Both a college town and one of America’s better-known outdoor sports hotspots, Boulder, Colorado, is a place where locals love to take off early from work and hop on a bike or hike into the mountains. Spending 1, 2 or 3 days in Boulder is a great way to have a basecamp at any time of the year as you make day trips and enjoy activities along the Front Range. The University of Colorado’s presence does mean Boulder’s population swells quite a bit when students are in town, so if you’re planning a Boulder itinerary, the dynamic can feel a bit different depending on when you visit.
Boulder is also less than two hours from some of Colorado’s premier ski resorts, so a wintertime Boulder itinerary makes a lot of sense too—especially for anyone with a ski pass that grants access to the many ski areas along the Interstate 70 West corridor.
Among nearby towns you’ll want to visit are Estes Park, which rests right at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park, and Nederland, the gateway to Indian Peaks Wilderness. The historic mining and engineering town of Golden is also just 30 to 40 minutes away from Boulder by car, and the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre is another 10 or 15 minutes farther down the highway.
No matter how you choose to structure your 1, 2 or 3 days in Boulder, this itinerary will give you plenty of ideas on things to do in the home of the CU Buffs.
How Many Days in Boulder?
As you’re considering how many days to spend in Boulder, you’ll want to look at what your goals are and how you want to spend your time. For someone who’s short on time and wants to focus on getting to know the town, picking from among the many great hotels and lodging options in Boulder and planning to explore things on foot or via public transportation makes a lot of sense (more to come on getting around in the next section).
Although it’s such a highly populated small town, it really is easy to get around Boulder as a traveler without renting or owning a car because of its compact nature in terms of square footage.
If you’re looking at spending 1 day in Boulder then focus on exploring the area within (and close to) the city. If you want to splurge, consider treating yourself to a night at one of Boulder’s renowned hotels, such as the St. Julien or the Hotel Boulderado.
A stay of 2 days in Boulder is a nice way to work in some more contrasting urban and outdoor time. For example, you could choose to arrive in town and spend a day touring the city, doing a bit of restaurant and retail store hopping on Pearl Street, and then devote your second day to making a drive over to the town of Golden.
Following this timeline, an additional day on an itinerary of 3 days in Boulder could allow you to take a day trip to Rocky Mountain NP or alternatively drive back down south, possibly stopping through such as the town of Morrison, or even Colorado Springs, depending on your tolerance for driving distance. You can even use Boulder as a base over Denver if spending longer here.
Getting To and Around Boulder
Renting a car, or driving to Boulder with your own car, is not a bad idea for anyone planning a longer stay or looking to make excursions up into the mountains.
If you’re driving to Boulder, you might likely arrive by way of Denver and Interstate 70, Interstate 25, or any of the other major highways around the area. US Highway 36 is Boulder’s main artery (28th Street once you’re in town), and State Highway 93 transitions to Broadway if you’re coming into Boulder from the south.
If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which aggregates a number of options from many different car hire suppliers.
Boulder is full of public transportation and rideshare options. The RTD bus system is easy to navigate, and Uber and Lyft drivers are always around for anyone with a smartphone who uses these apps.
It’s also an extremely friendly place for bikers and pedestrians, with a network of public trails and pathways that’s truly second to none. Bike lanes are also commonplace on the roads around town, so motorists tend to know how to share the ride with people on bicycles.
You could even choose to rent a bike during your stay as a means of being able to zip around town and avoid the hassle of parking when CU students are around and things are busiest.
Be sure to explore the main avenues of Broadway, where you’ll pass right by “The Hill”—CU’s always-buzzing student area—and Pearl Street, which has everything from sushi restaurants to concert halls and retail stores.
1, 2, or 3 Days in Boulder Itinerary
Whether you’re staying for a short one day in Boulder or are planning a three-day itinerary in which you’ll branch out more and explore, the following list includes some ideas for your stay in this Colorado Front Range college town.
Day 1 – Pearl St, Boulder Canyon & Indian Peaks Wilderness
Have Breakfast in Boulder and Visit Pearl St
Boulder isn’t especially renowned for any one category when it comes to food, but its wide selection of delicious breakfast spots stands out.
Among some of the best options are The Buff, a favorite of CU sports fans on game days (good luck on a Saturday or Sunday morning after 9 a.m.), Snooze, which is retro-flavored and also has a Denver location, and Lucille’s, a Cajun-style breakfast and brunch place with a covered front porch and options like beignets and chicory coffee.
After breakfast on this first day of your Boulder itinerary, be sure to head over to the Pearl Street walking mall, where retailers, restaurants, and bars line the street along with impressively manicured stands of flowers in the warm months of the year.
Drive Up Boulder Canyon to Nederland
If you’re only spending 1 day in Boulder you may want to stay closer to town, but for anyone who’s willing to make a fairly short round trip drive of a little over an hour, take a drive up Boulder Canyon to the town of Nederland, which was founded during the mining booms of the 19th century.
Nowadays, it’s a great place to enjoy a walk around and stop in some of the local shops, such as Nature’s Own, where you can browse a selection of Rocky Mountain gems and minerals. If you’d like to eat or grab coffee in “Ned,” as the locals call it, check out the New Moon Bakery and Cafe or Crosscut Pizzeria & Taphouse right across the street.
Go For a Hike in Indian Peaks Wilderness
Nederland is also a de facto gateway to the Indian Peaks Wilderness area for anyone coming from Boulder, so if you make the drive up Highway 119 to Nederland, consider continuing from there to any of the Indian Peaks Wilderness areas that lie immediately to the west.
Some of the more popular trailheads include the East Portal, the Hessie, and the Caribou Road area, but the Indian Peaks is managed jointly by the United States Forest Service and the National Park Service, so you have an immense selection of hikes to choose from here.
This area is a photographer’s dream, as sightings of wild animals like elk and moose are fairly common in the high country.
Dinner on Pearl Street
If this is the end of your one day in Boulder, then be sure to get out on the town for dinner at one of Boulder’s best restaurants.
The word “best” is obviously subjective here, but there tend to be some local favorites in certain categories — Jax Fish House or Japango for seafood and drinks; West End Tavern for bar food and beers; Zoe Ma Ma for Chinese — so grabbing a local guidebook or checking out some Yelp pages to narrow things down isn’t a bad idea.
After eating, the Boulder Creek path is not far away for an evening stroll.
Day 2 – Chautauqua Park, Golden & Fiske Planetarium
Early Morning Walk or Hike at Chautauqua Park
The Flatirons that line the foothills to the west of Boulder stand out alongside Bear Peak as local landmarks, and you can see them up close with a relatively short hike at Boulder’s Chautauqua Park. For anyone who’s planning 2 or 3 days in Boulder, an early morning walk or hike here is an ideal way to kick off one of the days in town.
I say “walk or hike” because you really can push things about as far as you want in this outdoor recreation area. You’ll see college kids meandering slowly up the main trail to take selfies and then walk back to their cars, but you’ll also see local diehards getting ready to trail run all the way up Bear Peak.
Rent Bikes and Ride a Trail by Golden
If you’re looking for another way to experience the Rocky Mountain outdoors around Boulder, think about renting a bike. This could look like simply checking out a road bike from a local shop in Boulder to explore, or you could head over to Golden and stop in somewhere like Golden Bike Shop to rent a mountain bike.
The entire area around this classic mining town is renowned for its mountain biking trails. Local favorite areas include North Table Mountain Park and Apex Park.
Check Out the Fiske Planetarium
An especially good option for families on a Boulder itinerary is a stop at the Fiske Planetarium, which is located just a stone’s throw to the southeast of the main University of Colorado campus.
There are different exhibitions in the planetarium’s museum area at any given time, but main attractions here are the Fulldome Films and Star Shows, which feature immersive theater experiences projected on a 65-foot dome with an excellent digital sound system.
Evening Live Music in Boulder
If you want to end things with a fun night out in Boulder, the town’s main live music venues of The Fox Theatre and Boulder Theater are up there with Denver’s best in terms of bringing in top-notch musical acts.
The Fox is located on The Hill and tends to draw more of a student crowd, while Boulder Theater is right in the thick of Pearl Street, making it an easy walk from many of the best bars and restaurants in town.
Day 3 – Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park & NoBo Arts District
Drive to Estes Park
If you’re looking at spending 3 days in Boulder, consider taking the time to really make a trip up to the mountains and visit the town of Estes Park. As Nederland is to Indian Peaks, Estes is to Rocky Mountain National Park, as this little tourist town gets absolutely flooded with National Park visitors every summer.
Weekdays are never too busy in terms of crowds, though, so stopping in Estes for breakfast at The Notchtop Cafe or The Egg as you’re headed into Rocky Mountain National Park is a great way to start a day.
Visit Rocky Mountain National Park
After stopping through the basecamp town of Estes Park, head into Rocky Mountain National Park via any of the main accesses near Estes (favorites include Beaver Meadows, Fall River, and Wild Basin).
Options for activities in the Park are practically endless, as you could do anything from simply stopping along the road here and there to admire scenes like the Continental Divide over Moraine Park, to booking a full day of guided fly fishing.
As with Indian Peaks, opportunities at seeing wildlife here are everywhere, so be sure to bring the camera and/or binoculars.
If you haven’t rented your own car, it is possible to book a guided tour to Rocky Mountain NP from Boulder.
Stop in NoBo Arts District
The North Boulder Arts District is based around Broadway as it runs between Boulder’s rocky foothills to the west and the North Boulder’s residential neighborhoods. Since it’s right on your way back into town as you’re returning from Estes Park, consider stopping in this part of town for dinner or to visit any of the local arts studios and galleries.
Where to Stay in Boulder
However long your Boulder itinerary is, you’re going to need a great place to stay in the city. If you’re looking for accommodation in Boulder, then have a look at these suggestions:
Hotel Boulderado – If you’re looking for a luxury option while visiting Boulder, then this historic Victorian hotel is a great choice. Located in a perfect, central area, they have a number of lovely rooms available, a great on-site restaurant and some rooms have Rocky Mountain views. Click here to see their availability
Boulder Twin Lakes Inn – An excellent mid-range option, this hotel makes for a great base in Boulder. They have a range of clean and comfortable rooms on offer, there is a hot tub that is open all year and there is also a buffet breakfast available each morning. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – A private rental – such as this lovely 1-bedroom house – is a fantastic choice for those looking for a bit more independence on their trip to Boulder. There are countless options available in the city that can suit many travel styles and budgets. Click here to browse more Boulder private rentals
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Boulder hotels!
Spending 1, 2 or 3 days in Boulder is a great way to get to know one of Colorado’s most unique destinations that has previously topped US News & World Report’s “Best Places to Live” list.
Even if your Boulder itinerary doesn’t quite allow enough time to visit other towns and attractions within a one to two-hour driving radius, you’ll find that there’s enough in the way of small local businesses, beautiful hikes, outstanding restaurants, and colorful college hysteria to keep anyone occupied.
Are you planning to spend a few days in Boulder? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!