When it comes to lists of “best cities” and “best towns,” Boulder, Colorado almost always rates in the Top 10. It’s consistently ranked as one of the happiest, fittest, trendiest and most outdoorsy communities in the U.S.
Yet despite these many accolades and the city’s many charms, Boulder’s appeal as a family winter destination is less well-known.
Let’s change that.
Boulder In Winter
#1: Best Skiing Near Boulder
Just 21 miles up Boulder Canyon (and worlds away from the busy lanes of I-70), Eldora Mountain Resort offers the best skiing near Boulder.
Eldora is a medium-sized ski area with 680 skiable acres and 1,400 vertical feet. This season, Eldora added a high-speed 6 passenger chairlift, the Alpenglow Express, which significantly reduced the lift ride time at the heart of the mountain and has made the resort even more appealing.
Weekends can be busy at Eldora, with special events, live music and local kids learning to ski and ride, racing, and honing their freestyle skills in the Woodward Terrain Parks.
Midweek at Eldora is a dream. The mountain is wide open for exploration and there is a surprising amount to explore.
In late January, my son and I played hooky for two days, spending each afternoon at Eldora.
One of those days was the best day we’ve had at Eldora, skiing on sun-warmed snow and exploring Eldora’s Western Ridge.
From fast groomers off of the Alpenglow Express, to the solitude of the runs above the Indian Peaks chairlift, to the challenging terrain around the Corona chairlift, we skied directly onto the lift after every run.
Tree skiing is one of our favorite things at Eldora. While the Corona chairlift serves many of the mountain’s skiable glades, Jolly Jug Glades near the Alpenglow Express is a favorite.
Rated double black, these moderately pitched glades are not as hard as you anticipate and have excellent tree spacing. They are perfect for families with intermediate skills and higher.
Woodward training techniques are integrated into all children and youth ski and snowboard lessons. Built By Woodward lessons begin with balance and coordination practice in the indoor Woodward Hub and progress to specially designed terrain in the Woodward Start Park.
#2: Best Winter Hiking Near Boulder
Boulder has a mild winter climate and the warm sun melts snow from the lower hiking trails as soon as the clouds depart. While some trails may be snow packed after a storm, this is nothing a pair of Yak Trax or snowshoes can’t remedy.
- First and Second Flatiron. The Flatirons define Boulder. This trail rises from Chautauqua Park to two of the Flatiron formations. The trail is steep in sections, but is only 1.3 miles one-way and is well-used and well-marked.
- Canyon Loop. A 3.3 mile loop at Betasso Preserve, this trail starts on a plateau and meanders downhill before turning back up for a one-mile climb. Located above Boulder, there can be more snow here which makes it fun for snowshoeing.
- Boulder Creek Path. Cutting through the center of Boulder and continuing four miles up Boulder Canyon, this paved path can be as urban or wild as you please. In the city, the trail follows the creek through public parks. As it goes up the canyon, the landscape narrows, quickly leaving the city behind.
#3: Best Places to Learn Something New In Boulder
Feeling guilty about taking your kids out of school to go skiing midweek? Don’t.
Instead, work these fun, educational experiences into your winter visit.
Fiske Planetarium on the CU campus offers ever-changing programming including live talks, Planetarium films, star shows, and laser/music shows running into the wee hours. Reservations are recommended and Fiske Planetarium suggests arriving at least 20 minutes early for all shows. While waiting, explore art and science exhibits with your family.
The Mesa Laboratory Visitor Center at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) offers free guided tours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon – 1:00 p.m. Interactive displays focus on weather, climate and Sun-Earth connections. Outdoors you’ll find the NCAR Weather Trail, a 0.4 mile accessible hiking trail with access to longer routes.
#4: Best Shopping In Boulder
Pearl Street is a shopping destination unto itself, offering plenty of national and international brands. Most appealing are the local “only in Boulder” stores, including Liberty Puzzles, Trident Bookshop and Cafe, and Peppercorn.
Topping the list for us, however, is McGuckin’s Hardware about 1.5 miles east of the pedestrianized Pearl Street Mall. Whatever you need, from a giant wrench to a single nail, you’ll find at McGuckin’s. An old-fashioned hardware/general store, McGuckin’s sells everything from art supplies and outdoor clothing to Colorado souvenirs, pet supplies, home goods and every imaginable piece of hardware.
#5: Best Boulder Restaurants
Like many university towns, Boulder is full of fantastic food, at all price points.
For breakfast, look no further than the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. An architectural gem, the Teahouse was built in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Boulder’s sister city. Come for breakfast and choose from 100s of teas, while enjoying Himalayan-inspired entrees. Lunch, dinner and afternoon tea are also served.
Other good spots for breakfast in Boulder include Foolish Craig’s, Parkway Cafe and The Buff.
For lunch, we recommended Half Fast Subs and Rincon Argentino, both near the University.
As for dinner, we’ve rarely had a bad meal in Boulder, but we’ve almost always needed reservations, even during slow times. Two new options that are on our list to try are River and Woods, offering “crowd sourced” cuisine (i.e. reworked family recipes, many submitted by patrons) and the Rayback Collective food truck park.
When You Go…
With two sons at the University of Colorado, we spend a lot of time in Boulder and have stayed at a lot of hotels.
For comfort, ease, style and location, location, location, you cannot beat the newly opened Hiltons on Boulder. These twin hotels, one an Embassy Suites and one a Hilton Garden Inn, are located near the center of Boulder on Canyon Boulevard, the road to Eldora Mountain Resort. Book a Winter Ski Package and get 2 adult Eldora lift tickets and complimentary transportation to and from Eldora.
While the Embassy Suites has a slightly higher nightly price, it’s the best bet for families with two-room suites, a complimentary made-to-order breakfast and evening reception. If you’re imagining an old-fashioned Embassy Suites with a central atrium, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the updated hotel design with its emphasis on quiet and privacy.
Both hotels share a heated outdoor pool which is open in winter. And both offer a bit of unexpected Boulder culture, with a collection of curated local art, much of it from CU faculty and alums, adorning the public spaces.
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