Tucked into the mountains above Boulder, at the edge of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and in the shadow of the Continental Divide, is the little town of Nederland. It’s an eclectic place, having evolved from mining town to hippie enclave to it’s modern state. In the 70’s, it was known for it’s vibrant music scene, enhanced by its location near the now defunct recording studio at Caribou Ranch. The town continues to evolve, but has maintained some of its unique character in the face of changing demographics.
Gateway to Adventure
The town is easily accessible from Boulder via Boulder Canyon. Although the distance is only about 16.7 miles, there is an elevation gain of 2900 feet (883.92 meters), so the temperature and weather differences are often significant. Dress and choose your vehicle accordingly. It’s actually possible to take the RTD city bus from Boulder to Ned, which is a great option if you aren’t sure about driving. The bus makes stops throughout the canyon, including at Boulder Falls. This short hike can be crowded, but is quick and pleasant. If you do choose to get off here, know the bus schedule ahead of time so you aren’t stuck there for a long period.
Once you do get to Nederland, you have several options depending on your adventure of choice and the time of year.
If it’s winter and you love to ski, Eldora Mountain Resort is just west of Nederland and it is the only Colorado ski resort that is serviced by the city bus system. The buses have plenty of room for your ski gear and can save you the drive and parking-related headaches. Gear is available to rent and ski and snowboard lessons are offered.
In the summer, the Nederland RTD Park & Ride lot is the pickup location for the Hessie Trailhead shuttle. You can drive or take the RTD city bus up and then catch the shuttle in for a hike. If you don’t take the shuttle, be aware that parking is limited and fills up early, so be prepared. There’s a reason the shuttle exists, so take advantage of it. The shuttle only services the Hessie Trailhead, so if it’s the Fourth of July Trailhead that interests you, you’ll have to drive to that. Leave early so you can get a parking space. The shuttle is seasonal, so check out the website to make sure it is running if you plan on using it.
Stay in Town
The little town of Nederland is worth exploring. The Barker Reservoir allows fishing (no swimming or boating, however!) and there is a little trail than runs along the northern bank that offers nice views of the town and reservoir.
If you need information or gear, stop by the Indian Peaks Ace Hardware store for maps and information or by The Mountain Man outdoor outfitter store, for an even bigger selection of equipment. Also in town are the Carousel of Happiness, the Mining Museum and several neat little shops such as Blue Owl Books and Boutique and Nature’s Own rock shop. If you are hungry or have a thirst, there’s the Pioneer Inn, a relic of the old Caribou Ranch days, as well as Crosscut Pizza, The Branding Iron, and The Very Nice Brewery, among others.
The event that the town is most well known for, Frozen Dead Guy Days, occurs annually in March. Winter is also a good time of the year to check out the local ice rink or rent some snowshoes from Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center.
There are several great trails and wilderness areas north of town. Mud Lake and Caribou Ranch Open Space (closed April 1st to June 30th seasonally) are both pretty close, whereas Rainbow Lakes Trailhead and the Brainard Lakes Recreation Area both require a bit more of a drive. The Peak to Peak scenic highway that you take to get to these places is a treat in of itself and if you take it far enough, you’ll end up in Estes Park, the home of Rocky Mountain National Park.
If you head south on the Peak-to-Peak Highway, you’ll pass by West Magnolia, a popular mountain biking area. If you don’t have a bike, you can rent one in town at Tin Shed. These trails can also be hiked.
Continuing on past West Magnolia, you’ll hit the town of Rollinsville wherein, if you take the Tolland Road to the west, you can reach the East Portal Trailhead. If you are headed here, you’ll pass Rollins Pass Road, a popular place for ATV riders and mountain bikers. Due to the collapse of the Needle’s Eye Tunnel, you can no longer drive over the continental divide at this point, so don’t plan on it. I am told that it is possible to port your bike around the collapse, but the bike ride up is strenuous. Do not try to drive this road without the appropriate skill and vehicle.
Hiking up from the East Portal Trailhead to S. Boulder Creek trail, you can reach several lovely high alpine lakes and the Continental Divide at Roger’s Pass. If you are fit and prepared, you can also access James Peak from this point.
It’s important to plan ahead for your safety and others. Fire risk is high in these areas, so look up the current conditions and obey all fire bans. This frequently means that NO CAMPFIREs are allowed, so plan ahead with a legal camp stove if you are staying overnight. If you head south of Nederland to trails at the East Portal, you’ll be in Gilpin County, an area that has separate fire ban information from the trails in Boulder County.
Weather can change quickly and is usually much colder at altitude than down below. Wear proper footwear, carry a fleece, rain gear, snacks, and plenty of water. It’s best to understand how to use a map and compass, but at a minimum, stay on the trails. If you see bad weather rolling in, get below tree line. If you plan on camping overnight, permits are required for the Indian Peaks Wilderness. They can be purchased the day of your trip at Indian Peaks Ace Hardware store. Remember to keep your pets on leashes and obey Leave-No-Trace principles. Be aware that it’s always wise to treat your water before you drink it due to the high traffic these areas experience.
Finally, if you are visiting the Nederland area from a low altitude location, be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness and act accordingly if needed. Be sure to consult a medical professional if you experience issues. Some people will experience sickness even if they are coming from somewhere relatively high like Denver, so keep that in mind.
This area is spectacular and I’ve only covered the basics of what is available. I feel like I could spend my entire life exploring Colorado and I still haven’t even explored all the trails near Nederland. The town itself and the surrounding natural resources are well worth your time. Stay safe, be respectful, and have fun.