Founded as part of the Chautauqua Movement, Chautauqua Park has a long history in Boulder, Colorado. Colorado Chautauqua, a summer school for teachers, opened in 1898, with the location selected for its beautiful foothills location. Today, Chautauqua, a National Historic Landmark, retains its character, with year-round lodging and arts programs and numerous hiking trails and open space areas. Chautauqua Park currently consists of 40 acres of land, and it's known for its close-up view of the Flatirons.
It features a large green expanse, playground, the Chautauqua Dining Hall, lodging, an auditorium, the Academic Hall, and a general store, as well as a Ranger's Station. Visitors come to Chautauqua for various reasons, including seeing live music, exploring the area's history, and accessing the many hiking trails that lead out of the park.
Things To Do
Exploring the great outdoors is the main draw to Chautauqua Park, which is open throughout the year. During the warmer months, hiking is very popular on the trails, which range in length and difficulty, and in the winter, visitors can go sledding, snow-shoeing, and even skiing (if there's enough snow). There are numerous picnic tables and grassy areas to gather, and the playground is generally filled with kids.
What makes Chautauqua Park unique is its history, which is evident throughout the park and its buildings. The Chautauqua Dining Hall opened in 1898 and continues to serve food year-round (go for brunch), while hundreds of performers and speakers have appeared in Chautauqua Auditorium over the last century, including David Byrne, B.B. King, and Hunter S. Thompson. Visitors can embark on guided walking tours of Chautauqua or take a self-guided tour by calling 303-952-1600 and pressing the corresponding tour stop number at each spot on the map.
While Chautauqua is a great place to get outdoors or even stay for a few nights, there are some restrictions on outdoor activities. Bicycles are not allowed on the trails, and the park itself doesn't have access to fishing or mountain climbing. It's best to look for other nearby trails or head to the Boulder Creek Path if you plan to do things other than hike.
Best Hikes & Trails
Chautauqua Park features several hiking trails and also connects with other hiking areas. Most of the trails are moderate and can be completed by adults and kids, although you should expect some steep climbs on certain trails. Always wear sturdy shoes, apply sunscreen, and carry water when hiking, and be prepared for the high elevation to impact your presumed fitness level. The City of Boulder's interactive trail map is a good way to check which trails are currently open in Boulder's open space areas. Many of the trails split off, so check the map for the best way to make a loop.
- Mesa Trail: Extending for about seven miles, the Mesa Trail starts at the top of Bluebell Road and winds south through forests and meadows under the Flatirons. There are connections to most of the canyon trails along Boulder's Front Range, including Shadow Canyon Trail.
- Royal Arch: From the trailhead, follow Bluebell Canyon along the ridge to Tangen Spring. The short trail, which is less than a mile long, ends at Royal Arch with a steeper climb.
- Woods Quarry: This short ascent starts half a mile up on the Mesa Trail and ends at an abandoned rock quarry.
- Flatirons Loop: The Flatirons Trails is split into sections, extending about two miles in total, and takes visitors under the Flatirons. Those looking to climb the third Flatiron should follow the Third Flatiron Descent Trail.
- Baseline Trail: Follow Baseline Road west to nearby Flagstaff Mountain, where the trail loops back around towards the Bluebell Shelter. This is a good pick for families or those looking for a short, easy hike.
Where To Camp
Chautauqua Park does not permit camping, so visitors will need to look for campgrounds elsewhere when pitching a tent. There is no camping within the City of Boulder, by law, but a few private campsites can be found at Boulder Adventure Lodge, which you should reserve in advance. To find a campground for tent, car, or RV camping, look at nearby National Forests or State Parks. Here are some good areas for camping outside Boulder:
- St. Vrain State Park: St. Vrain has 87 campsites located across eight campgrounds, giving visitors plenty of options. Reservations are required and can be made by phone or online.
- Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Located north of Golden, Colorado, Golden Gate Canyon State Park boasts lots of campsites, as well as cabins, yurts, and a guest house. Backcountry camping is also available with walk-in access.
- Rocky Mountain National Park: Rocky Mountain National Park is one of Colorado's most famous and picturesque national parks. There are several seasonal campgrounds, some of which require reservations and some of which are first-come, first-served.
- Rainbow Lakes Campground: Located in Nederland, Colorado, Rainbow Lakes Campground is a good option not far from Boulder in Arapahoe & Roosevelt National Forests. There are 18 campsites for tents and small trailers, and no reservations are accepted.
- Pawnee Campground: Pawnee Campground, near Ward, Colorado, can be found in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Book a campsite online in advance.
Where To Stay Nearby
If you want to stay onsite in Chautauqua Park, book into one of the park's cottages or reserve a room at Missions House Lodge, which features eight rooms. The park has hosted visitors since 1898, originally in tents that were transformed into cottages, and all of the accommodation is unique and quirky. All of the cottages and rooms are phone- and TV-free to ensure guests can unplug. Cottages are available in studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, or three-bedroom configurations, and the historic Mary H. Galey Cottage features four bedrooms. It has hosted everyone from David Crosby to the Indigo Girls.
Nearby, there are also several other hotel options, as well as numerous Airbnbs and vacation rentals. Here are some of the best local hotels:
- St. Julien Hotel & Spa: Get fancy at the St. Julien Hotel & Spa, a contemporary hotel near the Pearl Street Mall, with great views of the Flatirons. It's a more expensive option, but the luxurious touches, including the spa, are worth it.
- Hotel Boulderado: Those who like history will love Hotel Boulderado, located off the Pearl Street Mall. It's been open for over a century and has great rooms and suites, along with easy access to all of Boulder's downtown bars and restaurants.
- Boulder Adventure Lodge: Located at the base of Fourmile Canyon, along the creek, Boulder Adventure Lodge, a.k.a. A-Lodge, is a great place to immerse yourself in nature. There are rustic cabins, campsites, and lots of amenities, including a pool and a shuttle to Eldora Ski Resort.
- Boulder Marriott: Renovated in 2018, the Boulder Marriott is a good choice for families and only a short drive from Chautauqua. It's within walking distance of numerous restaurants and the Twenty-Ninth Street Mall.
How To Get There
The entrance to Chautauqua Park is located at the intersection of Baseline Road and 9th Street on Boulder's western edge. Visitors can park in the park's official parking lot or along the nearby streets (be sure to check all parking signs). Parking nearby can be challenging, especially in the height of summer, so take advantage of Boulder's free Park to Park shuttle. It operates from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend on weekends and holidays, offering trips from local parking lots into the park, and runs every 15 minutes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. To help reduce the number of cars around Chautauqua, Boulder also has a partnership with Lyft and offers special promo codes for discounted rides.
Other options for getting to Chautauqua are cycling, walking, or hopping on a local bus. The 225, AB1, BOUND, DASH, and FF1 all drop visitors off near the entrance to Chautauqua. The nearest bus stops are Broadway & Baseline Road, Baseline Road & Broadway (Key Bank), and Regent Drive (Center For Community). Check the schedules here.
Tips For Your Visit
- Chautauqua Park (and Boulder in general) is very into sustainability and recycling. Look for the marked trash and recycling bins, and do not leave any litter behind. Overnight guests are encouraged to participate in the park's composting program.
- Dogs are welcome at Chautauqua Park, but leash regulations vary on the trail and area of the park. Look for signs indicating where it is safe to let your dog off the leash. Horses are allowed on most of the trails.
- It's not uncommon to spot black bears and mountain lions along the trails, as well as mule deer and coyotes. Be mindful of the wildlife, and be sure you know what to do in the event of an encounter with a mountain lion.
- Chautauqua Park is wheelchair accessible, including some of the trails. Check the Accessible Trails Guide Booklet to plan your visit.