Best of Boulder, Colorado

Open Space/Hiking
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Boulder's Open Space & Mountain Parks

How did Boulder grow from mining-supply town to outdoor mecca? The Open Space & Mountain Parks (OSMP) program, funded largely by sales-tax dollars, has played a crucial part in this development. Within OSMP's 41,000-plus acres, you'll find wildlife habitats, unique geologic features, and greenways—all part of the plan to preserve natural areas, the mountain setting, and the buffer zones between Boulder and the surrounding communities. OSMP boasts 130 miles of trails used by walkers, hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders, dog walkers, and more—all you have to do is pick your pastime.

The highest point in OSMP is South Boulder Peak (8,549 feet), and the South Mesa Trail will take you to the top. This strenuous hike gains about 3,000 feet in elevation over 2.5 miles (five miles roundtrip), but is kept quite shady by aspen, ponderosa pine, and sandstone rock formations—an ideal outdoor adventure for hot summer days. To hit the trail, take CO 93 (South Broadway) south to Eldorado Springs Drive and drive west for two miles to the Mesa Trailhead. Hike north along Mesa to the Shadow Canyon Trail. The grade gets pretty steep, but a final scramble puts you on the summit to enjoy incredible 360-degree vistas, including a view of Walker Ranch and the Indian Peaks to the west, as well as Boulder, the plains, and Devil's Thumb to the east. Dogs are allowed on these trails if they are under "voice and sight control"—i.e. within your sight and under verbal control at all times, regardless of distractions.

Contact information: City of Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks, 303-441-3440

Chautauqua Park Historic District

At the base of the Flatiron Mountains sits Chautauqua Park, the very first purchase by Boulder's Open Space program, way back in 1898. A cooperative venture by artists, educators, and recreators to bring culture to rural areas, Boulder's 40,000-acre Chautauqua is one of only three such institutions left in the United States. Park amenities include a playground, a historic dining hall, and an open-air auditorium where lectures and concerts, such as Colorado Music Festival performances, are presented.

Chautauqua Park sits at about 5,680 feet above sea level and includes a variety of habitats, from mountains to grassland. Pick up a trail map from the park rangers' cottage and explore the park on foot (or on horseback or bike, for a number of trails). For an easy foray into the park, take a stroll down the McClintock Nature Trail, which begins near the picnic shelter just south of Chautauqua Auditorium (sorry, no dogs or bikes allowed). This 2.5-mile leg-stretcher of a loop gains a gentle 500 feet as it climbs among ponderosa pine—the predominant tree at the 5,000 to 9,000-foot mark—and Douglas fir. Pick up some local nature knowledge by reading the interpretive signs and keep an eye out for wildlife—mule deer, porcupine, black bear, and mountain lions all inhabit the area, although you should feel lucky (and perhaps a bit nervous) if you spot either of the latter two. Once you ascend above the trees, the views are breathtaking—beautiful vistas of Boulder below and the striking Flatirons above.

Formed by the erosion of the ancestral Rockies, the Flatirons are made up of sedimentary sandstone—about 100-300 million years old. Geologic forces settled and flattened the layers, and then, about 65 million years ago, tilted them to their current distinct look. You'll find plenty of bouldering and rock-climbing opportunities here, from easy to highly technical.

Contact information: Chautauqua Park, 900 Baseline Road, 303-442-3282,

While in Chautauqua

Breakfast: The Chautauqua Dining Hall offers a delicious breakfast menu—not to mention lunch, brunch, and dinner—perfect for a pre-hike pit stop. Try the crispy Belgian waffle with fresh strawberries, vanilla-bean maple syrup, and the pièce de résistance—whipped cream. Order a side of applewood smoked bacon, and you're good to go. For something on the lighter side, try the fresh chilled melon, a hemisphere of cantaloupe overflowing with low-fat yogurt, homemade granola, and fresh fruit.

Colorado Music Festival: Every summer from June through August, musicians from orchestras across the U.S. and around the globe come to Boulder to participate in the Colorado Music Festival. CMF puts on classical music concerts in historic Chautauqua Auditorium four times a week: Sundays feature the Chamber Orchestra, Tuesdays bring Chamber Music, and Thursday and Friday evening performances showcase the CMF Festival Orchestra.

Purchase a ticket for a seat inside, or bring a picnic dinner to accompany your concert under the stars—the music wafts out through the open doors of the auditorium. There are a few conveniently placed benches outside the auditorium, as well as plenty of space to spread a blanket on the lawn.

Contact information: Colorado Music Festival, 1525 Spruce Street, Suite 101, 303-449-1397,

Published: 23 Jul 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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