5 free things to do in Boulder

Nov. 18, 2019
A view of the Flatirons in Boulder with a pink sky. If you're looking for fun free things to do in Boulder, Chautauqua Park is a great place.
Chautauqua Park in Boulder is a beautiful spot to enjoy a hike. Boulder’s distinctive Flatirons jut up in the background. Photo: Getty Images.

When you arrive in Boulder, the view is breathtaking and distinctive. You’ll see the steep, angled rock formations, known as the Flatirons, jutting from the foothills into the sky, and the craggy Indian Peaks towering over them in the distance to the west.

Boulder’s natural beauty is one of its claims to fame. So, too, are its world-class athletes who love to train in this high-altitude mecca. They also famously indulge in healthy food and drinks, so Boulder has given rise to health-based businesses like the Celestial Seasons Tea Company.

Boulder is also an academic incubator with the flagship campus of the University of Colorado. Some of the nation’s top scientists also are headquartered here at national labs. Enjoy these five free things to do in Boulder and you’ll soon get a feel for Boulder’s unique beauty and personality.

1. Stroll or run the Boulder Creek Path.

The Boulder Creek Path is a great place to walk or run.
The Boulder Creek Path is a great place to relax, walk or go for a run. Photo: University of Colorado Boulder.

Want to work out with those famous Boulder athletes? The future Olympians may run faster than most, but people of all ages and abilities can enjoy the paved path that runs about 5.5 miles from Boulder Canyon on the west to the Stazio ball fields on the east.

A great spot along the Boulder Creek Path any time of year is Eben G. Fine Park. In the summer, the park is full of people who are picnicking, wading in the creek and tubing when the water levels are safe. Fine was a Boulder businessman and booster for the city, who used to be known as “Mr. Boulder.” Now, whether you’re walking your dog, tubing, walking or running along the creek, you can thank Fine for helping make Boulder one of the nation’s most beautiful cities.

2. Take the Celestial Seasonings Tea Tour and sample their delicious herbal teas.

This free tour takes you behind the scenes, were tea makers blend natural ingredients from around the world into Celestial Seasonings’ famous teas. Get ready for a highlight, a trip into the peppermint room. (The scent is so powerful that the peppermint has to be stored on its own.) And don’t miss seeing the distinctive art that Celestial Seasonings features on its tea boxes.

No children under age 5. Those under 15 must be accompanied by adults. The tour lasts 30 minutes and is wheelchair accessible. After your tour, you can taste Celestial Seasonings’ teas for free.

Open every day, except for major holidays. Visit the website or call ahead to confirm the hours. Location: 4600 Sleepytime Drive in Boulder.

3. Hike in Chautauqua Park.

The Boulder area was originally home to indigenous people from the Southern Arapahoe tribe.

Newcomers seeking gold then settled the area, and as Boulder developed, early leaders wanted to set aside open space, while promoting the Chautauqua movement, which focused on art, preservation, education and enlightenment.

Hiking in Chautauqua Park in Boulder.
Chautauqua Park is a beautiful place to hike any time of the year. Photo: University of Colorado Boulder.

Way back in 1898, Colorado Chautauqua was born and Boulder residents agreed to spend public funds for an adjacent park.

Colorado Chautauqua is one of the few remaining institutions of its type in the U.S. It features a learning center, the Chautauqua Dining Hall, cottages and a public park with great hiking trails.

Stop at the ranger cottage and pick up a hiking map along with advice. A fun loop takes you up the Bluebell Road to Woods Quarry, then you can return via the Enchanted Mesa.

The hiking options at Chautauqua are endless. So, too, are the crowds. Boulder now has a free shuttle system. Parking here can be a big challenge, so you would be wise to consider using the shuttle. Chautauqua is also a great place to hike with your dogs.

4. Visit the National Center for Atmospheric Research, also known as NCAR Mesa Lab.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research or NCAR sits on a beautiful bluff in Boulder.
Boulder’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is a beautiful building designed by famed architect, I.M. Pei. The location is also spectacular. Photo: NCAR.

The scientists at NCAR study all things atmospheric and that includes weather, water, climate and air quality. But you don’t have to be a science nerd to enjoy a visit to NCAR. The location, which hugs Boulder’s foothills, is spectacular and famed architect, I.M. Pei, designed the concrete and limestone building. Visitors are free to hike around NCAR as well.

NCAR’s Visitor Center is open 363 days a year, with tours available. But, you can also explore on your own on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Click here to download the tour app. Address: 1850 Table Mesa Drive, Boulder.

5. Visit Old Main at the University of Colorado campus. Learn about astronauts and see a moon rock.

Stroll around the beautiful University of Colorado campus and you’ll quickly understand why CU is such a popular choice for students from Colorado, elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world.

Old Main at the University of Colorado in Boulder with the snow-dusted Flatirons in the background
Old Main at the University of Colorado’s flagship campus in Boulder, with the snow-dusted Flatirons in the background. Photo: University of Colorado Boulder.

Stop in Old Main, the original building on campus, and visit the CU Heritage Center on the third floor for free.

There, you’ll find an exhibit that celebrates astronauts who attended CU. There’s a replica of Jack Swigert, a CU alum who flew on the Apollo 13 mission. (The original statue of Swigert is on display at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.) The Heritage Center also boasts a moon rock on loan from NASA. It’s from a different Apollo mission.

Address: 1600 Pleasant Street, Boulder. Heritage Center hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except during CU holidays. Free admission.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.