Tips for New Coloradans

Practical Advice for Noobs

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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).
  12. 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.

Colorado - Welcome to Denver

Destinations: Nederland, CO

The eclectic little town of Nederland is a great addition to your Colorado vacation.

 

The sunset over Barker Reservoir in Nederland lights the sky aflame
Sunset over Barker Reservoir

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.

Keep Busing

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.

Looking up a ski run named Windmill on a beautiful day at Eldora Mountain Resort.
Looking up Windmill run on a bluebird day at Eldora.

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.

Jasper Lake, a high alpine lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado, during a period of low water.
Jasper Lake during a time of low water.

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.

Pedestrian Trail sign and view of Barker Reservoir in Nederland, Colorado
The start of the Pedestrian Trail near the eastern end of the 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.

A Charles Bukowski quote on the wall inside the Very Nice Brewery in Nederland, CO.
The Very Nice Brewery

Head North

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.

A view of an old ranch building at Caribou Ranch Open Space in Boulder County Colorado.
Caribou Ranch Open Space

Head South

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.

A view of Heart Lake in the James Peak Wilderness with the Continental Divide in the distance.
Heart Lake and the Continental Divide

Stay Safe!

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.

The Continental Divide still has some snow, even in the summer.
A view of the Continental Divide from the trail.

Have fun!

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.

A memorial for "Red the Cat Legend of First Street" in Nederland, Colorado.
The Memorial of Red the Cat in from of Town Hall in Nederland