Go for a picnic on the Chautauqua green. Courtesy photo

17 Surprising Things to do at Boulder’s Chautauqua Park


There’s something magical about standing at the base of the Flatiron Mountains that is both breathtaking and perspective-giving.

That’s the first and most obvious thing that draws people to Boulder’s Chautauqua Park, located right at the foot of the Flatirons.

This historic, 120-year-old park is one of Boulder’s most famous landmarks. It’s the gateway to the Flatirons and more than 40 miles of open space trails.

The main trails in this area are:

  • The Chautauqua Trail, about a half-mile long, 440-foot elevation gain.
  • Mesa Trail, nearly 7 long, hilly miles, just over 400-foot gain. This connects to all kinds of other trails.
  • Woods Quarry, only about 0.3 miles long itself with a 230 foot gain, branching off the Mesa Trail and ending in a quirky former rock quarry with beautiful views.
  • Royal Arch, about 0.7 miles long with an 880 foot gain along some great switchbacks.
  • Baseline Trail, about a half-mile long, only a 60-foot climb. Easy, easy.
  • The Flatiron Trails (first, second and third). These take you up the Flatirons; the third is a climbing access trail. Talk to the ranger cottage before heading up the Flatirons. People regularly get stuck up there and need rescued. Don’t be those people.

More than hiking

But hiking is just the beginning of what Boulder’s Chautauqua offers.

It’s an excellent home base for a vacation and a central point for a ton of adventures, from outdoor and sports pursuits to arts and culture.

Note: The parking here can be a real problem since the park is so popular among locals and visitors. While there is a parking lot at the trailhead and overflow parking on Baseline Road, it’s nearly impossible to find a spot. Your best bet is to take public transportation or Uber, carpool, walk or bike up here (if you have mega strong quads). If you’re lucky, you might be able to score a spot in a nearby neighborhood. Maybe. But that puts a strain on local neighborhoods.

Chautauqua Auditorium
A peek at the Chautauqua Summer Concert Series. Photo courtesy Benko Photographics/Colorado Chautauqua Association

Here are 17 other ways to experience Chautauqua Park. 

1. Hear a speaker.

Chautauqua features two different event centers, the Chautauqua Auditorium and the Chautauqua Community House. The auditorium often hosts special speakers. In the past, it’s brought the likes of Al Gore and Rev. Jesse Jackson to Boulder.

2. Enjoy a concert.

The auditorium stage also comes to life with live music, from local performers to big names, such as BB King, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Lyle Lovett.

Smaller, more intimate shows tend to take place in the Chautauqua Community House.

3. Grab a bite to eat.

The Chautauqua Dining Hall offers sit-down meals year-round for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it’s been a popular place to eat since the 1800s. While the food is high quality, run by award-winning Three Leaf Concepts (which runs some of Boulder’s top restaurants), the best feature here is the view. Dine outside on the porch with a view of the mountains and beyond.

This is an awesome way to fuel up before a hike or refuel after.

At concerts, you can get small bites at concession stands. The General Store also has munchies and sweets.

Picnic at Chautauqua
Picnic at Chautauqua. June 24, 2010. Photo by Werner R. Slocum.

4. Have a picnic.

Bring your own lunch or take a meal to go and fill up at one of the picnic tables near the grass.

5. Go shopping.

The General Store is no mall, but it does offer a handful of necessities (like sunscreen and hats), as well as grab-and-go food and espresso drinks. You can also pick up a Chautauqua souvenir here and old-fashioned candy, which is a fun gift to bring home.

6. Let the kids play.

Chautauqua is excellent for families and even offers a playground just for the little ones. Let them explore nature and run around the large grassy turf.

7. Play tennis.

Hiking isn’t the only way to get active outdoors at Chautauqua. It also has a tennis court that is open year-round.

8. Hang out with your dog.

Dogs are welcome here, as long as they remain on leash in the trailhead area. After that, each trail’s rules are different; look for the signs. Most trails require a leash.

9. Take photos and look for wildlife.

Chautauqua is hands down one of the most scenic backdrops for photos in Boulder. Every season has its own natural charm. Also, keep your eyes open for wildlife, as mountain lions, deer, coyotes, black bears and many different kinds of birds live in this area. (Maybe don’t hope to take pics of mountain lions and bears.)

That being said, be smart with your trash and toss it in the special, bear-proof receptacles.

10. Do yoga in the park.

The green is a popular place to do yoga, either on your own or with a group. Yoga in Your Park is one group that offers outdoor yoga classes at Chautauqua when the weather is warm.

11. Take an outdoor music class. 

FamilySong Summer Music offers annual music classes in the park every summer. Kids and their families are welcome to sing, dance and jam with a guitar and drums. Check the website for the schedule and register, although drop-ins are inexpensive, too.

12. Go on a guided hike.

Whether you don’t feel brave or confident enough to head into nature by yourself, or you want to make it a more educational experience, you can find a long list of guided hikes in the Chautauqua area year-round.

For example, REI’s Outdoor School has led a hike to the Green Mountain summit, above Chautauqua Park. Participants learned about gear, trail etiquette, safety, trip planning and the region.

13. Get creative outside. 

Bring your own canvas or sign up for outdoor art classes at Chautauqua. Look for art class for kids where little ones can let nature inspire their watercolor paints and pick up some artistic techniques.

Chautauqua Cottages bedroom
Chautauqua Cottages bedroom. Courtesy Photo

14. Stay the night.

Chautauqua offers one of the coolest lodging options in Boulder. Choose from 58 different cottages, each individual and uniquely decorated. Some have fireplaces, others offer clawfoot tubs, but none have TVs or phones. The goal is to unplug, unwind and immerse yourself in this special slice of Boulder.

Cottages also have kitchens and screen porches.

In addition to the cottages, there is also the Missions House Lodge and Columbine Lodge.

Local tip: Make yourself at home, because Whole Foods Market will actually deliver groceries to your cottage.

15. Experience the Colorado Music Festival.

The Chautauqua Auditorium welcomes the beloved Colorado Music Festival, a six-week orchestra concert series, every summer. It’s one of the cultural highlights in Boulder, featuring internationally renowned musicians, and has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts.

16. Catch a film.

You can occasionally see films at Chautauqua’s venues, too. Documentaries are popular and topics vary greatly.

17. Plan a special event.

Chautauqua knows how to host a wedding, retreat, dinner party, celebration or family reunion. It has a variety of venues for different sizes and offers catering.


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