Explore the Great Outdoors and More in Boulder!
Nestled at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is famous for its wild Western natural scenery and its emphasis on the arts, healthy living and environmental sciences, as well as numerous breweries, wineries and distilleries. Not necessarily the most exciting profile for kids, but there are plenty of ways to get the whole family engaged in the local scene. And, as an added bonus, many of the most popular family-friendly activities for exploring the city are free.
Chautauqua Park and the Flatirons
Because they're the unofficial symbol of the city, you simply can't visit Boulder without taking in the majesty of the Flatirons. These 300 million-year-old reddish-brown, slanted sandstone formations are the area's most recognizable landmark, so snap some photos with them looming in the background for proof your family was really in Boulder.
Chautauqua Park (9th St. and Baseline Rd., Boulder, CO) is the perfect spot to view the Flatirons and spend a pleasant family day in the great Colorado outdoors. Stop at the Ranger Cottage to fill your water bottles and pick up trail maps; the best way to explore the Flatirons with kids is the two-mile Flatiron Loop Trail, as it's the least physically demanding.
Avail yourselves of the playground, wide open spaces, other nature trails and scenic picnic area at Chautauqua Park. Park admission and parking are free. The Ranger Cottage is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends from May through September, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily from October through April. Be prepared for snow and average high temperatures in the mid to upper 40s in the winter; layers are a good idea so you can shed them if you get hot while hiking.
Museum of Natural History
The University of Colorado Boulder runs the Museum of Natural History (Henderson Building, 15th St. and Broadway, Boulder, CO). It's a simultaneously fun and educational attraction for the whole family. Admission is free, but for full disclosure, donations of $3 per adult and $1 per child 6 and up and per senior are suggested. So, if you can dig deep, give a little to support the museum.
A variety of themed areas house interactive exhibits touching on an array of human and natural history subjects. There are dinosaur fossils, ancient indigenous artifacts, displays about global warming, the Discovery Corner play area for kids, and other fun things to see and do.
This indoor attraction is open daily year round, though it's closed on all UC Boulder holidays, so your family can visit no matter when you're in town. It's open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. And while you're there, take the opportunity to wander around the attractive, scenic and thoroughly charming UC Boulder campus.
Downtown Boulder and Pearl Street Mall
The quaint and historic downtown Boulder and its popular section known as Pearl Street Mall (Walnut St. and Broadway, Boulder, CO) are lots of fun to explore. This quintessential Boulder destination is pedestrian friendly and has a great deal of shopping, dining and entertainment options that draw locals and tourists alike.
You'll frequently find free entertainment at Pearl Street Mall too. There often fairs, festivals or street performers. If you're visiting during the summer, check out the weekly Bands on the Bricks free concert series. This family-friendly event brings in local bands performing a wide variety of musical genres on Fridays or Saturdays, starting in June and running into August.
Fairs, street performers and similar offerings are more common in the spring and summer when the weather is at its most pleasant. But a visit to Boulder isn't complete without checking out its downtown core no matter what time of year your family goes. Bundle up against the cold and snow if it's winter, because this is still the heart of the city.
Celestial Seasonings Tour
While Boulder offers plenty of those adult-oriented tours of breweries, wineries and distilleries, it also has a unique similar activity you can take the kids to. Treat your family to the free tour of the Celestial Seasonings tea headquarters and factory (4600 Sleepytime Dr., Boulder, CO). Children have to be at least 5 years old to go on the factory portion of the tour.
The guided tour lasts about 45 minutes, which includes a short video and about half an hour of walking. Get a behind-the-scenes look at how tea is processed and packaged. You get some free samples and can pick up souvenirs, gifts and collectibles in the Tea Shop. That last part's not free, though, nor are the snacks and beverages at the Celestial Cafe.
Tours start on the hour and run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. Be prepared to wear hairnets and beard nets in the factory. If you have lots of family members in tow or are going with another family and have 8 or more people, you need to make a reservation in advance to take the tour.
National Center for Atmospheric Research
OK, so the name might not scream “Fun for the kiddos!” But there are cool interactive exhibits about extreme weather, the chance to touch a cloud and steer a hurricane, art galleries, and illuminating explorations of meteorology and global warming. There are also trails outside, including the interpretive “Weather Trail,” along which you learn about weather patterns, climate zones, flooding, erosion, drought and more.
If you have tweens or teens—particularly science-minded ones—the National Center for Atmospheric Research (1850 Table Mesa Dr., Boulder, CO) is a worthwhile stop while you're in town. And, as an added incentive, it's free.
Visit between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays or 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekends or holidays. Don't forget comfortable outdoor shoes if you plan to hike the trail outside. Layers work well if you're going in cold weather so you can remove some as necessary if you get too warm while walking.
- Boulder Colorado USA: The Insider's Guide to the Flatirons
- City of Boulder Colorado: Chautauqua Park
- City of Boulder Colorado: Chautauqua Ranger Cottage
- UC Boulder Museum of Natural History
- Boulder Colorado USA: Downtown Boulder and Pearl Street Mall
- Downtown Boulder: Band on the Bricks
- Celestial Seasonings: Visit Celestial
- National Center for Atmospheric Research: Visit
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.