This post is the third in a four part series about our 5-day trip to the Colorado Front Range.
During our trip to Colorado, we were really looking forward to visiting Boulder. The city has excellent hiking opportunities nearby along with an outdoor pedestrian mall, beautiful architecture, and cool shops and restaurants. On Saturday, it is also the home of one of the biggest farmers markets in the area, offering both prepared food and produce. It is also very easy to get to, sitting only 45 minutes from Denver’s downtown.
- Arrive in Boulder sometime after 8AM (we got in around 9:30AM)
- Park for free in downtown Boulder, then take the free shuttle to Chataqua Park
- Hike the Flatirons (this could take anywhere between 1.5 and 4 hours depending on how early you arrive and how hot it gets)
- Have some lunch in a park with food from the Boulder Farmer’s Market (open until 2)
- Head over to Celestial Seasonings for a tour of their tea factory (the last tour is at 4:30PM)
- Check out a museum and the architecture at UC Boulder
- Walk along the Pearl Street Mall, grabbing a snack or an ice cream pop on your walk
- Enjoy some music and a laid-back meal at the Rayback Collective
- And (if you still need more ice cream), stop by Sweet Cow on your way out of town
After breakfast in Denver, we hit the road for Boulder, arriving around 9:30AM. We aimed to park at the St. Julien Hotel lot (10th and Walnut), which is free on weekends. Surprisingly, many Boulder garages are free on weekends, but the street parking is not. Because the temperature was going to get into the high 90s on the day we visited, we wanted to do a short hike in the morning rather than waiting until later in the day. Boulder offers a free shuttle from the downtown garages to Chataqua Park, the gateway to the Flatirons and many other hikes in the foothills.
Chataqua Park was a summer teacher training center, but now is a lovely city park connecting to a network of trails into the hills. The shuttle dropped us off at the entrance to the park. We took a quick walk to the historic Dining Hall to use the public restrooms on the bottom floor, and then walked west to the ranger station to head onto the trail.
Because it was already getting so hot, and because of our long day hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park the previous day, we decided to do a 2.2 mile hike along the Chataqua Trail to the base of the second and third flatirons. Some of the best views of the rocks are at the start of the trail heading towards the jagged peaks.
The wildflowers along the first part of the trail were also plentiful and colorful, attracting lots of pollinators!
Another interesting feature of this hike is that to approach the base of the second and third flatirons, you need to cross over fairly large slabs that make a funny, glassy sound underfoot.
Although we didn’t try on this hot day, you can hike further uphill to the first and second flatirons or Royal Arch. There is also great rock climbing in the area. Vijay had previously visited the Flatirons in the fall (along with Jono – you can read about some of his other adventures on Julia’s climbing blog) , and the up-close views of the sharp peaks and the long views of CU Boulder from the higher trails were very impressive.
After checking out the base of the Flatirons on this interesting walk, we returned via the Bluebell-Baird Trail and the Ski Jump connector, which offered some shade on the return trip with superb views of the green foothills further north.
With our morning walk out of the way, we walked back into town, passing by the beautiful public library along the river bank and taking in some nice public art pieces along Pearl St., which eventually becomes the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall.
It was lunch time now, and, luckily, we were visiting Boulder on a Saturday during their large and varied farmer’s market! Most of the prepared food in the market is set up by the Dushanbe Teahouse. There were so many vendors on the street that we didn’t even notice the building until we returned to the area later in the day! The ornate building was shipped piece by piece from Boulder’s sister city in Tajikistan and features intricate carvings and colourful paint.
The farmer’s market itself was also a colourful affair! We had some delicious tacos from Tacos del Norte and a chocolate truffle in the company of a colorful parrot named Madrid. There were also lots of vendors selling unique snacks, flowers, produce, and other goods – perfect gifts to bring back home.
After lunch, we headed a bit out of town to the famous Celestial Seasonings factory. Tours of the factory are free, and when we arrived around 2PM, there wasn’t much of a wait for the next tour. Your tour ticket is a small packet of tea which makes a nice gift or personal treat for when you go home, and as you’re waiting for the tour to begin, you can sample several blends in the waiting area, check out some of the artwork commissioned for packaging over the years, and get a photo with the famous bear from Sleepytime tea.
Celestial Seasonings was founded by a set of Boulder hippies brewing herbal tisanes from flowers and herbs they found in the hills surrounding the city but has grown into the pinnacle of an efficient, high-throughput business. The tour, given by a chemical engineer, went through the process of obtaining ingredients for tea, processing and storing them, and mixing them to produce the various blends for which the brand is known (Sleepytime is their best seller in every country in the world but Canada, where Bengal Spice is king). The special aspects of tea production that increase throughput, such as not using strings or tags on the bags, were also discussed. Pictures aren’t allowed on the tour, but it was quite an amazing sensory experience, from seeing the size of the bales of ingredients to inhaling the potent oils released from mint leaves in the peppermint room.
After tea time, we drove back into town to check out the beautiful and compact campus of CU Boulder. CU Boulder has a very unified architecture of masonry-like buildings and red roofs, reminding us a bit of Stanford University’s campus. We paid to park for an hour at the Euclid Garage and took a quick stroll. Our first stop was the nearby CU Boulder Art Museum (open Tuesday-Saturday 11:00AM to 5:00PM). The museum had an interesting exhibit by Asian-Canadian Artist-in-Residence Millie Chen, melding the aesthetics of a particular era (like 70’s wallpaper) with images of social injustice happening at that time. We also walked around the rest of campus to take in some of the more historic buildings and quadrangles.
After our brief campus visit, we moved the car back to the Hotel Julien garage and took one more walk along the Pearl Street Mall (the pedestrian section with nice statues and gardens extends from 11th to 15th streets, but the interesting shops continue well past this). There were lots of cool finds here, from home goods and clothes to coffee (the espresso at Ozo had lots of body) to ice cream pops (the vegan coconut flavor at Le Pops started very subtle but became more delicious with each bite).
For an early dinner, we made our way over to the Rayback Collective. The Collective is an interesting community concept on the site of an old plumbing business, consisting of a permanent bar with live music and a rotating assortment of food trucks outside in the courtyard. We had a delicious seitan sandwich with Brussels sprouts and perfectly thick and crispy Belgians-style fries for dinner here under the market lighting before heading back to Denver for the night.
And for one last treat on our way back to Denver, we stopped in at Sweet Cow – we saw a ton of locals there, the price was very reasonable, and the scoop of peanut butter chocolate ice cream we got was super tasty!
That’s a wrap on our day in Boulder. Do you have any tips for other cool things to do in town? Please leave a comment below! Stay tuned for our next post all about Denver!