Situated at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is one of the best destinations in the Mountain West to experience picturesque views, a vibrant arts culture and a thriving local food and drink scene.
While Boulder is one of the pricier cities in the US, you can still experience some of the best it has to offer without making a dent in your wallet. From adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities on the famed trail network to strolls around the farmers market, local art districts and more, here’s our guide to the best free things to do in Boulder.
Saunter down Pearl Street
Spend a morning, afternoon or evening exploring downtown Boulder’s main street – a pedestrian-only thoroughfare lined with historic buildings that house a variety of local shops, galleries and eateries. Catch a street performance, do some window shopping and enjoy the bustling atmosphere – there is sure to be some prime people-watching. And if you’re in town at the right time of year, the Pearl Street mall also hosts a number of free local events, such as Casual Fest, an independent artist market and local music festival.
Explore the Boulder Creek Bike Path
Traversing the Boulder Creek path is a beautiful, active and free way to sightsee around town. The central commuting artery bisects the city from east to west, hugging Boulder Creek for approximately 7.5 miles of paved trail. The path connects downtown to the University of Colorado campuses and several charming local parks, and while it’s used by joggers, walkers and bikers alike, bicycles are the most popular mode of transportation here.
So pack a lunch, grab a bike and hit the trail for an afternoon that won’t disappoint. We recommend starting at Eben G. Fine Park and biking east, stopping at Scott Carpenter Park for a bite to eat beneath a splendid view of the Flatirons.
Discover the National Center for Atmospheric Research
Take a hike, learn about our climate and solar systems and browse community art galleries – all for free and in the same location. The National Center for Atmospheric Research is a laboratory, museum and trailhead access point located on a mesa overlooking the city, and it’s one of the most unique free attractions that Boulder has to offer.
Parking is also free, but arrive as early as possible – especially on the weekends – to avoid crowds. Hiking trails cater to a variety of difficulty levels, and it’s easy to make an active excursion as long or as short as you wish. If your hike beneath the Rockies sparks an interest in the environment, stop by the Visitor Center on your way out to explore its museum, where you can touch a cloud, steer a hurricane and peruse displays of local science artwork.
Taste Boulder at the local farmer’s market
On Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons, foodies descend on 13th street – just two blocks away from Pearl Street – for the largest farmers market in Colorado. Stroll through the market and sample an incredible selection of locally grown seasonal produce, meats, cheeses, breads and up-and-coming natural food products. Farmers and business owners are always happy to chat about their food and how it was grown, and you’re sure to come away with a greater appreciation for the local food system. The outdoor food court is a great place to sit and enjoy some live music while people-watching too. Just make sure to get to the market early to avoid crowds and long lines in front of the most popular booths.
Ride around Valmont Bike Park
New and seasoned riders alike will find something to love about this completely free, natural-surface cycling terrain park. Spread across 42 acres with incredible views of the mountains in the distance, Valmont Bike Park offers exciting cross-country and mountain bike trails for all ages and skill levels. Attached to the park is also a 10,000-square-foot skate park and a picnic area—the makings of a perfect afternoon for families or groups of friends looking to spend a few hours on wheels.
Celebrate art in NoBo
On the first Friday of every month, a group of artists, artisans and gallery owners put on a free self-guided tour of local artists’ studios and businesses in the North Boulder (NoBo) Art District. Catch live music, performances, food trucks and art demos, and meet the local painters, sculptors, photographers, artists and other makers displaying their work throughout the evening. Themed exhibits rotate in the galleries year-round, so there is something new to discover at every First Friday. The event is the perfect way to kick off a night on the town, and it makes for a fun and unique date night too!
Take a hike from Chautauqua Park
Just a few minutes from downtown Boulder is the historic Chautauqua Park – the best place in town to experience breathtaking views of Boulder’s famous Flatirons. While the park itself has an incredible mountain backdrop, the best way to get up close and personal with the Flatirons is to take a hike up one of the many trails that start at Chautauqua Park. Local favorites include the Royal Arch Trail and the First and Second Flatirons Loop. And when you go, don’t forget your camera – these are views that you’ll want to remember!
Visit the free museums in town
Boulder is home to a number of fascinating and budget-friendly museums. The University of Colorado Art Museum is free and open to the public, and it houses a growing collection of diverse art exhibitions. CU also has its own Museum of Natural History – open to the public and free of charge – with exhibits on everything from paleontology to the preservation of local apple trees to horses in the American West. And on Saturdays, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is free to the public too.
Check out Eldorado Canyon State Park
A visit to Boulder often includes a trip to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park, which is justifiably popular. However, it can be difficult to visit Rocky Mountain during the times of the year when the park is most accessible, particularly during the summer when reservations are required. But there's another option: Boulder is home to the often overlooked – yet absolutely stunning – Eldorado Canyon State Park. A mere twenty-minute drive from downtown, the park is a hotspot for trail running, hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. Grab your gear, pack up the car and spend a day exploring the park – you won’t be disappointed.
Stroll around Wonderland Lake
Just off Broadway Street and less than ten minutes from the town center lies Wonderland Lake, a family-friendly wildlife sanctuary nestled between quiet residential neighborhoods. The lake trail meanders around streams, wetlands and short-grass prairie, and it’s a favorite spot amongst locals for an afternoon stroll, fishing and picnics. If you’re lucky, you just might catch a glimpse of paragliders flying over the lake on a sunny afternoon. Check it out if you’re looking to start or end your day in Boulder with an easy jaunt and incredible views.