower elevation in the center of the park, is a popular place to stroll and picnic. The alpine views from the lake are lovely. Note that the Bear Lake and surrounding area requires a special timed reservation entry pass due to its popularity.
The southern Wild Basin section of the park near Allenspark offers a selection of forested, gentle hikes along a river. Further details can be found on the hiking page.
Fort Collins, located an hour from Estes Park via via US-34, is the home to the University of Colorado's rival, Colorado State. Like Boulder, Fort Collins is a fun, outdoorsy, college town. Old Town Fort Collins is the historic downtown district, somewhat analogous to Boulder's Pearl Street mall. Slightly northwest of the city is the scenic Poudre Canyon — a place loved by hikers, climbers, and fly-fisherfolk.
An hour northwest of Fort Collins is the tiny town of Red Feather Lakes, home of the Buddhist Shambhala Mountain Center (map). The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, blessed by the Dalai Lama himself, is worth a visit to the Shambhala Mountain Center. The Stupa is open to visitors from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.
The Indian Peaks Wilderness area is immediately west of Nederland, at the top of Boulder Canyon. Administered by the National Forest Service, the high-alpine Indian Peaks feature some of the finest mountain scenery in the area. A timed entry reservation is required.
Brainard Lake, at 10,000 feet, is a great spot for a family picnic and stroll. The hike from Brainard to Lake Isabelle will reveal waves of wildflowers in the summer. Navajo, Apache and Shoshoni Peaks surround Lake Isabelle, and protect a small year-round glacier. Hikes to Blue Lake and Mitchell Lake are also lovely. To enter the Brainard Lake section of the Indian Peaks Wilderness area, you can follow the peak-to-peak highway from Nederland to Ward. See our hikes page for more detail.
Summit County, located a few hours southwest of Boulder off of I-70, is most famous for its ski resorts. However, scenic Lake Dillon in the center of the county is a fantastic spot for summer outings and boat trips. The towns of Breckenridge and Frisco are fun destinations even in the skiing off-season. Breckenridge in particular hosts numerous summer arts and music events. You can explore hiking trails through the aspen trees above Dillon, and follow your hike with a drink at one of the independent coffee shops or brewpubs. Shoppers might enjoy visiting the factory outlet stores in Silverthorne.
Denver, Colorado is just 45 minutes to the south. If you'd like a taste of a bigger city, there are many sections of Denver to explore. Starting from the north, the Lower Highlands — or LoHi — offers a collection of fun restaurants and bars, including the Linger Eatuary (repurposed from its former incarnation as the Olinger Mortuary) and El Five with its great views and drinks. The Little Man ice cream shop always draws long lines.
Walking across the Highland Bridge over I-25, you'll come to Platte Street with its numerous breweries, cocktail bars, restaurants, and the REI flagship store. Continuing through Commons Park will bring you to Little Raven and the Millenium Bridge. Once you cross that, you'll be on the edge of LoDo — Lower Downtown. Sixteenth street is fairly touristy, but it will lead you to offshoots like Larimer Square, with its many restaurants spilling into the street.
The arts district of RiNo (River North) is over to the east. If you're there, stop by the Ramble Hotel for an elegant meal or drink. Art lovers will also want to visit the Denver Art Museum to the southeast of LoDo at 100 W. 14th Avenue Pkwy. The nearby FIRE bar and restaurant on the roof of the ART hotel is a great place to unwind. Meow Wolf's Convergence Station is another must-see for creative types, located slightly southwest of LoDo past the Metro State University campus at 1338 1st Street.
On the southern side of Denver is the elegant Cherry Creek area, which offers numerous cafes, restraurants, and a large shopping district. If you're in the area, visit the Denver Botanic Gardens at 1007 York Street.
Colorado Springs, Pike's Peak, and the stunning Garden of the Gods park are slightly over an hour south of Denver. As the second-largest city in Colorado, Colorado Springs features many urban sights and sounds — including historical hotels like the Broadmoor. Outdoor lovers will enjoy the nearby Pike's Peak and Garden of the Gods park. Pike's Peak is one of Colorado's "fourteeners," and the 14,110 foot summit is accessible by car. Garden of the Gods park is a unique public park with sandstone pinnacles. Hikers, bikers, and climbers will enjoy the views from among the spires.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg (map) is an hour east of Boulder. The sanctuary is not a zoo, but a rescue organization focused on tigers, lions, bears, and wolves. In order to fund its rehabilitation and rescue efforts, the site requires a donation of $50 per person over 13, $30 per child age 3 to 12, and $20 per person for seniors over 70. While there, you can walk on 1.5 miles long elevated walkway and observe the 600 animals spread out over 10,000 acres. Note that the location is likely too hot mid-day in the summer. Consider visiting early or later in the day.
If leaping through the air as you run down Sahara-style sand dunes sounds fun, you might enjoy a visit to the Great Sand Dunes National Park (map). Located 4.5 hours south of Boulder, the Great Sand Dunes park features dunes up to 750 feet tall. The site was recently designated a National Park, and attracts many visitors to the Alamosa area each year.
While you're there, you might also enjoy a visit to tiny Crestone, Colorado (map). Crestone is an eclectic spiritual community, featuring Zen and Tibetan Buddhist centers, a Carmelite Catholic monastery, a Hindu ashram, and other spiritual centers. Neighboring hikes in the Sangre de Cristo mountains are rugged and rewarding.
Steamboat Springs is a popular ski town in the winter. However, in warmer weather it's also a great base from which to explore north-central Colorado. The town of 10,000 people is surrounded by the scenic and rugged Yampa valley. The Yampa River weaves through town, and is a popular spot for inner tubing. While you're visiting, consider a trip to the Strawberry Hot Springs. ($20 entrance, cash only. Reservations required. Clothing optional after dark. 4-wheel drive with snow tires required from November 1st through May 1st.) Book lovers should visit the Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Steamboat is roughly 3.5 hours from Boulder.
Aspen, Colorado is famous for its mix of affluence, opulence, and mountain ruggedness. The small town of 6,000 people draws millions of visitors each year. Mountain hikes in the area are plentiful — the twin Maroon Bells fourteeners are a particularly scenic place to enjoy the fall aspen trees. The nearby towns of Snowmass and Glenwood Springs are also fun to explore.
On your way there, visit Leadville (at 10,000 feet, one of the highest towns in the United States) and stunning, high-alpine Independence Pass. A trip to Aspen from Boulder via Leadville takes approximately four hours.
Telluride is near the southwest corner of Colorado, almost seven hours from Boulder. However, many visitors find that the trip is worth it. A rugged and beautiful small mountain town, Telluride is the home of the Telluride Film Festival and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival — as well as warm-weather hiking and cold-weather skiing.