Tour de Colorado’s Best-kept Secret for Families: Chautauqua

You’d think my choice for Colorado’s best-kept secret would be a far-flung destination but I have been absolutely amazed how few locals know about Chautauqua’s charms. Located at the base of the Flatirons in Boulder, this National Historic Landmark has rental cottages that are surrounded on three sides with open space that includes 48 miles of hiking trails and thousands of acres of natural lands begging to be explored.

I had been living in Colorado less than a year when I hiked Chautauqua’s Enchanted-Mesa Trail with my daughter and I was, well, enchanted. After my hike, I explored the grounds and was smitten by the Dining Hall’s throwback-to yesteryear patio and the 110-year-old Chautauqua Auditorium, which hosts films, lectures and an entire series dedicated to children. The workshops include Young People’s Concerts (ages 3-7), Family Fun Concerts (ages 4-8), Classically Kids Workshops (ages 7-11), and Masterclasses for Emerging Musicians (ages 13-18). Be sure to enter to win 15 passes to the Young People’s Concert for you and your friends.

When I saw their quaint and affordable cottages, I vowed to my 6-month-old baby, “Someday, we will stay here.”

Five years later, we finally did.

Chautauqua was my family’s first leg in our Tour de Colorado. Amidst much fanfare, we loaded up the car, buckled in the kids and started the ignition. Or at least we tried to: the car was dead. After jump-starting the battery, we drove to Boulder. The next drama occurred when the blaring car alarm decided not to turn off and so we made a grand (and loud) entrance at Chautauqua. Our ultimate resolution to silence the beast was to unplug the horn fuse and let the car battery run out.

Pity us not. There are worse things than getting stranded in Colorado’s best-kept secret.

About Chautauqua

I’m not a big history buff and have been known to fall asleep faster than a narcoleptic when watching the History Channel. But Chautauqua fascinates me. In the 1920s, almost 200 Chautauqua assemblies dotted rural America. Each summer, they brought culture in the form of concerts and classes in what became the country’s first mass experience with 30 million people in attendance. Colorado’s Chautauqua is one of the only remaining assemblies and we were thrilled when they offered to host us for one night.

This historic district has 60 cottages for rent, including their oldest that was built in 1899. The cottages are unassuming on the outside but are quaintly restored on the inside. They are perfect for families and offer studio, 1-, 2-, or 3-bedroom rentals. Don’t expect modern amenities like TVs or DVDs. With Chautauqua’s many activities, we did not even have time to acknowledge their absence.

Upon arrival, the kids zoomed down the hill-side slide at the playground and played hide-and-seek in the adjacent wooded grove. We basked in the midday sun and watched the flowers dance in the breeze at the Centennial Garden. We strolled down a lane of celery-green trees to the on-site Ranger’s Station and learned about Chautauqua’s wildlife.

That evening, we dunked basketballs and played tennis at the courts behind our cottage. We ate on the Dining Hall’s outdoor patio, absorbing the dazzling views and fragrance of fine cuisine. Prior to retiring for the evening, we watched the sun dip behind the Flatirons’ dramatic uplifts as we hiked Bluebell Road. We attempted to capture the fleeting magic with a family photo in a meadow.

Chautauqua was a quick weekend getaway of beauty, bonding, amusement and appreciation.

On second thought, maybe I’ll just keep it my little secret after all….

Also visit:

The Boulder Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. This isn’t just any farmer’s market—it is an outdoor extravaganza with a cornucopia of organic food, eccentricities, live entertainment and fun. My kids loved the booths (read: tasty samples), chatting with the farmers and the face-painting tent.

Be sure to take a walk along the Boulder Creek Trail and take a short walk to Pearl Street Mall to shop, play in the spray fountains, eat and watch the street performers.

For more information about Chautauqua, go to

Chautauqua video journal. (And no, I am not a valley girl as my “like totally rad” commentary would infer.)

Note: This post originally ran at Mile High Mamas on June 17, 2009. Most services were complimentary or discounted.

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