Photo courtesy of Meadow Music

Free Family Adventures in Boulder

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Boulder isn’t known for being affordable. But it is known for being creative.

So while it may be expensive to live here, there are still plenty of free, fun adventures awaiting your family this summer and fall.

Popular ideas are to go hiking; stroll along the Pearl Street Mall (with a special stop at the pop jet fountain in front of the courthouse); attend Art Walks where you can people-watch and art-watch; and try free samples and dance to free music at the Boulder Farmers Market 4-8 p.m. Wednesdays from May-October and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays from April-November. (The Farmers Market was crowned the No. 1 farmers’ market in the country by USA Today.)

Kids also love walking along the shady Boulder Creek, a short walk from downtown (and snacks) (and toilets — we know how it goes). You can even dip your toes in the shallow waters. It’s also a blast to ride your bike along the creek path.

But that’s just the beginning of the free fun in town.

Here’s a look at some more incredible and affordable ways to entertain your kiddos in Boulder:

Go Star-Gazing

Of course, a blanket under the clear, summer night sky will lead to incredible star-watching opportunities. But the University of Colorado’s Sommers-Bausch Observatory is another free way to connect with the heavens. This observatory holds free star-watching events on Friday evenings year-round when school is in session (spring, summer and fall semesters).

The events are held on the observation deck on the CU Boulder campus, when the skies are clear and the weather permits. Sessions typically last one to three hours, depending on the weather and quality of star-watching. Dress in layers, since the telescopes are outside where there are no space heaters.

You can also book private group reservations of 10 or more people.

Make Music in the Meadow

Boulder kiddos love Jeff Kagan and Paige Doughty, performers of Meadow Music, an award-winning, environmentally focused music program for kids. These free, public, special shows take place at Chautauqua Park during warm months. Bring a blanket or low chairs, a picnic and water, and enjoy an hour of original science- and nature-based music and performances.

Meadow Music is upbeat and interactive, touching on topics like energy conservation and insects. Meadow Music has been a Boulder staple for more than 15 years. Want to learn the lyrics before you go? Search for Meadow Music on Spotify.

Explore the Library

The Boulder Public Library is so much more than books. It’s full of free, family-friendly events, including the super adventurous and creative state-of-the-art makerspace, Bldg 61. This free community workshop lets kids experiment with hands-on learning and making with all kinds of materials and tools. We’re talking screen printing, woodworking tools, 3D printers, welding tools, laser cutters, sewing machines, looms and more.

The library also screens free movies, offers free concerts and has other fun events for kids, like LEGO parties and storytimes.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Digital Bookmobile

Museum-Hop

Boulder is home to a handful of free museums. The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is free on Saturdays. The CU Art Museum is free even if you’re not a student. The free CU Heritage Center highlights CU’s 150-year history through more than 25,000 photos, books, artifacts and more, including a LEGO model of campus made out of 1 million bricks.

A big museum highlight in Boulder is the free CU Museum of Natural History on campus. Check out the museum’s Discovery Corner, a hands-on, interactive exhibit in the basement full of art activities, “discovery kits,” puppets, toys, books and all kinds of educational things meant to be touched. Identify fossils, touch real antlers and solve puzzles.

The museum is home to several other exhibition galleries, too. Grab a drink in the BioLounge while you learn about biodiversity. Head to Anthropology Hall to learn about climate change in the Rocky Mountains and the fascinating artifacts that are being uncovered as ice melts. Horse-lovers will also appreciate the Horses in the North American West exhibit in Anthropology Hall.

Overall, the museum boasts the largest natural history collection in the area, with nearly 5 million different objects. Talk about adventure.

Also, don’t miss the National Center for Atmospheric Research, 1850 Table Mesa Dr., Boulder. Here, you’ll find exhibits on the sun, climate and atmosphere, as well as an art gallery.

Dance the Summer Away

Head to downtown Boulder on the Pearl Street Mall every Wednesday through the summer for the free, family-friendly Band on the Bricks events. This summer concert series runs June 15-Aug. 3. It features local musicians, from rock to reggae, from 5-9 p.m.

Kids enjoy romping around downtown and dancing to the music. There are drinks to help entertain adults, too.

Ride, Ride, Ride

Try some new tricks at the Valmont Bike Park. This exciting park features 40-plus acres of cross-country trails, a slopestyle park, a dual-slalom racecourse, cyclocross courses and even kids-only courses.

Bring your bike — and your board. Valmont Bike Park also has an impressive, 10,000-square-foot skate park with all the bowls and rails you could want. Skaters will also enjoy the skate park at Scott Carpenter Park.

Both parks are great for wheels of all levels, from little newbies to older adrenaline junkies.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Brad Fagan

Cool Off by a Waterfall

The Boulder Falls hike is a great way to get outside with a major reward at the end: a beautiful waterfall. This trail is located off Highway 119 in Boulder Canyon, and the path is short and easy enough for kids and hikers of all abilities. Pack a picnic and plan the perfect breakfast (before the other hikers start spilling in).

Even if you aren’t up for the walk, the drive up Boulder Canyon offers stunning scenery and beautiful photo opps.

Play in the Parks

Boulder’s got great parks. Highlights for families include Arapahoe Ridge Park, with flagstone tunnels, rocky mazes and nooks for kids to explore. Wonderland Lake Park (on Poplar Avenue west of Broadway) offers easy access to Wonderland Lake and many trails.

Shanahan Ridge Park is a bit of a hidden gem, featuring a human sundial and equipment kids can climb on that’s made to the scale of Boulder’s various altitudes.

Then there’sCrestview Park, with a futuristic-looking treehouse play structure and climbing trapezes. And finally, East Boulder Community Park is beloved for the massive dinosaur-shaped play equipment and bridge-filled playground, not to mention a dog park, pond, sand volleyball courts, bike route access, athletic fields, a tennis teaching center, two outdoor squash courts, four outdoor handball courts, a pond and a demonstration garden.

Looking for more ideas? Add these to your bucket list:

  • Take a ride on the free Tebo Train. This 100 percent electric kiddie train chugs through downtown Mondays-Fridays from May 31-Sept. 2.
  • Swing by the Pearl Streets Arts Fest. This annual event for art-lovers runs July 15-17 in downtown Boulder, featuring artists from around the country. For kids, you’ll find art activities and live performances.
  • Welcome fall with the annual Downtown Boulder Fall Fest, Sept. 16-18 in downtown. This three-day event is packed with food, drinks, live music, a market and children’s activities.

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