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Boulder on a Budget: Free and Exciting Attractions for All



Boulder, Colorado has been ranked in dozens of magazines for its livability, fitness, and the overall happiness of its citizenry. Many may wonder how this seemingly utopian town in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies got to be so gosh darned awesome? Well, for starters, the community of Boulder recognizes that when you provide physical fitness activities, musical experiences, brewery tours, and educational events for free your community will be smarter, healthier, and happier. These free events are particularly good for families on a tight budget, college students, and those of us who get a thrill from being thrifty. Not to mention, the town of Boulder understands that a variety of free attractions will bring tourists flocking.

Among the many free adventures to be had in Boulder, there's Mt. Sanitas, which is one of the most beautiful and scenic hikes in the Front Range. If you're a music lover, the city of Boulder puts on free concerts downtown during the months of June-September. This dancing, beer-drinking, foot stomping extravaganza is called Bands on the Bricks and features local artists from a variety of musical genres.

If you're looking for some holiday fun, St. Nick on the Bricks and the Parade of Lights are dazzling, local, events that will put the "merry" in your Christmas festivities. 

For beer enthusiasts, the Coors Brewery Tour is one of the most popular attractions in the area and is just a quick drive from Boulder. Completely free and totally awesome. 


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The company headquarters of the world's largest publisher of Western art greeting cards houses an outstanding collection of the contemporary Western-themed original art, including landscapes, bronzes, and humorous cowboy art, featured on the cards. Their gorgeous outdoor sculpture garden features an array of small pieces to large ornate pieces that will capture the imagination. Upon entering the museum, you'll be greeted by artist Buck McCain's "Innovation", a 15 foot tall bronze sculpture. Best of all, this business is family owned and the success of it's greeting cards business allows the family to offer free admission to the public so that western artist's works can be enjoyed by all.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: This free western art exhibit features breathtaking pieces that will help you better understand the history of the West.

Hope's expert tip: Be sure to visit Leanin' Tree's outdoor sculpture garden!

Read more about Leanin' Tree Museum of Western Art →


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Airport - Wbu
Boulder Creek Path


Gently weaving through miles of open space, underpasses, and urban delights, the Boulder Creek Path is a perfectly free and active way to spend your afternoon in Boulder. Whether you're walking, running, riding your bike or, perhaps something more eccentric such as roller blading, the Boulder Creek Path is your eco-friendly high-way to the cities many restaurants and attractions. Though renting a bicycle is will cost you minimally, Pearl Street there are a variety of businesses that provide rental bikes as well as street, coin-slot, bike rentals. Plan a brewery ride to Boulder's famous microbreweries, or merely take in the sights as you follow the path from downtown all the way to the east-side of the city.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Biking, walking, and fishing can all be done along the Boulder Creek Path and it won't cost you a dime.

Hope's expert tip: Be sure to stop off at the library to enjoy one of their many free art exhibits or have a spot of tea at the Dushanbe Teahouse, both of which sit conveniently near the creek path.

Read more about Boulder Creek Path →


Boulder Falls


Boulder Falls is located in Boulder Canyon off of Highway 119 and allows for the perfect sightseeing adventure. Best still, accessing the falls only requires a short and very easy hike, so people of all ages and fitness levels can enjoy. The drive to the falls alone is enough to satisfy your outdoors itch; located in Boulder Canyon, mountainous walls of rock jut up along the highway as the canyon road twists and turns along Boulder Creek. Be sure to pack a camera, because photos are a must. Also, if you're a rock climbing enthusiast, there are plenty of walls and routes to tackle near the falls.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: A beautiful destination, Boulder Falls offers a scenic photo opportunity and easily accessible for people of all ages.

Hope's expert tip: Take a picnic and sit right at the base of the falls.

Read more about Boulder Falls →


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Parade of Lights
Photo courtesy of Downtown Boulder

Local businesses, schools, churches and many more participate in downtown Boulder's holiday shebang. This year, the parade will be held on December 5th at 6pm. Floats festooned with twinkling lights, music, and the Pearl Street Mall's shops all lit up with doors open wide to invite spectators to shop, sip coffee, or grab a bite. Other sights to see include fire engines, marching bands, and Santa Claus himself! Before or after the parade, be sure to grab dinner at one of Boulder's local restaurants or a beer at Mountain Sun Brewery, conveniently located in the heart of downtown. This event is great for children and the child in us all.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The twinkling lights of floats, local businesses, and Pearl Street all shine for spectators at this holiday favorite.

Hope's expert tip: Be sure to dine and shop before and after the Parade of Lights on Boulder's famed Pearl Street.

Read more about Parade of Lights →


Chautauqua Park
Photo courtesy of © 2014 City of Boulder Parks & Recreation


Completely free to the general public with absolutely no park admission fee, 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. Dogs are welcome on leash (unless you have a Boulder off-leash tag) and there are a multitude of hiking trails for all skill levels ranging from quick, scenic loops, to strenuous day hikes but some of Boulder's tallest mountains, including Green Mountain which tops out at 8,150ft. During the winter months, snow-shoeing and sledding can also be enjoyed.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The scenery of Chautauqua Park alone is worth a million bucks!

Hope's expert tip: Be sure to tackle the strenuous Royal-Arch hike which provides a spectacular view well worth the climb.

Read more about Chautauqua Park →


Mt. Sanitas


Boulder offers some of the most scenic and well-maintained hiking trails in all of the country. Not only is it a treat to amble along these Front Range treasures but it's also completely free. This 3.1 mile moderate to strenuous trail will lead you to one of the most breathtakingly beautiful summits overlooking all of Boulder Valley. Sanitas, which is Latin for health, wellbeing, and clarity of mind, is the perfect day hike whether you're wanting to work out, relax, or just be with nature. Gaining over 1,300ft in elevation over a 1.5 miles, this trail is stair-steppers all the way to the top and can be looped for a more gradual descent if you take the Sanitas Valley trail.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Mt. Sanitas is easily accessible and one of the most rewarding activities you can do in Boulder at no cost.

Hope's expert tip: Sanitas has several false summits, so be sure to pack a good lunch, plenty of water, and keep truckin' up the trail. Your effort will be worth the view.

Read more about Mt. Sanitas →




Bands on the Bricks is a free, weekly concert put on by the City of Boulder on downtown Pearl Street at absolutely no cost. A beer garden featuring local brews from Avery, West Flanders, and Upslope Brewing Company can be enjoyed, as well has the delicious food from Pearl Street restaurants. At this event you'll find all ages and creeds of people dancing and enjoying the merry-making together. A pop jet fountain nearby, entertaining street acts, and a small rock playground are perfect for entertaining the little ones in between sets. If you're looking to spend a little dough, you can always shop before or after at the numerous local and big-named retail shops along the mall. This event runs June-September.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Listen to a variety of live music for free with Bands on the Bricks.

Hope's expert tip: Be sure to take advantage of the beer garden and nearby restaurants on Pearl Street.

Read more about Bands on the Bricks →


National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)


Discover the amazing world of meteorology with exhibits devoted to everything from tornadoes to global warming. Sitting atop a mesa bluff, the facility features interactive exhibits, art galleries, a library, cafeteria, and several of the world's largest and fastest computers. Leading international scientists visit for research purposes. Enjoy the accompanying outdoor trails, including an exclusive trail that explains weather patterns. The folks at NCAR aren't just weather nerds; they see it as their fundamental duty to inform the general population about weather patterns and how the actions of human beings effect our changing weather systems. As such, a great deal of literature is distributed free of charge when you visit NCAR and you're sure to leave with a better appreciation of nature.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The hiking trails surround NCAR are maintained throughout the year and perfect for a long or short adventure in the Boulder foothills.

Hope's expert tip: Be sure to visit one of NCAR's exclusive hiking trails where you'll learn about weather patterns.

Read more about National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) →


St. Nick on the Bricks
Photo courtesy of Downtown Boulder

Meet Santa himself while shopping and dining in Boulder's charming downtown area. Located at the Visitor's Center and starting the week of Thanksgiving, kids of all ages are encouraged to bundle up, wait in line, and sit on the lap of St. Nick himself. Those who have been naughty, need not apply. After whispering your wish into Santa's ear, be sure to do some exploring, grab some hot chocolate at Pearl Street's Piece, Love, & Chocolate, shop at Into the Wind, a unique kite shop offering perfect gifts for the season, or Peppercorn's, offering plenty of gifts for kitchens and beyond.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: A charming holiday tradition, St. Nick on the Bricks is perfect for children and the child in us all.

Hope's expert tip: Arrive early since lines can get long.

Read more about St. Nick on the Bricks →


Learn about the history, brewing process and environmental commitment of Coors Brewery in their popular and quick tour which includes free samples in their tasting room at the end. Located within just a short 30 minute drive of Boulder, this tour is a great for those visiting family during the holiday season or anytime of year. This self-guided tour allows guests to go at their own pace and retrace their steps if they missed something interesting. Tours are given Monday-Saturday from 10-4pm and Sundays, noon-4pm. Be sure to check their website for holiday hours and leave backpacks and purses in your car. However, wallets and cameras are permitted.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Coors beer is a local staple and the brewery's interactive tour is one of the most popular for a variety of reason, including free samples!

Hope's expert tip: Arrive early since the lines get longer and longer as the day goes on. A weekday trip is typically better for avoiding crowds.

Read more about Coors Brewery Tour →


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Meet 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 playing...  More About Hope

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