A historic, Victorian-style room at the Boulderado. Courtesy photo

A Historic Tour of Boulder


History buffs, here’s an itinerary for you.

If you want to dive deep into Boulder’s history, you could casually walk down the Pearl Street Mall and enjoy the architecture, meander up to the 120-year-old Colorado Chautauqua (the oldest, continually running Chautauqua west of the Mississippi) and then wander through the University of Colorado campus and gawk at the old trees and structures.

Or if you are craving something a little more structured, sign up for a guided history tour.

There are some fun, educational and more official ways to explore Boulder’s history. Here are our favorites.

Check Historic Boulder Events

Historic Boulder is a great resource and place to start. Peep its calendar for upcoming events, like a Chautauqua Women’s History Walking Tour or Boulder Underground Pub Crawl. This was a self-guided tour and pub crawl highlighting some of the city’s older underground drinking holes. Yes, really, underground.

License No. 1
Go underground bar hopping at License No. 1. Courtesy photo

A place to start: License No. 1, a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge in the basement of the historic Boulderado Hotel.

Join Boulder Walking Tours

Boulder Walking Tours offers guided tours of Boulder, including Chautauqua: Living History. Chautauqua is a National Historic Landmark, and this tour takes you through the grounds, teaches you about the history and shares historic stories and photos.

Follow the Map

For an organized but self-guided historic tour, check out the Boulder Historic Neighborhoods Walking Tour. You can download and print the map from the web. Mapleton, Whittier and University Hill are just three of the neighborhoods to visit.

The Banjo Billy Bus. Courtesy photo (Facebook)

Ride the Funky Bus

Here’s an only-in-Boulder way to explore Boulder’s history: on the funky Banjo Billy bus, which is a tour bus that looks like a hillbilly shack on wheels. Banjo Billy has a variety of different themed tours, including a great, 90-minute history tour. Passengers get to vote on which points of interest they want to learn about, which makes it an interactive experience that’s different every time.

Lest you think history is boring, the Boulder history tour features murders, scandals and interesting characters. “If you thought Boulder was funky, you don’t know the half of it,” the tours disclaim. You’ll visit a haunted hotel, learn about a Boulder “madam” who may have had a special relationship with a former President and learn the “tale of three pampered dogs and a most unusual death.” And that’s just the beginning.

Another totally different way to experience history is via Banjo Billy’s Boulder ghost tours.

Historical Photo of Guitar and Mandolin players at Chautauqua
Historical photo of guitar and mandolin players at Chautauqua. Courtesy photo

Take a Chautauqua Tour

You don’t have to tour Chautauqua with the Boulder Walking Tours. You can take a self-guided interpretive audio tour with your cell phone. Visit the map and locate the nine different stops and four informational panels throughout the park. Then just call 303-952-1600 and select a tour stop number. It’ll play the corresponding narrative. Simple as that.

Chautauqua also offers free walking tours with an archivist. These run May 30-Aug. 29, 10 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Meet at the gift shop. In total, the tour is about a mile long and lasts about an hour. Sign up at least a day in advance at kate.gerard@chautauqua.com.

Learn About Mining

Explore Boulder County’s mining history with this virtual tour, or sign up for a free tour of the region’s hard-rock mining heritage, where you’ll visit old mining sites. The Nederland Mining Museum and Assay Office Museum are two must-see spots for people curious about the big Colorado mining rush. You can set up a free tour of the office museum for groups of 12 or more mid-April through mid-October. The Nederland museum offers a free, short talk, “Hard Rock Mining, Hard Work” at 2 p.m. during open hours, and the second Friday of the month at 7 p.m., you can attend special “Evening at the Museum” events with guest speakers.

A historic, Victorian-style room at the Boulderado. Courtesy photo

Bonus: Add This

The perfect add-on to your historic tour of Boulder is a night in the Historic Boulderado Hotel and a show at the historic Boulder Theater, with its art deco exterior dating back to the ‘30s.

Boulder Theater
Boulder Theater. Courtesy photo

Or stay in one of the cottages at Chautauqua and see a show in the auditorium. The Chautauqua Dining Hall is in a historic building with great views and is serving up special decade-inspired meals in 2018 in celebration of its 120th anniversary.

Other historical highlights to visit:

  • The Columbia Cemetery, where many important local historical leaders are buried.
  • The new Museum of Boulder, featuring local history, artifacts and exhibitions.
  • The Museum of Natural History on the CU campus, which is free and open daily. You will dip even farther back in history here, with dinosaur fossils, art and science exhibitions. Don’t miss “Unearthed: Ancient Life in Boulder Valley,” featuring more than 80 stone tools found in a Boulder backyard in 2008. The tools are about 13,000 years old. That dates back to the end of the last ice age.

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