Roadways of Boulder, Colorado

Boulder is a vibrant city located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. With its lively downtown, picturesque natural surroundings, and thriving local culture, it’s no wonder Boulder is consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in the United States.

One of the keys to enjoying Boulder is understanding its roadway system. As both a college town and outdoor recreation hub, Boulder has a unique mix of roads catering to pedestrians, cyclists, public transportation, and vehicles. This local’s guide will give you an overview of getting around Boulder by car, bike, bus, and foot.

Major Highways and Arterials

Boulder is conveniently located just 30 minutes northwest of Denver off U.S. Highway 36. For visitors driving into town, Highway 36, Foothills Parkway, and Arapahoe Avenue are the main entry points.

Within Boulder, the major east-west arterial roads are Arapahoe, Canyon, Iris, and Baseline. North-south arterials include Broadway, 28th, 30th, Foothills Parkway, and 36th. These roads connect the city’s neighborhoods and provide access to downtown Boulder.

Some key things to know about Boulder’s main arterials:

  • Arapahoe Avenue – A busy four-lane road running from east to downtown Boulder. It turns into a highway west of the city.
  • Canyon Boulevard – Crosses through downtown and the University of Colorado campus. Prone to congestion during rush hour.
  • Broadway – Has protected bike lanes and direct access to downtown. Lots of restaurants and shops.
  • Iris Avenue – No bike lanes, but a quick way to access north Boulder.
  • Foothills Parkway – A scenic route at the base of the Flatirons mountain foothills.

Navigating Downtown Boulder

Downtown Boulder is centered around the Pearl Street Mall, a lively pedestrian street with shops, restaurants, street performers, and art galleries. The Hill neighborhood adjacent to the University of Colorado campus is also a fun area to explore by foot.

Downtown streets run parallel or perpendicular to Boulder Creek. Some important cross streets to know:

  • Canyon Blvd – Runs parallel to Boulder Creek through downtown
  • Pearl St – Iconic pedestrian mall
  • Walnut St – Main north-south street with vehicle traffic
  • Arapahoe Ave – Eastbound one-way street
  • Spruce St – Westbound one-way street

Parking downtown can be tricky. There are parking garages on Walnut St, 14th St, and 15th St. Street parking is limited to 2-3 hours before 6pm. Read signs carefully!

Biking Boulder’s Roads

As a forward-thinking town, Boulder has invested heavily in bike infrastructure like protected lanes, bike-friendly streets, and greenways. Cycling is a popular commute option for locals.

Here are some top roads and bikeways to see Boulder by bike:

Bike Paths

  • Boulder Creek Path – Paved path along the creek through downtown
  • CU Buff Path – Connects University of Colorado campus to east Boulder
  • Wonderland Creek Trail – North Boulder path to open space

Bike Lanes

  • Broadway – Protected bike lanes with bollards on a busy street
  • Iris Ave – Wide bike lanes leading to north Boulder
  • Valmont Rd – Crosstown bike route to central and east Boulder

Bike Boulevards

Bike boulevards are low-traffic, slow-speed streets optimized for biking rather than driving. They have traffic calming features like speed humps, traffic diverters, and roundabouts. Recommended bike boulevards include:

  • 9th St – Flat route from downtown to north Boulder
  • 13th St – Tree-lined neighborhood street
  • Pine St – Winds through downtown and the University Hill neighborhood
  • Spruce St – Calm alternative to busy Canyon Blvd downtown

Use caution on roads without dedicated bike infrastructure like Baseline Rd, Foothills Pkwy, and Arapahoe Ave. These wide arterials have fast vehicle traffic. Choose an alternative route when possible.

Boulder’s Public Transportation

For getting around town without a car, Boulder has some solid public transportation options. The main provider is the Regional Transportation District (RTD), which operates buses and offers connections to Denver.

RTD Buses

Frequent routes within Boulder:

  • AB: Boulder to Denver
  • JUMP: CU Campus/Downtown circular
  • DASH: Downtown/East Boulder circulator
  • SKIP: Central/South Boulder circulator

Use the Transit app or RTD website to plan trips and see schedules. Most one-way fares under $3. Buy tickets at station ticket vending machines before boarding.

RTD N Line

The N Line commuter rail connects Denver to north metro, with stops in downtown Boulder and Gunbarrel. Quiet, eco-friendly trains! Fare is ~$5 to Denver from Boulder stations.


The CU Buff Bus provides rides around campus and downtown Boulder. Students can ride free with ID. Non-students can buy an ecoPass.

Boulder BCycle

For short trips around downtown and CU campus, use the public BCycle bike share system. Purchase a day pass or monthly membership. Dock bikes at any station in the city.

Hitting the Road in Boulder

We’ve covered getting around Boulder by bike, bus, and foot. But sometimes driving is still the best option. Here are more local tips for drivers in the city:

  • Give yourself extra time finding parking downtown, near campus, and at trailheads. Garages and lots fill up fast!
  • Keep an eye out for cyclists when turning and watch for pedestrians at crosswalks. Yield to them.
  • Avoid parking on residential streets near Chautauqua Park and the University campus. You may get ticketed or towed.
  • Rush hour traffic builds between 7-9am and 4-6pm, especially along Arapahoe, Canyon, and Baseline Roads.
  • In winter, have good tires and keep an emergency kit in your car in case you get stranded. Roads are well-plowed but snowy.
  • Pay attention to street signs! Some downtown streets are one-way only. Don’t park too long where there are time limits.

Whether you’re behind the wheel, on your bike, or on foot, getting around Boulder is part of the fun. Try out car-free options whenever possible and explore the city at a relaxed pace. With its compact layout and mild climate, Boulder is best experienced by slowing down and savoring the sights.

Major Roads that Access Boulder

Here is more detail on the major highways and arterials that provide access to Boulder for visitors arriving by car:

U.S. 36

  • Connects Boulder to Denver 30 minutes southeast
  • Multi-lane expressway
  • Exits for Table Mesa/South Boulder and Baseline Road

Foothills Parkway

  • Scenic road at base of the Flatirons mountain foothills
  • Runs from Diagonal Highway in the north to Table Mesa in the south
  • Bike path parallels the parkway

Diagonal Highway (CO 119)

  • Provides northern access to Boulder from Longmont and eastern Boulder County
  • Merges into Arapahoe Ave west of 55th Street

Arapahoe Avenue (CO 7)

  • Main east-west arterial across Boulder
  • Begins at intersection with US 36 west of city, becomes CO 7 continuing east
  • 4 lane road with bike lanes on shoulders

CO 93 & Marshall Road

  • Leads to Boulder from the southwest via Golden
  • Marshall Road turns into CO 93 north of Eldorado Springs
  • Passes by NCAR and becomes Broadway in south Boulder

Driving to Recreation Areas

Boulder is surrounded by incredible hiking, rock climbing, and outdoor recreation. Here are some popular natural areas and the best way to drive there from town:

Chautauqua Park

  • Located in southwest Boulder below Flatirons
  • Access via Baseline Road west to 9th/Euclid or Chautauqua entrance
  • Limited parking; consider bikes or shuttles

Eldorado Canyon State Park

  • Drive CO 93 south from Broadway in Boulder, continue 3 miles past Eldorado Springs
  • Parking available but fills early. Carpool or come early.

Boulder Canyon/Flagstaff Road

  • For western mountain trails, take Canyon Blvd (CO 119) west out of downtown
  • Continue on CO 119 into the mountains for scenic overlooks

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

  • Isolated alpine lake trails
  • Take CO 72 north from downtown, past Lyons
  • Turn west on Peak to Peak Hwy (CO 7), drive 10 miles to entrance

Walker Ranch Loop

  • Access via Lefthand Canyon Rd northwest from Boulder
  • Drive 13 miles, turn left at signs for Walker Ranch parking

Navigating CU Boulder Campus

The sprawling and beautiful University of Colorado Boulder campus deserves special mention. Here are tips for getting around campus efficiently:

By Car

  • Limited student parking. Buy daily pass online or at Parking Services office -Visitor parking more available; get pass from kiosk in lot
  • Avoid campus 7am-10am and 2pm-6pm on weekdays

By Bus

  • BUFF bus provides rides around campus for students
  • Useful routes: HOP, SKIP, Campus Circulators, Stampede
  • Free with student ID

By Bike

  • Bikes ubiquitous on campus
  • Use designated campus bike lanes
  • Watch for pedestrians!
  • Park only at racks; will be ticketed if locked to handrails, signs, etc

By Foot

  • Follow designated pedestrian walkways
  • Give right-of-way to bikes in bike lanes
  • Use crosswalks and avoid jaywalking across busy streets

Some key campus landmarks to orient yourself:

  • Folsom Field (football stadium)
  • Fiske Planetarium
  • Duane Physics tower
  • Macky Auditorium Concert Hall
  • UMC Student Union building
  • Norlin Quad grass field

Getting to the correct classroom or building can be tricky on the sprawling campus. Make use of info kiosks and campus maps located around campus. And don’t worry about getting a little lost – just enjoy the lovely scenery!

Boulder Road Conditions and Closures

Boulder’s location against the Rocky Mountains means visitors should be prepared for rapidly changing weather and potential road hazards like snow, mudslides, downed trees, flooding, and washouts.

Here are some tips for dealing with road conditions:

Winter Driving

  • Carry tire chains or cables for mountain passes
  • Keep an emergency kit with warm clothes, food, flashlight in your car
  • Watch for icy patches in shadows and on bridges
  • Don’t drive in whiteout blizzard conditions

Summer Driving

  • Watch for afternoon thunderstorms producing hail, lightning, flash flooding
  • Avoid driving through flooded roads or fast-moving water
  • Be prepared to pull over and wait out storms passing through

Fire Danger

  • Don’t park or drive over dry grass; catalytic converters can spark fires
  • Pay attention to fire restrictions and bans (no campfires, smoking, etc)

Checking Road Status

  • Call 511 or check for updated highway conditions
  • Listen to local radio or TV news for weather alerts
  • Follow updates from CDOT and local police on Twitter

Canyon Road Closures

Canyons roads leading to the mountains often face closures due to conditions like snow, ice, downed power lines, flooding, and rockslides. Some problem areas:

  • Boulder Canyon (CO 119) to Nederland
  • Flagstaff Road for scenic overlooks
  • Lefthand Canyon Rd to Jamestown
  • CO 72 to Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Check canyon road status before departing and have backup plans if needed. The steep, curvy canyon routes aren’t ideal for large vehicles like RVs in the best conditions. Plan mountain drives accordingly and stay flexible.

Major Road Construction Projects

Like any growing city, Boulder constantly has road projects underway to expand capacity, add bike lanes, remove bottlenecks, and maintain aging infrastructure. Here are some current major projects affecting Boulder streets:

Foothills Parkway Bridge Replacement

  • Reconstructing bridge decks over four creeks from Baseline to Colorado Ave
  • Maintains bike lanes during construction
  • Completion expected September 2024

Broadway Streetscaping

  • Improving pedestrian and bike facilities on Broadway between Euclid and Canyon
  • Widening bike lanes, narrowing vehicle lanes, adding lighting
  • Completion expected late 2023

30th Street Underpass at CU

  • Building underpass for 30th to pass under railroad tracks into CU East Campus
  • Includes new protected bike lane
  • To be completed in 2025

Arapahoe Protected Bike Lanes

  • Adding concrete barriers to bike lanes on Arapahoe Ave downtown
  • Improved intersection crossings for bikes and pedestrians
  • Finish date late 2024 pending funds

North Broadway Complete Streets

  • Multimodal improvements to Broadway between Violet and Yarmouth
  • Wider bike lanes, new bus pullouts, safer pedestrian crossings
  • Finish expected 2026

Stay updated on major projects by checking the City of Boulder’s website and the Community News Updates page. Temporary delays and detours may impact your drive – give yourself extra time when construction is active.

Scenic Drives Near Boulder

After learning how to navigate in and around town, don’t forget to spend time enjoying the incredible natural landscape surrounding Boulder. Take a relaxing drive to take in the views! Here are some favorite scenic drives perfect for a sunny afternoon:

Flagstaff Road & Gross Reservoir

  • Take Flagstaff Rd (open summers) west from downtown
  • Stop at overlooks for classic Flatirons views
  • Continue past Chautauqua to Gross Reservoir

Peak to Peak Highway

  • Drive CO 72 north to Nederland and continue west on CO 119
  • Turn south on CO 72 to the charming mountain town of Ward
  • Take the scenic Peak to Peak Hwy (CO 7) back to Boulder

Lefthand Canyon Drive

  • Drive CO 119 13 miles north from Boulder, turn left on Lefthand Canyon Dr
  • Follow winding mountain road along Lefthand Creek
  • Turn around at Ward or continue over the Continental Divide to Estes Park

Route 93 through Golden Gate Canyon

  • Drive south on CO 93 from Boulder through Golden Gate Canyon State Park
  • Continue over the divide, passing historic mining towns
  • Return to Boulder via CO 46 through Gilpin County

Pawnee Nat’l Grasslands

  • Drive northeast from Boulder on CO 119 through Longmont
  • Continue east on CO 52 through Fort Collins
  • Visit the Pawnee Buttes in the grasslands northeast of Greeley

Wherever you roam outside Boulder, check the weather forecast before heading out. Always bring extra layers, water, and an emergency kit. The mountain weather changes fast! Take your time and pull over to take in the gorgeous Rocky Mountain views.

Essential Road Trip Routes from Boulder

Boulder’s central location makes it a perfect basecamp for Colorado road trip adventures. Here are some can’t-miss road trips to embark on from town:

Rocky Mountain National Park

  • From Boulder, take CO 119 north through Longmont and Lyons
  • Enter the park via US 36 and begin the breathtaking Trail Ridge Road (open summers)
  • Exit RMNP on US 34 and return to Boulder via the Big Thompson Canyon

Mount Evans Scenic Byway

  • From Boulder, take CO 93 south through Golden to I-70
  • Drive west on I-70, exit at Idaho Springs for CO 103 south
  • Continue on CO 5 to the 14,264-foot summit of Mount Evans

Independence Pass

  • Take CO 119 west from Boulder to Twin Lakes near Leadville
  • Drive south on CO 82 over 12,095 ft Independence Pass into Aspen
  • Return to Boulder on I-70 east through Glenwood Canyon

Trail Ridge Road

  • From Boulder, drive north on US 36 to Estes Park
  • Enter Rocky Mountain National Park and drive up Trail Ridge Road, crossing the Continental Divide
  • Descend into Grand Lake and take US 34 back via Granby

San Juan Skyway

  • Adventure west from Boulder on I-70, passing through Glenwood Springs
  • Take US 550 south at Montrose heading towards historic Silverton
  • Complete the scenic 236-mile loop via Durango and back up to Montrose

Give yourself plenty of time – you’ll want to make frequent stops! Let the friendly locals in mountain towns guide you to less-crowded hidden gems. Drive carefully around trucks, RVs, motorcycles, and bicycles sharing the roads. The journey through the Colorado mountains is the destination.

Parking in Boulder

Finding a parking spot in popular areas like downtown Boulder and at trailheads can often be challenging. Here are some tips and policies to know to make parking a breeze:

Downtown Street Parking

  • Most spots have 2 or 3 hour limits before 6pm
  • Read signs closely! Some spots reserved 24/7
  • Free on Sundays and holidays
  • Avoid parking in residential-only permit zones

Downtown Parking Garages

  • Garages located on Walnut, 14th, 15th, 11th, and Pearl Streets
  • $1-2 per hour, daily maximums $12-15
  • Pay at kiosks with cash, card, or ParkMobile app

University of Colorado Campus

  • Buy daily ($8-10) or hourly ($2) pass online or at kiosk
  • Student lots restricted; park in visitor lots

Chautauqua Park

  • Small main lot; fills up early
  • Shuttle from other Boulder parking areas
  • No parking on residential streets near park

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  • From Downtown Boulder: Head northwest on Pearl Street toward 28th Street. Turn left onto 28th Street and drive for 2 miles. Make a right onto Valmont Road and continue for 1 mile. Turn left onto 33rd Street, and 1950 33rd St will be on your left.
  • From Denver International Airport (DEN): Take Pena Boulevard to I-70 W, then merge onto I-25 N. Take exit 217A onto US-36 W toward Boulder. After 20 miles, take Foothills Parkway exit, merge onto Foothills Parkway, and drive 2 miles. Turn right on Valmont Road, then left on 33rd Street. 1950 33rd St will be on your left.
  • From University of Colorado Boulder: Head southeast on University Avenue, which becomes Baseline Road. Turn right onto 30th Street and drive for 1.5 miles. Turn left onto Valmont Road and continue for 1 mile. Finally, turn right onto 33rd Street, and 1950 33rd St will be on your left.