Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Boulder, CO

  • Published 2022/12/30

Boulder is an iconic Colorado city that got its name from the sprawling number of beautiful rock formations found in Boulder Creek.

Just 30 minutes away from the state capital of Denver, Boulder is a great nature spot where you can enjoy various activities for free.

It’s surrounded by one of the best mountains and rocky hills in America, particularly the Rocky Mountains and The Flatirons.

Beyond its rich topography, there are various terrains that you can easily find within the city, making it a must-visit for any outdoor enthusiast.

There are also a couple of parks and urban districts that you can explore for free.

Check out these 15 free things to do in Boulder, Colorado:

Appreciate the Waters of Boulder Creek

The waters of Boulder Creek

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Boulder Creek is a prehistoric land where the city got its name due to its abundance of large boulders.

It’s easily one of the most prominent bodies of water in Colorado, stretching over 30 miles long.

Today, you can experience this natural wonder for free through several access points throughout the city, particularly at the public parks found along Boulder Canyon Drive.

Water sports on Boulder Creek

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While you can simply stroll through its dedicated walking path, more fun activities like fly fishing and tubing are available here.

Since Boulder Creek is a city icon, there are a lot of festivities and events held along it as well, so be on the lookout for those during your visit.

A duck on Boulder Creek

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Cycle at Valmont Bike Park

Valmont Bike Park is one of the most visited public parks in Colorado, known for its 40-acre bike track found along Airport Road.

This place is a no-brainer to visit if you’re a biking or BMX enthusiast, as it features bike tracks that range from pump tracks to single tracks.

Utilizing the rich and rocky terrains of Boulder, the park is renowned for practicing advanced biking tricks or doing races.

With its slopestyle and dirt jump tracks, even the more seasoned bikers will have a jolt of adrenaline at Valmont Bike Park.

Regarded not only as one of the best bike parks in Colorado but in the country as a whole, it’s the best place to bring your two-wheeler.

Climb The Flatirons

Daytime view of The Flatirons

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If you want to prioritize the geographical icons of Colorado on your trip, The Flatirons should be included in your itinerary with Boulder Creek.

Completely free to visit, The Flatirons are huge rock formations that almost seem like legitimate mountains surrounding Boulder.

Composed of five flatirons, they span several miles and reach the Rocky Mountains, giving you marvelous mountain range views within the city.

Pointed rock formations of The Flatirons

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Of course, there are several trails here for you to explore, each with different difficulty levels that may require a bit of bouldering.

Even if you don’t intend to hike it, seeing this geographical wonder up close is a treat and a must since it’s the pride of Colorado.

To reach The Flatirons, you can park and begin your hike at Baseline Road.

Hike along Wonderland Lake Trailhead

Wonderland Lake is another natural gift to the city of Boulder—it’s a small lake with majestic beauty.

Beautiful no matter what season, Wonderland Lake Trailhead offers varying terrain and vegetation throughout your hike.

Its charm changes depending on the season.

During fall, you’ll see some of the prettiest foliage in the city, while during winter, it’s wrapped in pristine white snow.

You can freely bring your dog here, who will enjoy the rugged tracks that bring you closer to nature.

While it may sound remote, Wonderland Lake Trailhead is easily accessible from the city proper through Broadway Avenue.

Attend the Bands on the Bricks Summer Festival at Pearl Street Mall

Because Boulder is a bustling city as well, it’s no surprise it’s home to several iconic events throughout the year.

Bands on the Bricks is perhaps the most iconic, serving as the city’s grand summer festival.

The event’s name was inspired by its location, as it’s held in the four-block pedestrian mall of Boulder: Pearl Street Mall.

This free summer music festival features local musicians who specialize in various genres, such as reggae, rock, and more.

Many locals and tourists congregate here, enjoying fun nights over a cold glass of beer.

Bands on the Bricks Summer Festival takes place over several weeks from June to August.

Go on a Picnic at Chautauqua Park

Scenic view of Chautauqua Park

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Chautauqua Park is a must-visit in Colorado, where you can see beautiful views of The Flatirons from afar.

Serving as the base of The Flatirons, the park also has hiking trails, a great alternative entry point if you’re planning to do bouldering at The Flatirons.

Besides views and hiking trails, Chautauqua Park is a famous relaxation spot for families, complete with picnic amenities.

Hikers along Chautauqua Park

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Its picnic areas and walking trails are close to nature and offer picturesque views.

You can also visit the rangers of Chautauqua Park if you want first-hand knowledge about the area.

Chautauqua Park is accessible along Baseline Road and 9th Street.

Royal arch at Chautauqua Park

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Go Mural Hunting at Whittier

Boulder is not only home to lots of rock formations, but it’s also a place littered with tons of interesting street murals.

Most of these are found in Whittier and Downtown Boulder, both of which make up the city’s epicenter.

You can do a self-guided tour of the murals, which are around 100 in number as of 2022.

Many of the murals at Boulder have varying themes, the most recent ones being about social justice.

Besides the murals, Whittier is also known for its beautiful Victorian buildings that give it an old-fashioned charm.

Reach Realization Point

Gorgeous mountain views from Realization Point

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Your trip to Boulder isn’t complete unless you hike atop a mountain, and if you’re just a beginner, Realization Point is one of the best options for you.

It’s part of another mountain in Boulder, which is Flagstaff Mountain.

Realization Point is a relatively easy hike that gives you sweeping views of the city and the neighboring mountains and rock formations.

Besides the views, its elevation lets you experience a beautiful sea of clouds that seems to be right within your grasp.

If you want to experience its true beauty, hiking during fall is a must to see its beautiful foliage.

A famous hiking area for families with young children, Realization Point is a great all-rounder for families.

It is accessible along Flagstaff Road.

Visit Flagstaff Nature Center

After your hike to Realization Point, you may want to stop at Flagstaff Nature Center for a free museum visit.

Open during the summer and fall months, Flagstaff Nature Center has interesting exhibits on the flora and fauna of Boulder for both children and adults.

You can find several amazing stuffed animal mounts here that bring you closer to its wildlife.

There are also plenty of interactive games and activities that make it a great place for family bonding.

Take note that only a group of volunteers manages Flagstaff Nature Center, so call ahead to see if they’re open on the date of your visit.

Go on an Urban Exploration at Pearl Street

Night scene at Pearl Street

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While Boulder is primarily known for its natural wonders, the city is also densely populated, making it an urban exploration hotspot.

Pearl Street comes to mind if you want an ideal location for some city walking.

It’s one of the most renowned urban districts in Colorado, dating back to the 20th century, which makes it a historic landmark.

Shops at Pearl Street

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There are various street performers and plenty of shops and cafes that may tempt you to shell out a few bucks.

Still, this place is free to explore and is one of the best areas to read a book, enjoy people-watching, or simply stroll around and experience the vibrant community of Boulder.

Hat vendor at Pearl Street

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Enjoy Recreational Activities at Harlow Platts Community Park

Harlow Platts Community Park is one of the best places for recreational activities within the urban districts of Boulder.

One of the most famous activities you can do here is play at the nine-hole disc golf course, a popular sport among the locals.

The park is also great for fishing, as it features Viele Lake, a small lake that’s rich in various fish.

Picnic grounds and tennis courts are also available in this beautiful park, another place where you can enjoy views of The Flatirons from afar.

If you have some downtime during your trip to Boulder, Harlow Platts Community along Gillaspie Drive Park is a great addition to your itinerary.

Tour the Campus Grounds of the University of Colorado

Welcome sign of the University of Colorado

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Located along Colorado Avenue, another city destination is the University of Colorado, one of the most prominent universities in the state.

You can do free campus tours here if you’re aspiring to be a student, an interested parent, or simply love checking university grounds.

One of the best free things you can visit here is The University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

A building at the University of Colorado

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It’s a packed museum free to the public that features collections ranging from prehistoric fossils to anthropological relics.

Several campus events are open to the public year-round that you may want to check.

Whether you’re going to their natural history museum or doing a campus tour, The University of Colorado is a state icon that deserves a spot in your itinerary.

Aerial view of the University of Colorado

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Relax by the Twin Lakes

Boulder has more lakes than you can count with your fingers, and Twin Lakes is one of the best.

In the residential Gunbarrel neighborhood, Twin Lakes is away from the hustle and bustle of the busier urban districts.

It’s called Twin Lakes because it’s composed of two lakes that look like one.

Several walking trails are found here that make for a serene experience, especially during sunrise or late afternoons.

It’s a perfect place for fur parents as well, as you can walk your dogs without a leash.

View Local Art at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art

Exterior of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art

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The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art offers free admission if you’re visiting on a Saturday, something you’d want to consider if you’re an art enthusiast.

The museum is only small, which makes for a quick Saturday visit.

While small, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is packed with all sorts of contemporary artworks.

There are several exhibits held throughout the year, including a good number of rotating ones that have varying themes.

A great supplement if you have extra time to spare, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art can be accessed along 13th Street.

Visit the National Center for Atmospheric Research

Exterior of the National Center for Atmospheric Research

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The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is perhaps one of the best free things to do in Boulder because of the invaluable knowledge it provides.

Their free tours give you comprehensive information about the significance and purpose of NCAR, centered on the Earth’s weather activity.

There are plenty of interactive learning stations here that are geared towards children but ones that adults can also appreciate.

Facade of the National Center for Atmospheric Research

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Beyond their exhibits, the architecture of NCAR is also a sight to behold, designed by I.M. Pei, one of modern history’s greatest architects.

Situated at the Rocky Mountains’ foothills, NCAR is surrounded by beautiful hiking trails and gorgeous surroundings.

Resting area at the National Center for Atmospheric Research

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Final Thoughts

Boulder is a picturesque city that’s one of the greatest treasures of Colorado.

Full of natural wonders managed by the state, it’s where you can easily plan a one-week itinerary without spending on admission fees.

From world-famous attractions like The Flatirons to underrated outdoor spots like Realization Point, this is a haven for outdoor exploration.

Best of all, the urban life of Boulder is just as good as its outdoors, making it a versatile tourist destination for all sorts of travelers.

With that said, these 15 free things to do in Boulder, Colorado, will surely make your adventure memorable.

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