Boulder, Colorado Winter: What You Need to Know Before You Visit (2023)

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If you’re thinking about visiting Boulder, Colorado in the winter, this post will give you an overview of what you can expect. Wintertime in Boulder is surprisingly lovely, with plenty of sunshine despite the chilly evening temperatures. 

I am from a suburb outside of Denver and I lived in Boulder, Colorado for about 5 years after college. Maybe it’s because I grew up with them, but I think Colorado winters are the most tolerable winters of anywhere I’ve ever lived. One of the best things about Boulder winters in particular is that it has wonderful weather for outdoor activities year around, including in the winter. 

Although there are days that are cold, you’ll see lots of sunshine in this mountain city. The winters are surprisingly cozy and warm when indoors, and I always love sitting in a cafe and watching the snow fall. On the sunnier days, you’ll find that everyone makes their way outside to soak it in. 

If you happen to be in Boulder, Colorado on a snowy winter day, you can see one of my favorite sights: locals cross country skiing along the sidewalks. This is more common in the residential areas, especially the streets just south of Chautauqua Park.

Snow-dusted flatiron rock formations in Boulder, Colorado on a partly cloudy day.
The Flatirons covered in snow in Boulder, Colorado.

What is Boulder, Colorado like in the winter?

The winter is a great time to visit Boulder, Colorado because it is snowy without being overly cold most days. You can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate while watching the snow fall in the morning, only to be outside in a light sweater when the sun is shining in the mid-afternoon. 

Although Boulder sees a decent amount of tourism throughout the year, there is no “off” season for most of the businesses in the city. So, the restaurants, bars, and attractions are open throughout the year. The exception, of course, is any sort of seasonal business like a ski resort or a swimming pool; those will be closed on their respective off seasons. 

Winter weather in Boulder

Winter weather in Boulder is characterized by snow, plenty of sunshine, and fluctuating temperatures. In fact, Denver and Boulder both average over a foot of snow later in the season after the first 70-degree day of the winter season

Although there are somewhat warm, sunny days sprinkled in, be aware that it can get quite cold. Clear winter nights are usually the coldest, and it can sometimes drop below 0°F. Always be prepared with warm clothing, and dress in layers to stay comfortable and prevent sweating. 

If you’ll be going out into the mountains, even in areas near Boulder, check the weather. Sometimes even a 20 minute drive into the mountains can yield much more extreme weather than you’ll find in the downtown area. 

Average temperatures

The average winter temperatures in Boulder are fairly cold in the evenings and warmer in the daytime. Expect to see lows in the 20s and highs in the 40s, on average. Although there are some cold days in Boulder, the temperature rarely drops below 6°F.

The weather starts to cool down in October and November, with the coldest days clustered around late December and early January. Starting in mid-January, the weather slowly starts to warm up again. 

Snow-covered cars drive down a busy street in Colorado. There is significant snow cover on the street, even though it has been plowed.
Take care when driving in Colorado in the winter. Streets are often snowy even when plowed.

Average snowfall

Boulder averages 89 inches of snow each winter, making it one of the snowiest mid-sized cities in the United States. During the winter months, March typically sees the most snow. The heavy, wet snowstorms in March are known to take down powerlines from time to time.

Be aware that Colorado sees snowstorms most years. These winter storms can shut down roads, down power lines, and create dangerous travel situations. Always check the local news for the most up to date information and for any winter weather advisories. 

November in Boulder

November in Boulder is full of beautiful fall days, a few warm days, and some snowy days. It’s a mixed bag. The average lows are in the high 20s and low 30s, with highs in the high 40s to high 50s. You’ll see a few days where the temperatures could reach 70°F for the high or 13°F for the low, but for the most part you’ll see 30s, 40s, and 50s. 

December in Boulder

December is the coldest month in Boulder, with lows in the 20s and highs in the mid 40s. Despite being a bit chillier on average, you’ll still see a few sunny days and other days with mild temperatures. It’s always a good idea to dress in layers, as the weather can vary significantly during the day. 

You’ll find street decorations up along Pearl Street for Christmastime, and some houses will also string up lights. For a unique Christmas gift, stop by Liberty Puzzle and grab a wooden jigsaw puzzle.

A street sign in Boulder is covered in snow on a wintery day in Boulder.
The snow can often be heavy enough to break tree branches, so you’ll typically want to shake off the snow with your hands or a broom.

January in Boulder

The average January temperatures are very similar to December, with the average high around 44°F and the average low is around around 23°F. The temperature will likely dip below 0°F a few times and highs can reach nearly 60°F. Expect fluctuations in temperature and weather, so January is a good time to ensure you have indoor alternatives to any outdoor activities you may plan.

Boulder is one of the happiest places I’ve ever been in January because the locals love the snow as much as they love the summertime. You’ll see locals out enjoying the fresh snowfall or the sunny winter days when they come, both of which help January to feel like just another part of the year. 

February in Boulder

The average temperatures continue to creep up in February, with the average high around 49°F and average low around 24°F. You could see temperatures over 70°F for the high or below 0°F, and there will likely be a few snowy days. 

One of the best places to visit in February in Boulder is Piece, Love and Chocolate, the local chocolatier. They have chocolates that are perfect for Valentine’s Day, including champagne truffles made with pop rocks for a fizzy effect in the ganache. 

March in Boulder

March in Boulder is generally warm, but still prone to the snowstorms. In fact, it’s the snowiest month in Colorado, even though the weather can sometimes hit temperatures over 70 degrees. The average daily high is around 58°F while the average low is 33°F. The low is rarely below 16°F, so you’re unlikely to see any days below 0°F in February.

Growing up in Colorado, we often referred to March as “mud season.” Because the temperatures start to pick up and melt any remaining snow, you might need to deal with some additional mud on the hiking trails. Waterproof shoes are a must if there has been recent snow and subsequent warm temperatures. 

A view of the Flatirons in Boulder on a cloudy winter day. Despite the snow, the hiking trail is clear and not very muddy.
People in Colorado love to get outside and hike throughout the year.

What to do in Boulder in the winter

It might be chilly in Boulder in the winter, but there’s still plenty to do! Here are some of the top things to do if you visit Boulder, Colorado between November and March.  

Go for a wintery Boulder hike

Boulder is an outdoor destination throughout the year, and winter is no exception. There will be plenty of people on the trails during the winter, provided that the weather isn’t too cold, wet, or windy. 

If you want to go hiking in the winter in Boulder, be sure to have decent shoes. I’d recommend that you also bring spikes for your shoes (like YakTrax) to keep from slipping on any icy spots. Avoid any steep or overly challenging trails, especially if you don’t have the proper mountaireering equipment. 

Always watch for posted warnings and let someone know when you’re leaving and when they should expect your return. 

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is my absolute favorite winter hike near Boulder. This hike is located in Rocky Mountain National Park, about 90 minutes from Pearl Street. Many people complete this hike in winter with snowshoes or cross country skis, but you can do it with only hiking boots if you’re dressed warm enough and there isn’t too much fresh snowfall.

I love to do this trail in snowshoes because it’s a bit hilly and prone to snowpack. When I lived in Colorado, I used the MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes. You can always ask for advice at REI, but I believe the new model is called the MSR Revo Ascent. I prefer not to snowshoe with poles, but if you use them I’d recommend getting snow covers for the tips.  

Me and my partner smiling at the camera on a snowy winter day.
Snowshoeing the Emerald Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park near Boulder.

Mesa Trail

The Mesa Trail is located just outside of the city, technically accessible on foot from Pearl Street. This trail is mostly long and flat, perfect for an out and back because you can go as far as you feel comfortable. If you wanted to complete the full trail, it’s about 13 miles as an out and back. 

I’d still recommend YakTrax or other traction gear for this hike, as you may encounter icy spots, but snowshoes are not necessary. This trail is prone to getting muddy in spots. 

Brainard Lake

Brainard Lake is a local favorite, even though it’s about a 45 minute drive from downtown Boulder. The lake is set in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area near the quirky and strange town of Ward, Colorado. The road to the lake is sometimes closed during the winter months, so you may need to be ready for a longer walk to reach the trailheads.

For an easy winter trail, you could do the 1.8 mile Mitchell Lake Trail. I’d recommend that you bring snowshoes, as the trails in the mountains can be quite snowy. If you don’t have snowshoes, I’d be ready to adapt and stick to the trails that are more packed down.   

Chautauqua 

Set just at the base of the foothills is Chautauqua, a park with a few short, gentle trails and some stunning views. You can hike Chautauqua in even the worst weather, and you’ll often see dogs bounding through the snow on wintery days. There are many longer hikes that leave from Chautauqua that you can explore – just be ready to turn around if they’re too icy to complete safely. 

Again, YakTrax or other traction equipment could be helpful. There’s no need to bring snowshoes or cross country skiis to enjoy Chautauqua. 

After you’ve explored the park, you can grab lunch or just a hot chocolate from the Chautauqua Dining Hall. 

Go skiing or snowboarding

Just outside of Boulder is Eldora, a ski resort set on a mountain of the same name. This spot is much more local than the behemoths like Vail and Aspen, so you can really get a sense of the mountain. Eldora is technically accessible by bus, but the schedule is limited so I’d recommend that you drive, if possible. 

Two snowboarders smile and wave at the camera from the chair lift.
Two snowboarders at Eldora ski resort.

Try cross country skiing

Near the Eldora ski resort is the Eldora Nordic Center, where you can cross country ski along preset paths. The Nordic Center offers gear rental, classes, and an extensive trail network. You can easily spend a day skiing around the Nordic Center, which is a lot of fun and great exercise. 

If you’re more experienced or don’t mind ungroomed trails, you can cross country ski in Rocky Mount National Park. I’ve often seen cross country skiers on the Emerald Lake trail.

Visit a brewery

Visiting a brewery is a great option throughout the year in Boulder. If you’re staying right on Pearl Street, you might prefer to choose a local spot like Mountain Sun or nearby Sanitas. Mountain Sun is located right on Pearl Street and is a local favorite for beer, burgers, and a homey Boulder atmosphere. 

For a local favorite that’s a bit of a drive, make your way to Avery Brewing Company. Avery is one of the local breweries with the largest selections, and you’ll find that they have something for everyone. The food at Avery is also great, but the vegan and vegetarian options are limited. 

Explore Pearl Street

Pearl Street is one of the top places to visit in Boulder throughout the year. Although you won’t see the trademark street performers along Pearl Street, there are still plenty of cute shops, cafes, and restaurants. I love to peruse the Boulder Bookstore, swing by Ozo for a cortado, and eat dinner at Mountain Sun. 

If you’re traveling with kids, there’s even a Boulder-themed play area made out of–you guessed it–boulders. 

Have a hot cocoa from Piece, Love and Chocolate

Piece, Love and Chocolate is a local chocolatier, known for its funky, jungle-themed interior and fabulous chocolates. They have sipping chocolate and hot chocolate during the winter months, and you can usually order it topped with whipped cream. 

While you’re there, be sure to grab a few of Piece, Love and Chocolate’s handmade truffles. My favorite flavor is the dark chocolate liquid salted caramel. One of my favorite gifts to bring people is a box of chocolates from Piece, Love and Chocolate, usually an assortment of flavors. 

Eat brunch at Lucile’s Creole Cafe

Lucile’s is one of my favorite restaurants in Boulder, and the wintertime is a fun time to visit. The restaurant is set in an old house, with colorful New Orleans-themed decorations on the wall. My favorite thing on the menu is a buttermilk biscuit, which comes with butter and homemade strawberry rhubarb jam.

You can visit Lucile’s in Denver or Boulder, but the Boulder location is always my favorite. 

Sip a cup of tea at the Dushanbe Tea House

The Dushanbe Tea House is one of the top places to visit in Boulder, and for good reason. This beautiful building was a gift from Boulder’s sister city, Dushanbe, and it contains pieces from more than 40 artisans from across Tajikistan. You can read more about the history of and artwork in the Dushanbe Tea House by visiting their website

You can sip a cup of tea, have dinner, or try a dessert at the Dushanbe Tea House. Expect decent food and teas, but the real star of the show is the building itself. When I used to visit the Dushanbe, I usually ordered tea and a snack to share. 

A bright, sunny winter day on the Emerald Lake trail in Boulder, Colorado.
Winter days in Colorado are often sunny, even when the weather is cold.

Pick up a new book at the Trident Booksellers and Cafe

The Trident Booksellers and Cafe is a Boulder institution. This little cafe is part bookstore and part coffee shop, with decent coffee and a great selection of teas. During the wintertime, you’ll find plenty of students posted up with their laptops to get in a few hours of studying during the semester. 

The cafe is open late, and if you go in the evenings you’ll see locals chatting and playing friendly games of chess alongside the CU students. Any hint of being a tourist attraction is gone after the sun sets, so you’ll get a sense of the local feeling (and magic) of Boulder. 

Celebrate New Years Eve on Pearl Street 

Pearl Street is a fun and low key place to ring in the New Year! You won’t find big events like the ones in Denver, but there are lots of smaller get togethers and parties in the city. 

If you’d like to celebrate New Years Eve in a restaurant or bar on Pearl Street, be sure to reserve a spot ahead of time. The restaurants and bars are relatively small, so they’re likely to sell tickets to their events. 

Ring in the New Year in Gold Hill

Gold Hill is a small mining town outside of Boulder with only a general store and an inn in the town center. For a New Years Eve party you’ll never forget, you can visit the Gold Hill Inn for dinner and an evening celebration, then dance the night away to a live band in a historic setting. 

Be sure to book your tickets as early as possible; this event almost certain to sell out. 

Visit the Stock Show in January 

Every January in Denver is the National Western Stock Show, an event that lasts about two weeks and showcases Colorado’s western heritage. There are rodeos, horse shows, livestock competitions, and plenty of activities to enjoy with kids. The Stock Show is about a 40 minute drive from Boulder, so it’s perfect for a day trip. 

Celebrate Frozen Dead Guy Day in Nederland

I’ve never actually been to Frozen Dead Guy Day, but it’s definitely a unique thing to do in Boulder in the wintertime. This unique festival is dedicated to Bredo Morstoel, a Norwegian man who was found frozen in a shed in Nederland, Colorado. Legends about Morstoel spread, and eventually a festival was created to honor him. 

The highlight of the event is the coffin race, where teams dress up in costume and race while carrying homemade coffins. 

Two large deer nibble on grass on the side of a road in Colorado.
Two deer nibble on grass on a winter day. This photo was taken just outside of Denver.

What to pack

No matter what time of year you visit Colorado, you’ll want to pack plenty of layers to accommodate the changing temperatures. You’ll definitely want a warm jacket for the wintertime, preferably one that is at least water resistant in the case of sleet or very wet snow. 

You’ll want to wear shoes that are both warm and waterproof. Between the snowfall and warm days, it’s common to encounter large puddles and slushy snow when walking in Boulder. If you’re wearing shoes that aren’t waterproof, you’ll quickly find that your shoes soak through – a very unpleasant feeling. 

Blundstone boots are a good choice for the Colorado winters, especially if they’re waterproof. Alternatively, you can wear outdoors gear nearly anywhere in Boulder without turning any heads. A Patagonia jacket, hiking boots, and a backpack is the unofficial uniform in Boulder. 

Where to stay in Boulder in the winter

I wrote a guide to the top hotels in Boulder in a separate post, but essentially you’ll want to stay near Pearl Street. One of the most popular and nicest hotels in the area is the Hotel Boulderado, which offers beautiful rooms and a lobby that is full of funky antiques. It’s also in a great location, and some of the rooms face the Flatirons. 

The hotels in the city of Boulder are nice, but they’re not likely to be especially budget-friendly because this area is fairly expensive. If you’re visiting Boulder on a budget, I’d recommend that you check the A-Lodge Boulder, Airbnb, and other accommodations options in the areas nearby for potentially lower prices. 

FAQs: Boulder, Colorado winter

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about winter in Boulder, Colorado. 

What are the winters like in Boulder, Colorado?

The winters in Boulder are wonderful, with a mix of sunshine and snow. Like other places in Colorado, the weather can change rather quickly throughout the day. It’s not uncommon to have freezing temperatures and snow in the morning, sunny and warm weather during the day, then temperatures that dip below freezing when the sun starts to set. 

Boulder is prone to snowstorms, so it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on winter storm warnings. If a particularly harsh storm is anticipated, local grocery stores are likely to sell out of bread and other essential groceries. 

A wintery sunset outside of Boulder, Colorado.
The last moments of a sunset outside of Boulder, Colorado.

Are winters harsh in Colorado?

Compared to other places with extreme winter weather, winters in Boulder aren’t especially harsh. You will find chilly temperatures and the occasional snowstorm, but there are lots of nice days mixed in. The harshest and coldest nights are usually when the sky is clear. 

Is Boulder cold in winter?

Yes, Boulder is a cold destination in the winter. Expect to see snow from November to March, though it may start as early as October and go as late as May. Although it is a winter destination, the weather is generally not too cold to enjoy outdoor activities. 

How much snow does Boulder, Colorado get a year?

Boulder, Colorado gets an average of 89 inches of snow each year. Although you’ll see the occasional dusting, it’s more common to have days that are snowy (at least in the morning) and other days that are sunny. Unlike New England, long gray days are not very common. 

Is Boulder, Colorado a good place to live?

I can only share my opinion here, but I thought that Boulder was a great place to live. The city is very active and outdoorsy, so you can get into the mountains throughout the year. Boulder, Colorado is also a very safe destination, with relatively little crime. 

The biggest drawback to living in Boulder is the cost. The city is known for having a high cost of living, driven largely by the strict zoning laws. It’s more expensive to rent or buy in Boulder than the nearby towns of Lousiville and Lafayette, which are both only a short drive from Boulder. 

Does Boulder have 4 seasons?

Not really. You might have a few days in the springtime or autumn that feel distinct from summer and winter, but they’re somewhat rare. Colorado weather really just oscillates between summer and winter, without the transitional weather you might find in, say, New England. 

Before moving to other parts of the world, I might have told you that Colorado has four seasons. However, having experienced springtime in Stockholm and Philadelphia (among other places), it’s clear to me that Colorado’s weather is a bit different. 

What is it like to live in Colorado in the winter?

Colorado winters typically involve long, sunny days with cooler temperatures and much colder nights. The days never get as short as Massachusetts, so you’ll have some sunlight after 5pm throughout the year. 

The area is prone to heavy snowstorms, which can occasionally cause power outages and road closures. Be sure that you have a high quality snow scraper and snow tires if you’ll be driving in Boulder in the winter. 

If you like to head into the mountains to ski during the winter, you’ll want to ensure you have either snow tires or snow chains. I was once stuck overnight in Breckenridge because I didn’t have chains, and it wasn’t safe to drive back down to Boulder until the next day. 

A tent and campfire can be seen in the distance, with snow in the foreground.
It’s common to see snow on the ground even into May in Colorado. This is a photo of a campsite taken in mid-May.

Final thoughts: Boulder, Colorado in winter

If you’re considering it, I think it’s absolutely worth visiting Boulder, Colorado in the wintertime. The city is popular with outdoors enthusiasts, and you’ll find outdoor activities throughout the year in Boulder. Unlike Denver, Boulder is close enough to the mountains that you can easily get into the mountains without having to drive to a parking lot an hour away. 

The best part of being in Boulder in the winter is seeing the Flatirons covered in snow. These rocky outcroppings are visible from many buildings and homes in Boulder, and they’re a great reminder that Colorado can be a winter wonderland. You can appreciate the views from the comfort of your hotel or get out into the snow and hike around, provided the weather is nice enough.