Boulder in summer: Welcoming outdoors

Anybody who thinks of Colorado as just a winter destination ought to go to Boulder and talk to Frank Shorter. Or maybe William Shakespeare.

Shorter can talk about how welcoming this town is to runners like him, even before anybody knew he would become an Olympic marathon gold-medalist. And Shakespeare could talk about how Boulder holds one of the country's oldest festivals of his plays.

Boulder is not in the mountains, and it only gets 50 inches of snow a year - compared to 300 inches in the big ski areas and at Eldora Mountain Resort, about 30 minutes from Boulder. But Boulder is, first and foremost, a place to get outdoors. There are balloon rides, glider rides, trails for bicyclists and joggers everywhere.

There are nearly 300 miles of linked bicycle paths that Shorter - a Boulder resident since 1970 - said are set up in such a way that riders can get anywhere in the city without pulling into traffic on a single street.

Hiking trails abound as well. On trail maps, Boulder's many crisscrossing trails almost make it look like an ant farm.

Despite Boulder's location in the Flatiron foothills of the Rocky Mountains, a lot of the trails are relatively easy - starting with some that run through Chautauqua Park, a National Historic Landmark near downtown, as well as one that loops around Boulder Reservoir.

At Eldorado Canyon State Park, a trail accommodates wheelchairs and baby strollers. Without too much difficulty, hikers can find themselves in the shadow of the red rock cliffs that enclose Eldorado Canyon and South Boulder Creek.

But locals warn that even easy hikes or bike rides may be more difficult than visitors expect because of the altitude. If Denver is the Mile-High City, Boulder is a couple hundred feet higher still. Drink extra water, use sunscreen and take it easy, especially when you first arrive and your body is adjusting to the air.

Some trails are attached to other attractions. One trail literally starts at the back door of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, designed by architect I.M. Pei. It has a small museum that explains the weather and the center's work.

Boulder is home of the state's flagship university. As one might expect, there are plenty of burger bars, sandwich shops and T-shirt stores. But what might not be expected is that much of it feels more like a quaint village than a rowdy college town, especially in the center of downtown, the Pearl Street Mall. At night, the mall is crowded with people strolling in and out of independent book stores, ice cream parlors, sidewalk cafes and microbreweries (more on them later) while stopping to crowd around street performers.

The city is also home to a number of upscale restaurants well beyond a college student's budget. Some of these eateries have caught the attention of Food & Wine, Wine Spectator, Bon Appetit and other national publications.

Boulder also showcases the performing arts in summer. Chautauqua's calendar includes the Neville Brothers Aug. 16 and Chris Isaak Aug. 8, in addition to silent movies and a "Wizard of Oz" sing-along.

The University of Colorado hosts an annual Colorado Shakespeare Festival. At more than 50 years old, the festival is one of the oldest of its kind. The performances wind up in early to mid-August, but Boulder's craft beer scene is a year-round attraction, with no fewer than 10 microbreweries in the city, according to Dan Rabin, a reporter for Celebrated Beer News.

Not only that, they take it seriously.

The beer scene has even given rise to a new tourist attraction this summer. Consider it an alternative to all those hikes and bike rides - trail hikes and bike roads - or maybe it should be a reward for all that outdoor activity: the Boulder Brew Bus, a pub crawl that takes suds fans from one local brewery to another.