Denver Alternative: Reside in the Rockies at Chautauqua Park

This past weekend, as part of my rock climbing story for the Small Newspaper Group, I had the opportunity to stay in a cabin at Chautauqua Park, located in the town of Boulder, Colorado (30-40 mins northwest of Denver).

The park is easily recognizable due to its iconic rockface known as the Flatirons. I climbed the first flatiron, the one all the way to the right, on Saturday with the Colorado Mountain School (story to be published in July):

The Flatirons of Chautauqua Park.

Over the weekend I tackled a few of the hikes, and I must say that I found the park rather amazing. The Royal Arch Trail is challenging, especially given the unforgiving altitude, but the reward is more than worth it once you reach the unmistakable structure (see photo of the arch below). The views from the mountainside are simply stunning, and the aura is enriched after you understand the backstory, that people have been coming to this same place for over a hundred years in an attempt to clear their minds and exercise their bodies.

Quick history: The park grounds were opened in 1898 as part of the Chautauqua Movement, which started in the latter half of the 19th century as a way to unite and educate people across the United States. What began as a summer camp for Sunday school teachers developed and broadened to include general adult education, including public affairs, current events, and liberal arts as well as other moral and civil issues. This was before the invention of television and radio, helping to provide the middle and working class with “a college outlook.” It grew to be quite popular: In 1915, about 12,000 communities hosted a chautauqua.

The Royal Arch.

While the Great Depression pretty much put the brakes on the movement soon after, Chautauqua Park in Boulder is one of the few to remain intact and it is the only chautauqua that is open year-round and provides free access to its grounds. The park still hosts films and forums, but the real treat is the incredible landscape. Residents of both Boulder and Denver flock to the park daily – this is no tourist trap.

Visitors to the Denver area who seek a true outdoor experience should look into the cabins available for rent – they are located at the foot of the Rockies and along the main road that feeds the hiking trails of Chautauqua Park. I’d recommend renting a car so you can take advantage of the entire region: Boulder Canyon, Eldorado Canyon, and the mountain towns of Breckenridge and Frisco are all great day trip options for hiking, biking, and climbing (and of course skiing/snowboarding in the winter).

Here are a few photos of the park – climbing photos to come:

Royal Arch Trail in Chautauqua Park.
Royal Arch Trail in Chautauqua Park.
The Royal Arch.
View of the Rockies and Boulder from the base of Chautauqua Park.
The Flatirons of Chautauqua Park.
View of Chautauqua Park from the top of the first flatiron.
Aerial view of Chautauqua from the first flatiron.
My one-bedroom cabin at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado.
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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Dearth says:

    Awesome stuff Will. I didn’t know the history of the name Chautauqua, which had perplexed me since I had seen a number of other parks with the same name nationwide.

  2. I’m heading to Denver tomorrow, then to TBEX on Friday. Will you be there Will?

    1. willmcgough says:

      Just missed you Max. I’m back on the east coast now. Have a blast – Denver is a great city.

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