Colorado is a great place to visit, but if you want to experience all the state has to offer, you’re going ot be on the road quite a bit. Odds are pretty solid you’ll be stuck on I-70 at some point. However will you pass the time?
Ski Rack or Cop? It’s seriously hard to tell, especially from a distance. Given that the Subaru is the unofficial car of Colorado, be prepared to live in constant fear of tickets you can’t afford. Be especially concerned if it’s winter and you aren’t obeying traction law on I-70.
Dead skunk or marijuana grow? A real thing in Colorado and especially relevant on rural backroads. Seriously hard to tell the difference sometimes.
Podcasts. Not a joke, just something I like. Download them first if you are headed to the mountains because rural areas often equal shitty phone service. Plan ahead. Side note, also bring a physical map for the same reason. Yes, I know it’s 2020 and yes, I’m serious. I live in the mountains so I know how bad Google can be there.
I-70 Tailgate Party. Stuck on I-70 again due to ski/summer/holiday/mystery traffic? Plan ahead. Bring snacks, chairs, maybe a small grill. Setup shop. Get to know your new neighbors. You live there now.
Emergency Tire Chain-up. Fun! It’s June, but somehow you’ve found high altitude snow and you’re sliding backward down a mountain canyon. Good thing you planned ahead and have chains in your trunk.
Have anything you like to do that you want to share? Tell me in the comments!
Are you not from Colorado and do you therefore not know what the title of this post means? I had not heard the term before we moved to the mountains of this state, so I’ll clarify. A leaf peeper is someone who comes to the mountains to look at leaves. Specifically, leaves changing colors in the fall.
As someone who grew up in Appalachia and the Midwest, I find it a little baffling as aspens really only turn yellow, whereas the greater variety of deciduous trees we had where I grew up would change a wide variety or reds and oranges in addition to yellow. It’s perfectly pretty out here, but there’s no comparison. Ironically, I find the color change in Colorado to be prettiest in the city which contains a lot of non-native trees. If it really were just the trees people wanted to see, they could just go to Capitol Hill in Denver.
However, I digress. Odds are, it’s just an excuse to go to the mountains, which I understand.
There’s definitely a love-hate relationship between mountain residents and the peepers as tension tends to build when you want to go to the store for an onion and there’s a 40-minute line of traffic to get into town. The business is appreciated, but the inconvenience is real.
That being said, here are a few things to consider if you are going to peep at leaves.
Stay Out of Traffic – If you pull over to peep or to photograph peeping for your holiday cards, please pull over all of the way. Despite the aforementioned tension, no one really wants to hit you. However, if you leave the ass of your car out in the road or, even worse, if you stand in the road, there will be issues that could include death. Stay safe. Stay out of the road.
Consider the bus – It depends where exactly you are going, but if you are planning on peeping in the Nederland area, you can take the RTD NB bus (formerly the N) to the mountains. There are many lovely aspens that you can see from the town of Nederland. If you wish to peep further out in the wilderness, you can take the Hessie Shuttle (it’s free!) from the RTD Park & Ride in Nederland. It picks up where the NB bus drops you off, so it’s super convenient and allows you to enjoy the view of yellow leaves from the comfort of a vehicle you are not controlling. The destination is the Hessie trailhead, from which you can hike to Lost Lake or beyond and see many fine yellow aspens. Check out the link above for schedule information. Note:The last day for the shuttle in 2019 is October 6th. Apologies for the late post.
Stay off of private property – Some of those yellow trees are not on public land and humans that own that land probably don’t want you peeping on it, even if that pic would make great Instagram content. Be courteous, obey signage, and stay off private property.
Be Kind to the Land – This is important year-round, but the crowds can be pretty bad during peeping season, so problems are exacerbated. Pick up your trash, obey any current fire bans, and leave-no-trace. The locals will appreciate it, the wildlife will appreciate it, and you’ll feel the personal satisfaction of being a good person. That matters, yes?
Take a deep breath – The trees do this every year. There’s no need to rush or be irritable. It will happen again.
So, you’re new to Colorado. Regardless of where you came from, there are likely to be some quirks to your new home that you could stand to be warned of. Since most people who move to Colorado arrive in the Denver metro area, I’m making the assumption that you are around there.
If you moved to somewhere else in the state, some of these things will still be applicable.
Steam rooms are your new buddy. Colorado is dry. Get a gym membership and use the damn steam room. Make sure you join a gym that actually has a steam room. I personally prefer the YMCA as if you join one of them, you can visit all of the area YMCA branches via the Away Program. However, not all branches have steam, so see what your local one has before you decide. When I lived in Louisville, KY I could not have imagined doing this as that entire town is a steam room. Colorado is dry. Steam is your friend.
Snow tires are a fun new expense that you’ll want to have at your disposal, especially if you plan on venturing into the mountains to sit in traffic on the way to a ski area. Actually, they are required as “Under a Traction Law, motorists will need to have either snow tires, tires with the mud/snow (M+S) designation, or a four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicle — all tires must have a minimum one-eighth inch tread.”That’s not even completely correct as the law has just (and I mean just, as of this posting) changed to require that tread be 3/16 of an inch instead of 1/8 and those traction laws are now in effect for a full 9 months and not just during inclement weather. You really want an all wheel drive or 4 wheel drive vehicle, too. I live in the mountains. I mean that.
Street Sweeping will be your nemesis if you live in the City and County of Denver and don’t have your own parking space. It happens once a month, April through November, though the day varies depending on your neighborhood (actually read the signs on your street). If you forget, it’s a $50 fine. That shit adds up and Denver is the town in which the boot was invented, so you don’t want to push it. You can sign up for alerts on the city website.
Yes, Casa Bonita is real. Yes, the food is terrible. The cliff diving is legit, though. You pretty much have to go at least once.
Accessorize with a water bottle. I carry one everywhere I go and I’m not the only one. Did I mention that Colorado is dry? Also, we’re solidly environmentally conscious and getting better. You can refill that shit. Carry a bottle. Refill it. Be a Coloradan.
Consider RTD. I realize that this is not much of a recommendation. RTD is not great. Also, RTD could be worse. Like, they exist and can take you a fair amount of places. Sure, their schedules are often a fantasy and they like to drop routes without communicating that to their riders (i.e. scheduled buses get cancelled with no warning), but… you can take RTD to the mountains in certain instances and, if you have a flexible job that understands the limitations of public transport, you can save a lot on gas and do an environmentally friendly thing. Check to see if your job provides an Eco Pass benefit. That’s the best way to use RTD.
License Plates. Colorado requires you have front license plates on your car. It’s the first state that I’ve lived in that does. If you are like me and your front plate holder is unusable due to rusted and unremovable screws, you will still get a ticket. Challenge that ticket (they make a lot of mistakes, it’s always worth trying – I got my plate ticket reduced) and then figure out another way to attach that plate. Colorado is very big brother. All of the toll roads are photo enforced, so you’ll end up getting a bill in the mail if you take them. This is probably why they are into having front plates.
Need a Colorado ID? You can’t get it the same day. You will get it in the mail in 10-14 days. Every other state I’ve lived in, you get it the same day, but not in Colorado. It seems it’s a Real ID recommendation, so perhaps all states will be moving towards this, but if you come from a state that has not implemented the change, be aware: the DMV will punch a hole in your ID invalidating it and then give you a piece of paper as a temporary ID. Not everyone accepts this paper as valid ID (caution at bars), so you’ll have 10-14 days of ID issues. One great thing is that you can renew your ID online for up to 10 years (if it’s not a CDL ID), which is awesome. That means, if you lose your ID, you can just order a new one online. Huzzah for this.
Unless your vehicle is 7 model years old or less, you’ll be required to get an emissions test to register your car. The type of test varies according to the age and type of vehicle and certain counties are exempt (holla, Gilpin!), but it does cost $25. Maybe this is more common than I realize, but coming from the Midwest and Appalachia, it was news to me.
Sunblock is also your friend. Unless you are blessed with protective melanin, you’re going to want to stock up. I’m pretty sure my ancestors lived in caves, so my daily morning lotion contains SPF 15 and I use SPF 50 for days I’m actively spending time outdoors. The entire state is pretty damn high up (the elevation of Denver is officially 5280 feet above sea level, I live at 9000 feet up), so you will be exposed to more UV than you would at lower elevations. Make sunblock a habit and wear it year round.
Colorado is a great place to vote. It’s easier than anywhere I’ve lived as ballots are mailed to you and you can just mail them back or drop them off. In an era where certain states have made voting way more difficult than it should be, Colorado is a breath of fresh air (just not literally).
Natives. Sometimes natives are a bit petulant about people moving into their state. To be fair, there are a lot of us. Most people are fine and most of that petulance is exhibitied online and is easily ignored. Just be a good citizen and mostly you will be ok. Oh, and if you are a crappy driver and you know it, maybe work on that.
The eclectic little town of Nederland is a great addition to your Colorado vacation.
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.
In the summer, the Nederland RTD Park & Ride lot is the pickup location for the Hessie Trailheadshuttle. 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 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.
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.