If you’re coming to Colorado, you’re probably heading to Boulder, too. It’s one of the coolest cities in the Rocky Mountains to visit, and tourism there is booming. Five new hotels recently opened up in the Boulder-Broomfield area, proof of a growing interest in visiting that part of Colorado.
This artsy, quirky college town is a short drive from Denver and in the middle of all of the Northern Colorado action. The west roads of Boulder will take you directly to the best ski resorts. Not to mention Boulder has its own nearby ski hill, Eldora.
Boulder boasts a colorful walking mall lined with musical buskers; a blend of pro athletes, old hippies, wealthy entrepreneurs, health nuts and college students. The city is so unique that locals call it the "Boulder Bubble." There's truly nowhere else like Boulder in the world.
Boulder boasts 3.3 million "visitor days" every year, according to the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau. A visitor day is one person visiting Boulder for one day. For a city with a population of just over 100,000, this is a notable number.
Whether you’re coming to Boulder for the Boulder Creek Festival (which draws 125,000 people), the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado (70,000 people), the Bolder Boulder (54,000 people), the Boulder International Film Festival or to hike the 151 miles of trails (5.3 million people do that per year), here’s how to get to the “Boulder Bubble” from Denver.
Where is Boulder Located?
Boulder is at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills, in the shadow of the Flatiron Mountains. It’s about 30 miles west of Denver, or about 35 minutes to more than an hour on the road, depending on traffic.
Get to Boulder Via Car
If you rent a car in Denver, it’s easy to get to Boulder. Plug it into the maps app on your phone. Chances are, you’ll have to trek down U.S. 36, which can be a nightmare of a highway if you attempt it during rush hour. Just don’t.
There are toll lanes on U.S. 36 that might get you through less painfully, but even that is actually cheaper and quicker during off-peak hours. The toll lanes aren’t exactly cheap. Depending on how far you drive, you could pay as much as $13 to drive between Denver and Boulder during morning rush hour.
There are ways around U.S. 36, but they’re way around it and may end up taking longer than just sucking it up and sitting in traffic. Best bet: Leave super early or super late. Beware of the lunch hour rush, although it’s usually not that bad.
Get to Boulder Via Bus
Spare some gray hairs and take the RTD bus from Denver to Boulder. The Regional Transportation District’s AB bus will take you between the Denver International Airport and Boulder. It’ll take a bit more than an hour, but it’s less stressful than wrestling traffic yourself. And once you get to Boulder, if you plan on staying in town, you can easily get around via bus and bike; no car required. The AB bus costs about $13 each way.
You can also look into RTD’s Skyride for a straight shot to the airport. Skyride will get you from Boulder to the airport for just $9, making it the cheapest option, assuming you're staying near a bus stop.
Don't be misled by the name of the University of Colorado A Line train. Although the University of Colorado's main campus is in Boulder, this airport train goes to downtown Denver and surrounding Denver neighborhoods. It won't get you to Boulder.
Get to Boulder Via Shuttle
A shuttle, taxi or Uber will cost more (sometimes more than three times as much) to get you from Denver to Boulder, but they’re a viable option if you need a specific pickup or drop-off (like your hotel steps or if you are traveling with kids or a lot of luggage). This is also useful if you are headed to a part of Boulder where the RTD doesn’t stop or if you arrive during off hours and don’t want to wait for (or be on) the bus.
The GreenRide and SuperShuttle are the two main shuttles that regularly drive between the airport and Boulder. The main taxi service is Yellow Cab, but that can cost nearly seven times as much as the bus. It’s typically cheaper and quicker to take an Uber, though. Those rates are nearly half the price of a typical taxi.
Get to Boulder From Other Directions
If you’re coming to Boulder from the west, chances are you’re on a road trip to begin with. You’ll head down Interstate 70, which can be a congestion nightmare during the winter, especially during peak heading-to-the-mountains hours (after work on Friday/early Saturday morning if you’re driving west, and Sunday afternoon if you’re driving east). Even during the slower spring and fall times, try to plan your drive on I-70 during an off time, like a late Monday morning (don’t forget the city’s rush hour once you get closer to Denver).
There are two main ways to get to Boulder off I-70. You can exit Golden and take U.S. 6 north. This will connect with Colo. 93. Or you can take I-70 into Denver and get onto U.S. 36. Don’t do this one. The former is much more scenic (although it can get winding), quicker and tends to have less traffic (roadwork pending, of course).
Parking in Boulder
If you drive to Boulder, be vigilant about where you park. Boulder is notoriously relentless for its parking tickets. You can find free, time-limited parking near downtown, but don’t push your luck and come back late. You might find meter parking if you’re lucky. Your best choice is to find a parking garage and suck up the cost. Visitors are happy to learn garages are free weekends and city holidays. But of course, that also means those times are harder to find a spot in the garage.
Better yet, park at your hotel and rent a bike once you get into town. You can rent bikes at many of the bike shops around town or the bike sharing program, B-cycle, although you have to check your B-cycle back in every 30 minutes at a station, lest you see steep fees. It can be a hassle (and confusing if you aren’t familiar with the city) and financially add up. Instead, visit University Bikes and rent a bike by the day. The price tag isn't very steep. Plus, you'll get some great exercise. Boulder has been named one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country, so there are plenty of trails to accommodate you.