Colorado is home to so many great cities available to both tourists and residents. When deciding to go south of Denver or north, you may be trying to decide if you should visit Colorado Springs vs Boulder. Both towns offer ample opportunity for fun, dining, and outdoor recreation. So when figuring out if you should go to Colorado Springs or Boulder, consider the following so you make the perfect choice for your next trip.
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Size of Colorado Springs vs Boulder
Colorado Springs in the largest city, by area, in all of Colorado at 195 square miles. The vastness of land provides a diverse list of activities and adventures. By population (2023), Colorado Springs is just over 483,900 people within the city limits.
By contrast, Boulder is much smaller of a city. It is home to 25.8 square miles of land, and is surrounded by over 40,000 acres of protected land around it. While almost 8 times smaller in area, it is home to 104,000+ people, just about 1/5 of Colorado Springs’ population,
Colorado Springs: Garden of the Gods
Outdoor Hiking in Colorado Springs vs Boulder
We are big fans of hiking. Colorado provides myriad opportunities to get outdoors and hike no matter where you live. Both Colorado Springs and Boulder offer great trails and parks to get outside.
Colorado Springs probably has more overall opportunities for hiking. Since there are almost 5x as many people who live here, it’s nice to have more space and trails. Spending even just a few days in Colorado Springs will give you a lot of opportunities to cover some great trails.
To start, Garden of the Gods is an incredibly popular place to hike among the red rock walls. While there are plenty of trails throughout the park, the main trail is nice and easy and very family-friendly and accessible for many.
North Cheyenne Cañon is another great area for hiking. All these trails are dirt trails, with one of our favorite trails along a creek.
Another great place for hiking is in Red Rock Canyon Open Space. This area has a huge network of trails that cross over amid a canyon. You can even see Garden of the Gods in the distance.
While those are some of the bigger, most popular areas for hiking, there are plenty others. You can go to nearby Manitou Springs and begin your ascent of Pikes Peak if you’d like, or head to Palmer Park, a cool escape right in town with killer views and plenty of trails.
All of the mentioned trails (besides Pikes Peak) offer free entrance and free parking right on site, a great bonus to enjoying the outdoors.
Boulder has some absolutely gorgeous hiking, though since it is a smaller town, there are less overall trails within its limits.
A great place to hike in Boulder is amid the Flatirons at Chautauqua Park. There are a variety of trails within the park that can stay shorter or go deeper into the Flatirons. Once of the coolest hikes in the park is to Royal Arch, though it is a more difficult hike. There are plenty of trails within the park that are family-friendly.
Boulder has other hiking opportunities at Boulder Open Space or at nearby Eldorado Canyon.
While you can hike trails in Boulder without cost (besides state parks), there is usually a parking fee during high seasons.
Boulder: CU Campus
Going during the colder months, or just not much of a hiker? Here are a few things you can do indoors in Colorado Springs or Boulder.
Visit the Olympic and Paralympic Museum where you can virtually race again Olympic runners, admire past Olympic torches, and perhaps get a glimpse at Olympians in training.
There are plenty of other museums that are pretty cool in Colorado Springs. Check out the National Museum of WWII Aviation, the Peterson Air and Space Museum, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame museum, and many more. They also have a great children’s museum.
Colorado Springs also has great, traditional indoor activities like bowling, laser tag, and climbing walls.
If you need a place to stay as well, one of the best indoor activities is getting to stay at Great Wolf Lodge in Colorado Springs. Your stay includes access to the HUGE indoor waterpark, with sections for every age. The resort also has various activities inside like an arcade, ropes course, mini golf, and more.
Boulder has plenty of indoor options as well.
Some of the most indoor fun can be had at the university campus. Visit the Heritage Center for a massive Lego replica of the campus, go to the Fiske Planetarium for a starry night (or laser show), or check out the art museum or Museum of Natural History (all have kid-friendly activities, by the way.)
Families (ages 5+) can tour the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory and sample a variety of teas.
Check out the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) research center to learn about weather in space and all about solar eruptions.
Boulder: Eldorado Canyon
Transportation in Colorado Springs vs Boulder
There are free shuttles in both cities, but their destination purposes are very different.
Overall transportation is better in Colorado Springs. You can get almost anywhere you need (or pretty close to it) within the city and north and south of the downtown area.
That said, there’s not always a direct drop off at trailheads, whereas in Boulder, hikers can enjoy shuttle rides to trailheads on summer weekends.
In Colorado Springs, you can ride the free shuttle around the downtown area. Tejon Street has a free Zeb shuttle with over 10 stops along the road. It then makes a loop that has stops on Costilla and Sierra Madre.
These stops will bring you near the Olympic and Paralympic Museum as well as Weidner Field.
As far as getting around the rest of the city, you can use the Mountain Metro Bus. This has plenty of stops all around, from Briargate in the northern area and down to South Academy Blvd (south of the Broadmoor).
The free Boulder shuttles are all about bringing you to some great outdoor areas and one option for around town. Here are a few options to getting to some great hiking trails and around Boulder.
HOP Downtown Shuttle
Boulder has a free HOP downtown shuttle and RTD services, but it’s only free during certain summer months. This is an initiative for cleaner air during the busy months. During the months it’s not free, a few dollars will buy you a few hours of bus usage.
The HOP will take you around town and by Folsom Field, perfect for if you attending and event or concert.
Park to Park Shuttle
You can also ride the Park-to-Park shuttle for free during summer weekends and on holidays. This reduces the headache of trying to find parking at the popular Chautauqua Park during busy days. The Park-to-Park shuttle is only available during the summer.
There is also a shuttle called the Eldo Shuttle. This transports you during summer and fall weekends and holidays to various hiking trailheads, including the popular Eldorado Canyon State Park. Eldorado has very limited parking, so hopping on this shuttle is a really good idea during these extra busy times.
Check the route stops in Boulder for the Eldo Shuttle.
Colorado Springs: Palmer Park
Dining in Colorado Springs vs Boulder
The fact that Colorado Springs is so big makes it a better place to have a variety and vast number of options for dining. You’ll get anything from local places to sub sandwiches to franchises.
Boulder is kinda the same, but on a smaller scale and seems to have many more local options.
There are plenty of McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Wendy’s all over Colorado Springs. They also have some great fast casual places like Modern Market, Garbanzo, Five Guys burgers, Capriotti’s, Jersey Mikes or Jimmy Johns subs, Panera, Qdoba and other fresher but quick service restaurants.
Sit down restaurants are plentiful as well. The northern part in the popular Briargate area has a PF Changs, Biaggi’s Italian, Ted’s Montana Grill, and other restaurants with smaller names. You’ll also find The Melting Pot, a popular fondue restaurant closer to the heart of the city.
But the real gems are found in the unique restaurants around the whole city. The best dining spots include:
- Rudys- a very popular BBQ place on your way to Manitou Springs
- Uchenna- an Ethiopian Restaurant giving you unique and delicious flavors
- Caspian Cafe- a highly rated Mediterranean restaurant along Garden of the Gods Road
- Urban Egg- a very hot spot for breakfast or brunch
- Edelweiss- A German restaurant with all the atmosphere details to take you away
Boulder also has all the popular fast food restaurants. Besides that, you’ll find fast casual spots like Shake Shack, Snarf’s Sandwiches, burger joints like Bad Daddy’s and Smashburger, and Illegal Pete’s.
For sit down options, Boulder doesn’t disappoint. Some of the best restaurants in Boulder include:
- Oak at Fourteenth, a great place on Pearl Street with fresh, local ingredients. Comes at a fine price for fine food.
- Snooze, a classic and coveted place for breakfast in the whole Denver area
- Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, a refreshing atmosphere for a cup of tea and delicious, fresh meals. A must when visiting Boulder.
- Lucile’s Creole Cafe, great cajun for those who love Shrimp and Grits and the like.
Colorado Springs: Great Wolf Lodge
Both places have plenty of lodging since they are magnets for travelers. But if you are looking for a real special place to stay, Colorado Springs wins. The Springs has the most options for incredible lodging options that you give an experience with your stay.
There are a few notable places to stay in Colorado Springs. Some are finer, some are incredibly family friendly. Here are the top places to stay in Colorado Springs.
The Broadmoor– this is THE place to stay and a reason some people even come to Colorado Springs. The beautiful property pays attention to detail at every corner. It has beautiful swimming pools, golfing, a full-service and highly-rated spa, and the Broadmoor owns Seven Falls, a great attraction.
The Broadmoor is a huge campus, allowing many events and conferences to take place comfortably among the guests.
Cheyenne Mountain Resort– another beautiful place to stay in Colorado Springs. This place has a huge fitness facility, plus a room to take workout classes in. The pools are beautiful and the mountain backdrop lays just beyond. There’s a huge indoor pool as well.
Garden of the Gods Club and Resort- Similar to Cheyenne Mountain in quality, you can also find an indoor bicycle studio at Garden of the Gods. Enjoy views of its namesake from the resort, beautiful pools, and a great spa. This resort has been rated nearly perfect scores from over 1,000 guests.
Great Wolf Lodge – (Family Pick!) already mentioned above, but worth another mention. This hotel is top-rated family-fun to stay at. Choose from themed rooms, plenty of activities, restaurants on site, and an included massive indoor waterpark.
Boulder doesn’t have quite as many places to stay that stand out quite like Colorado Springs. But it has a few beautiful hotels that are worth a look.
Boulderado– Stay one block from Pearl Street, right in the center of Boulder at the Boulderado. This hotel is quaint and beautiful. It feels nothing like a chain hotel because it’s kept its historic feel inside, while making guests comfortable.
Hyatt Place– (Family Pick!) The Hyatt is a comfortable, familiar place that families will love. It’s located just a few minutes drive away from Pearl Street mall and just northeast of CU campus. Kids will love the indoor pool and parents will love the large room options and fitness facility.
Cost and Affordability of Colorado Springs vs Boulder
While all costs are relative to what kinds of activities you want to do and how many stars your hotel has, here is a general guide to the cost of Colorado Springs vs Boulder.
While this guide is more for visiting each city, the cost of living/food can show you the overall cost of the city. As you see, Boulder is much more expensive on average.
The cheapest hotels in Colorado Springs start well under $100, though they don’t have the best ratings. Once you get into ratings that aren’t embarrassingly low, you can get something right around $100/night at a hotel.
The average cost of food for living in Colorado Springs is around $350 per month.
The cheapest hotels in Boulder aren’t rated as terribly as Colorado Springs cheapest, though they do come in at over $100/night.
As far as living costs, it’s estimated that living in boulder costs around $2,500 a month, one of the highest living budgets in the world. $718 of that would be on food alone, over twice what it would cost in Colorado Springs.
Overall Comparison Colorado Springs vs Boulder
If you are trying to decide if you should visit Colorado Springs or Boulder for your next trip to Colorado, keep in mind the following:
- Both have great trails, Colorado Springs has more variety and more quantity of trails
- Colorado Springs is more affordable overall
- Boulder and Colorado Springs both have bus transportation available
- Colorado Springs has more affordable hotel options, though Boulder has nicer hotels for just a little more
- Boulder is better for overall outdoor exploring
- Colorado Springs has great outdoor exploring too, but is the better choice in winter with the many indoor attractions.
- Overall, Colorado Springs has more family-friendly attractions.
Both towns are great. When putting Colorado Springs vs Boulder side by side, it’s hard to decide. So figure out what overall feel you are going for.
More family-friendly activities? I would choose Colorado Springs because of the numerous family-friendly trails, kid-approved activities, and variety of things to do.
More outdoor, adventurous and more luxurious atmosphere? I would choose Boulder because it has more local restaurants, hiker shuttles to accommodate, and more challenging trails.
I tend to lean more toward Colorado Springs, personally, because we are a large family who likes to fill our days with activities the kids will love, too. We’ve been to Colorado Springs so many times and still have a list of things we still want to do. The options are endless.
But Boulder has great things for families, as well. You just don’t need multiple trips to see it. So one solid trip can cover a lot of great things to do in Boulder.
Colorado Springs vs Boulder Wrap Up
Which city should you choose? Depends on what vibe you are looking for. Busy city vibes with endless attractions (Colorado Springs), or laid back vibes with less to do, but just as much fun, and plenty of nature (Boulder).
Colorado Springs vs Boulder is a tough match up. They are both great places with really different feels to them.
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