Thursday, August 13, 2015

Trip Report: One Day in Boulder, CO

    For the first leg of my Colorado trip, I got the chance to spend 24 hours in one of America’s legendary outdoors towns: Boulder, CO! Boulder became a household name in the 1970’s for its hippie town character and active outdoors endurance sports community. Specialty shops of all shapes and sizes dot downtown Boulder, and iconic local small businesses like Peppercorn and the Boulder Bookstore keep the town’s “mountain West” identity firmly rooted, even as the downtown area (now a swanky pedestrian mall) gentrifies. With gorgeous hiking a five minute drive from packed coffeehouses at the center of town, Boulder is a Rocky Mountain anomaly – and perhaps, my nirvana.

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    After a 2am local time wake up for a Detroit-to-Denver flight, the first thing I needed was coffee. Boulder had no trouble delivering, and I quickly found myself at The Unseen Bean, a local roastery with fantastic espresso and a story unlike any other. The owner, Gerry Leary, founded the Bean in 2003 after being told he couldn’t make it in the coffee industry. Gerry, a career mechanic, had the mechanical experience and deft touch to produce world-class coffee. Only one issue remained in the eyes of his critics: Gerry was born blind, and so couldn’t possibly observe the intricate cues required to grind and roast the perfect beans. Relying entirely on his hearing and sense of smell, Gerry has churned out some of the West’s premier roasts ever since. If you go, the cappuccino is a must.

    Thoroughly wired, I decided to avoid the downtown retail corridor and instead take a long walk down Broadway to one of “the most beautiful college campuses in the country” – the University of Colorado at Boulder. CU Boulder’s sandstone walls and red tile roofs draw inspiration from the area’s plentiful natural resources, and the unified campus style (as compared to UM’s hodgepodge of styles. Law Quad vs Dennisson, anyone?) set against the Rocky Mountains – a meer 20 minute drive from class -  is truly a sight to behold. Take a long stroll on a sunny morning and try not to transfer.

    Plus, they have a dinosaur museum! Seriously, who doesn’t like dinosaurs? Bonus points: check out the real life Arc(haeop)teryx. I crack myself up.

    From campus, I took a long walk down Boulder’s famous Boulder Creek Trail. The Boulder Creek runs straight through the center of town and only reinforces the connection to nature that seems to pervade the city’s culture. Biking and running trails wind along the length of the creek and provide athletes at altitude with scenery beautiful enough for the most grueling work-outs. Related: the Boulder IRONMAN uses the Creek Trail for its run course. I bet you can see why.

    I followed the Boulder Creek Trail back into town to find lunch, but instead found Riverside Café first. As the name suggests, Riverside sits directly by the Boulder Creek and provides diners with idyllic views of mountain scenery (a given) and a delicious brunch menu (a happy discovery). Either Western Omelettes are categorically better out West, or Riverside knows how to make a mean breakfast. I think the two are related.

    I spent the rest of the day wandering around the myriad of downtown shops, stopping into everything from the big names (Patagonia) to local specialties (notably, the aforementioned Boulder Books). Boulder Books is my kind of store – an independent bookstore set into a historic downtown location with a friendly, knowledgeable staff and entire section dedicated to outdoors literature and photo essays. It’s like Literati goes Mountain West.

    Worth noting: Boulder, CO is the US flagship of Swedish outdoors brand Fjallraven, and Angie (their awesome manager and head coat waxer) was kind enough to send me home with stickers and a bar of Greenland Wax! If you go, stop in and see all the best the line has to offer. Plus, check out the massive wall of Kanken backpacks, including one in Maize and Blue.

    Jet-lagged and tired from my 2am alarm, I retired to the hotel early to get in a quick run (editor’s note: those blood vessels bursting in your lungs is Colorado’s way of saying “you’re not at sea level anymore”), eat a light dinner, and pass right out. I set an early alarm, hit the pillow, and suddenly it was Saturday.

    A 6am weekend sunrise over the mountains woke me up before my phone alarm even had the courtesy, and I quickly threw on my hiking gear so I could hopefully get on the trail with enough time to enjoy my first “golden hour” in the Rockies. My destination for the morning: The Flatirons, a rock formation just out of town and perhaps one of the most photographed sites in the country.
I got to the trailhead around 8am, just as the last rays of amber morning light shone onto the massive blades of sandstone before me. 

    The Flatirons are literally breathtaking – and no, I’m not talking about the altitude again. To an East Coast kid turned transient Midwesterner, you sometime forget just how small you are compared to nature. Standing in the shadow of The Flatirons was quite literally awesome. I hiked the South Mesa Loop trail, internalized jealousy towards the Boulder residents who get to trail run this outdoors heaven every morning, then hung out at the Woods Quarry (a scree overlook off the Mesa Trail, between Chautauqua and NCAR) until it was time to leave town around 10am.

    I took in the last few blinks I could, dusted myself off, and headed into town for a post-hike breakfast and coffee at the Boulder local’s favorite, The Laughing Goat. “The Goat” is Pacific Northwest meets Rocky Mountains – great coffee, trendy interior, and a stage famous for hosting some of the best local bands in the area almost every night of every weekend, all year. Even better: The Laughing Goat also serves beer, wine, and food other than the usual assortment of coffee shop pastries. If you’re ever in Boulder, look up the event schedule on their website, order up a café mocha (or perhaps a Colorado craft beer), and enjoy the atmosphere.

    If you’re ever in Denver, take the forty-five minute drive out of town to Boulder. From nature to shopping, local charm to great eating, the city has so much to offer a traveler or outdoors enthusiast of any age! It’s the perfect start to any visit to the Mountain West.    


Planning a trip? Want to get more insider tips and travel recommendations from Bivouac's expert staff? Read about our adventures to Canyonlands National Park (UT)Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (MI), and Chicago (IL), or click here to go back to the Bivouac Blog!

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