Colorado Playgrounds: Boulder's Scenic Open Spaces and Parks
By Hope Gately
Boulder Local Expert
Imagine lush greenery, open fields, and sweeping views of Boulder, Colorado's iconic Flatirons all while you run, bike, picnic and play. Such are the open-spaces and parks of this famous Front Range town. Some sit along the Boulder Creek Path while others are tucked away in the foothills, but all have one thing in common: Their spectacular beauty.
Topping our list is well-known and beloved Chautauqua Park, where visitors flock during the summer months and locals play year-round. Hiking, rock-climbing, and (during the winter months) sledding and cross-country skiing are staples of the outdoor paradise. Go for a picnic or take part in one of the many outdoor yoga classes that are organized independently and take places near the park's ranger station.
Looking for something more relaxed with fewer people, North Boulder Park and Scott Carpenter Park are perfect for sunbathing, a same of bocce ball, or letting the kids romp on swing sets and slides. Both offer stellar views of the Flatirons, parking is simple, and are walkable from many of the downtown hotels.
If your looking to test your outdoor limits, Eldorado Canyon State Park and Rocky Mountain National Park offer camping, rock-climbing, scenic drives, and a rugged, untamed wilderness experience the likes of which you have never known.
In Colorado, we go big on everything and our parks are no exception.
Harlow Platts Park
Harlow Platts Park sits in laid-back South Boulder away from the traffic and bustle of downtown. Several charcoal grills line a small lake around which picnic tables and open grassy areas can be found. A large gathering shelter is situated near the road-side of the lake and can be reserved or used on a first-come, first served basis. Bocce ball, corn hole, and soccer are great games that can all be played in the wide open grass space at Harlow. For dinner and drinks nearby, visit Southern Sun that offers delicious pub-grub and microbrews. Great for 4th of July and Memorial Day weekends. (303-413-7200)
Gateway Fun Park
At Gateway Fun Park, your kiddos can enjoy a wide variety of exciting entertainments, including a stellar arcade where tickets are won and prizes are redeemed, a large putt-putt golf course, and batting cages. The big draw here are the go-carts, where you and your family can go at rip-roaring speeds around the track, racing each other to win bragging rights. Gateway is also equipped with an outdoor pavilion where parties can be hosted and they will even cater the events for you. A fun and tricky outdoor maze gives the kiddos something to do after they've downed their pizza and drinks. ((303) 442-4386)
Foothills Community Park
Foothills Community Park is the perfect place to kick around a soccer ball, pack a picnic, let the kiddos play on some one-of-kind playground equipment that includes a rock climbing wall, and all in the shadow of the rolling Boulder Foothills. Tucked away in North Boulder, you'll be able to avoid the crowds of parks located in the center of town. Several open-air shelters can be reserved for BBQs and other large gatherings. You'll often see hang-gliders descending on the rolling green that connects up to the foothills on the perimeter of the park and un-kept trails can be found leading up the foothills for a better view of Boulder. (3034037200)
Scott Carpenter Park
Boasting one of the largest grassy knolls and located in the heart of Boulder, Scott Carpenter Park is perfect for adults and children alike. The Scott Carpenter pool sits next door and is perfect for those hot Front Range days. Kites flying high against the backdrop of the Flatirons, children playing on the Rocket Ship playground, and hard-bodies bathing in the Colorado sun are just a few of the sights you'll see when you spend the day at Scott Carpenter. The Boulder Creek bike path also runs along the perimeter of Scott Carpenter and you can easily bike downtown to Pearl Street and beyond. (303-413-7200)
Boulder Creek Path
Park your car and enjoy a peaceful, scenic stroll or bike ride through the heart of Boulder. The path stretches for seven miles and provides access to numerous parks, ponds, historical markers, gardens, rock-climbing opportunities, botanical sites, and a farmers' market. You'll also come across landmarks such as the art museum, library, the Senior Center, CU-Boulder Research Park, and the Stazio Ballfields. If you're hungry for a bite, the creek path takes you by several famous local spots, including the Dushanbe Teahouse. You can also fish and picnick along the path which segues into other routes and may be accessed at several points. (3034037200)
Located in the heart of downtown Boulder, this lovely park features a historic passenger train, grassy picnic areas, and a band shell for musical performances. Boulder's popular Farmers' Market is set up adjacent to the park on Wednesdays and Saturdays, during the spring, summer, and fall. Often times, local bands perform in the park and plays are put on regularly at the outdoor theater. There are small parks boasting playgrounds for the kiddos and fishing ponds, including a kids-only pond which is well stocked. Ducks and geese amble along and deer can be seen trekking through the park on a regular basis. (303-413-7200)
Rocky Mountain National Park
With Longs Peak towering over this spectacular state park and plenty of backcountry skiing in the winter, along with hiking and climbing galore, RMNP is Colorado's iconic destination. The highlight of the 415-square mile park is the Trail Ridge Road. Travel 50 spectacular miles over Trail Ridge Road, the nation's longest continuous road at such a high altitude, and experience incomparable changes in climate, vegetation, and eco-zones. Witness panoramic views of mountain ranges and peaks and close-ups of deer and elk grazing, bighorn sheep, birds, and other indigenous critters. If you're camping, stop off at Moraine campground that boasts a crystal clear view of the Rockies from almost any site, bathrooms, and easy access to hiking. The Cub Lake trail is moderate and perfect for travelers who have yet to acclimate to the high altitude. Pack a camera and get ready to take some shots of mountain lakes and wildlife. (970-586-1206)
Eldorado Canyon State Park
"Eldo", as it's lovingly referred to by locals, typically doesn't draw the crowds that Rocky Mountain National Park does and offers a more "tucked away" feeling. With more than 1,000 acres of land, this park is a favorite site for hiking and horseback riding on 10 beautiful miles of trails with varying degrees of difficulty. The park's 850-foot sandstone canyon wall is popular with world-class rock climbers. Fish for rainbow trout in the park's streams or enjoy a relaxing lunch at the picnic area along the creek at the bottom of the canyon. The Visitor's Center includes exhibits and displays about the geological formations in the canyon and the history of the park, not to mention the trails give hikers a breathtaking view of the canyon as they switchback up rocky ridges. (303-494-3943)
North Boulder Park
Soccer, cross country skiing, baseball, and picnicking are just a few of the activities that North Boulder Park has to offer. Children can play on the state-of-the-art playground equipment set to the backdrop of the jutting Flatirons. Picnicking here offers great views and you're just within a few minutes walk of Pearl Street and all of its delights. Slack-lining has recently become popular in this park with college students, so setting up your own line between some of the trees that line the perimeter is encouraged. Nearby attractions include the West End Tavern, Piece, Love, Chocolate, and Breadworks for delicious snacks. (3034037200)
The definitive "park" with ample open-space for relaxing, photography, and painting in peace. This meadow-like foothills park is ideal for a lazy afternoon with a book, a family picnic, bird watching, or a vigorous hike on numerous trails that will suit any skill level. The hiking trails take you into the Flatirons and the Bluebell Shelter or the top of Flagstaff Mountain. A century old community center occupies the middle of the park. Numerous lectures and musical performances are scheduled, including the Colorado Music Festival, which is held each summer. The Royal-Arch and Green Mountain hikes are not-to-be-missed but should only be attempted if you're in good shape, have plenty of water, and have had a few days to acclimate to Boulder's altitude. (303-413-7200)
About Hope Gately
Hope Gately should have a bumper sticker proclaiming "Not a Native...But I Got Here as Fast as I Could!" A transplant from the Midwest, Hope has fallen in love with Colorado's mountains, lakes, and lush valleys. She plays in them as often as possible and, when she's not lacing up her hiking boots, she's slipping into some sexy heels for a night out at a local Boulder restaurant or brewery. Along with writing about Colorado in all its glory, Hope practices living locally, by attending farmer's markets, listening to live-local music, frequenting festivals, and recreating in her community!
Read more about Hope Gately here.