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Charming strolls abound in walkable Nederland. Photo by Haley Gray.

First-Timer’s Guide: Nederland

This tiny town tucked into the Rocky Mountains is not to be overlooked.

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One of Boulder County’s several historic mining towns, Nederland has blossomed into a full-on tourist destination, rather than shrinking like some of its historical peers. The town provides easy access to endless outdoor adventures—including Indian Peaks Wilderness Area and Eldora Mountain Resort—in addition to a vibrant music scene and close proximity to the city of Boulder. At any rate, this day-trip-worthy destination has plenty to keep visitors entertained in town or at-large in the great outdoors.


The Odometer: About 45 miles from Denver
Play Outside: Nederland is surrounded by superb outdoor activities. Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests, plus the overlapping Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, provide nearly limitless possibilities for hiking, camping, and backpacking. An amplitude of high mountain lakes are available to licensed anglers in search of brook or cutthroat trout, especially for those willing to hike in for their catch. This Colorado Parks and Wildlife guide is a useful place to start planning your fishing outing.

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For hikers, the Mud Lake trail network offers two easy, family friendly loops of about a mile or less, plus access to the idyllic Caribou Ranch Open Space via an out-and-back trail that crosses Sherwood Creek before connecting to the open space on the opposite side of the road. Take Colo. 72 to Colo. 126, park at Mud Lake and choose your adventure. This intersection also offers access from Nederland to the Peak-to-Peak Highway (Colo. 72), a 55-mile scenic byway that extends north to Estes Park (and offers unbelievable vistas along the way). It’s particularly worth the trek in the fall, when the foliage is in full blaze. Check road conditions, especially during the winter, via CO Trip (select CO-72 from the drop-down menu).

Hikers with a hankering for altitude should explore the Hessie and Fourth of July trailheads just outside of town. Routes are virtually limitless. We’re partial to the leg-busting trek to Woodland Lake via the Hessie trailhead and the unfathomably beautiful hike to Diamond Lake via Fourth of July, which, during the spring and summer, sends explorers past a wildflower-smothered hillside, through towering evergreen forests, and concludes at a crystal-clear lake with dwarfing mountain views. We suggest waterproof wears from fall to spring for these hikes. Crampons are also a must if snow is on the ground. Weekend parking is zoo-like at these popular treks, so take advantage of the free shuttle offered during summer months.

For backpackers, Indian Peaks Wilderness offers perhaps the best range of options within an hour of Boulder. Permits must be obtained from the U.S. Forest Service Boulder Ranger District. Pack out everything you pack in. If you see trash left by another visitor, be a hero and pack that out, too.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Nederland is also the closest perch to Eldora Mountain Resort. Be forewarned: conditions at this windswept mountain are notoriously similar to the icy slopes of East Coast ski hills, but that in no way means we haven’t had our share of powder days here. Eldora also offers a Nordic Center for cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

Sip: Après-adventure options are plenty in this charming mountain town. Try the Special Lady Saison or Logical Fallacy American Black Ale at Very Nice Brewing Company. Head to James Peak Brewery and Smokehouse for boozy brews to warm you up, like the Piggy’s Pride Barleywine or Jamaican Java Porter. Don’t deny yourself a drink at the 46-year-old town dive bar, the Pinoeer Inn, either. The joint hosts live music nearly nightly. Pop into local woman-owned Augustina Winery for wallet-friendly reds and whites, many Colorado-grown.

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You’ll never want for morning buzz in this town. The Train Cars Coffee and Yogurt Company are converted rail cars peddling coffee drinks, snacks, smoothies, and more. Happy Trails is an inviting local spot to grab your morning brew, and Blue Owl Books & Boutique includes a homey cafe replete with cozy tables tucked between the book-lined walls.

Bites: For breakfast, the heavenly biscuits of Dot’s Diner on the Mountain (an outpost of the Boulder chain) are not to be missed. For a quick lunch, we recommend grabbing soup or sandwich from Mountain People’s Coop. The lunch buffet of Nepali Kathmandu Restaurant is perfect for hungry hikers needing to refuel and warm up. For happy hour and dinner, Salto Coffee Works (yes, it’s also yet another good coffee spot) has tacos to please any palate. At Crosscut Pizza & Taphouse, on the main drag, you’ll find top-notch woodfired pizzas, perfectly sized for one hungry person, and elegant appetizers. Rocky Mountain Oyster Bar is a fairly new but well-received addition to the small town and, yes, offers its namesake dish.

Shop: It won’t take long to stroll First Street, the main drag of Nederland, but don’t miss it. Rustic Moose offers tourist-friendly trinkets, cabin-chic housewares, and locally-made jewelry and art. Nature’s Own (the sign out front reads “Geodes Fossiles Crystal Jewelry) is a must-visit window-shopping destination. At Wings of Lace Boutique, shoppers will find detailed knitwear and accessories with the Bohemian vibe to match. Off the main drag, the Mountain Man Outdoor Store will delight budget-crunching gear junkies.

The Wild Bear Ecology Center for any family visit to Nederland. Photo by Haley Gray.

Kid-Friendly: If you’ve got tykes in tow, the Wild Bear Ecology Center is not to be missed. This non-profit offers educational programming for all ages. At their store in town, they offer adult and family workshops; information on local trails, flora, and fauna; and kid-friendly displays and small critters to oggle; plus mom- and dad-friendly shopping. Treat your happy campers to something sweet at The Candy Man, upstairs in the same shopping center, don’t miss the town’s trademark Carousel of Happiness, an indoor merry-go-round.

The annual coffin race is taken very seriously. Photo by Jerry Lewis, Flickr via Creative Commons.

If You Do One Thing: Every spring, people come from far and wide to join Nederland in celebrating the legacy of the town’s (continuously) cryogenically frozen man. Frozen Dead Guy Days is a three-day bonanza that includes live music, lots of beer and food, and frozen dead guy-themed activities like the highly competitive coffin race or harder-than-it-sounds frozen turkey bowling.

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Just don’t forget to raise a glass to Grandpa Bredo Morstoel, the Norwegian transplant who arrived state-side post-mortem in a dry ice-packed crate. Morstoel hoped that cryonics—the practice of freezing a body to be re-animated when scientific development allows—would afford him a second shot at life. After succumbing to a heart condition in 1989, he was shipped to Colorado in 1993, where a family member ensured his body was kept at a balmy -60° Fahrenheit. Today a team of volunteers delivers a fresh 1,600 pounds of dry ice monthly to Morstoel’s new resting place, Nederland’s Tuff Shed, keeping him cool until that day comes.

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