Boulder in Summer
By Brian E. Clark
Images courtesy Boulder CVB
The early morning vista from my window at the posh St. Julien Hotel (stjulien.com) of the triangle-shaped Flatiron rock formations on the western edge of Boulder was stunning. The sun was low in the eastern sky, casting a soft glow over the row of five giant sandstone slabs that rise more than 1,000 feet above Chautauqua Park.
(It was a far better view than the one I’d had some four decades earlier, when I lived in a house on 15th Street, just a few blocks from the University of Colorado campus. For starters, the dwelling faced east. Worse, my room was in the basement and had only one tiny window. But hey, it was cheap.)
So I sat back in a chair, sipped a cup of coffee and watched the glow increase for the next 15 minutes. Then it was time to wake my late-sleeping children – ages 16 and 18 – have breakfast and do a bit of exploring around my old college-town haunts.
We were only a couple of blocks off Pearl Street and its famed pedestrian mall, which is filled with excellent restaurants, quirky shops and no lack of great, equally quirky people watching.
Though the Hill, next to campus, was the place to hang out when I was a student, Pearl Street – in the historic center of this hip college town – has been the heart and soul of Boulder for the past 40 years. Four blocks of Pearl Street are closed to traffic so that locals and visitors alike can stroll the brick-paved pedestrian walkway, linger on sun-dappled benches and restaurant patios, shop to their hearts’ content, and stop to watch entertaining street performers.
But the Flatirons called, so we made our way up to Chautauqua Park to hike on trails that led us up by the huge, reddish-brown formations – which really do resemble old-fashioned clothes irons. A good start for any visit to this park is the Ranger Cottage near the Chautauqua Trailhead off Baseline Road to pick up a map and recommendations for trekking on the park’s many miles of trails.
For a moderate stroll, you can take the two-mile Flatiron Loop Trail, which winds through the pines beneath the Flatirons. Or, if you are feeling more vigorous, try the more strenuous, three-mile Royal Arch Trail. It ends at a natural rock arch with great views of Boulder and surrounding environs. And if you want to push it a little more, the First and Third Flatirons boast some of the more popular multi-pitch rock climbing routes in the region. If you’re not a rock climber, though, I’d strongly recommend getting a guide.
The park is also a great place for a picnic, especially if you’ve snagged baked goods or produce from the growers-only Boulder Farmers’ Market, which runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays on 13th Street between Canyon and Arapahoe streets. Named the top Farmers’ Market in the country by USA Today, it’s the largest of its kind in the state.
When my kids and I were at Chautauqua, we opted instead to have brunch at the Dining Hall (https://www.chautauqua.com/
Next, we strolled over to the campus, which has more than 33,000 students during the regular school year. That number falls off greatly after school ends in May, but some students take advantage of summer courses. The campus is also home to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in the warmer months, which draws more than 25,000 playgoers to the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre and indoor University Theatre.
I showed my offspring Macky Hall, where I’d taken numerous journalism classes and the Norlin Library, where I’d worked. The campus buildings – built in the Tuscan Vernacular architectural style with red-tiled roofs and liberal use of sandstone – were as handsome as I’d remembered. We also cruised The Hill and stopped in at The Sink, a restaurant and bar where a youthful Robert Redford once bussed tables during his CU student days.
Probably the goofiest thing we did during our visit was taking a ride with Banjo Billy (banjobilly.com) on his (only slightly) rehabbed school bus, which seemed to me a total throwback to the 1960s. He may also have been going for a Hill Billy motif. Either way, the bus was funky – but comfortable. Billy entertained us with wild and sometimes spooky tales of Boulder’s history and its numerous colorful residents.
Also well worth a visit is the Dushanbe Teahouse (boulderteahouse.com), which sits beside Boulder Creek in Central Park. Considered one of Boulder’s most attractive attractions for visitors, it’s also a local favorite for great food, tea and atmosphere. Built in Tajikistan by hand with no power tools, the teahouse was a gift to Boulder, Dushanbe’s sister city.
If you’re feeling like a stroll after tea and a meal, go for a promenade on the five-mile-long Boulder Creek Path (https://www.
For suggestions on other things to see and do in Boulder in the summer, see bouldercoloradousa.com.
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.