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Top Adventure Sports Town: Nederland, Colorado

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Overview

Nederland is a fun little town tucked into the mountainous folds of the Front Range. While sporting a small population of 1,523 permanent residents, the town lies at an important crossroads. It is only 20 miles from Boulder, an hour from Rocky Mountain National Park, less than half an hour from the Indian Peaks Wilderness, ten minutes from Eldora Ski Resort and lies on the beautiful Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway. Whether your day tripping up from various Front Range cities or trying to spend a few days in the area, Nederland is an adventure town worth visiting.

Hiker resting on a boulder at Lost lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Nederland, Colorado

Table of Contents:

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Aerial view of Nederland, Colorado.


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Unique History

Lovingly referred to as Ned, the town has a unique and interesting atmosphere. Nederland lies in a glacially carved valley where the Arapahoe and Ute Tribes lived before western colonization. Homesteaders arrived in the early 1800s looking for beaver pelts and settled in the relatively flat valley, an attractive component in such mountainous terrain. The name came from the sale of a nearby mine to a Dutch company from the Netherlands. In 1874, when the town was incorporated, residents chose the name Nederland to signify the “low lands” of their valley, compared to the high peaks around. Ironic, given its high elevation of over 8,200 ft.

The town stayed relatively small, even declining for a spell, until Sam Conger found tungsten in the area. An age of relative prosperity followed, where the population rose to over 3,000. Another big shift occurred in the 1960s when hippies from all over Colorado settled in town. A lot of them stayed and have contributed to Nederlands’ casual ethos. Today, Ned is known as a beautifully situated mountain town with a laid-back vibe and easy access to outdoor activities.

Jasper Creek Falls near Nederland, Colorado.

Local Adventure Vibe

Ned is loaded with outdoor adventure, and the access is similar to another eastern Front Range mecca, Estes Park. In town, there are numerous festivals and events throughout the year that help boost Nederland’s appeal. Two of the most famous include Frozen Dead Guy Days and Nedfest.

Frozen Dead Guy Days is probably the most famous festival in the area because of its unique and strange history. In 1889 a Norwegian citizen brought the corpse of his recently deceased grandfather to Ned. The body was preserved in dry ice and stored in a private cryonics facility in an unassuming shed.

In 1995, the town finally got wind of it and the discovery led to quite an uproar. The festival started in 2002 to honor the strange legacy of the frozen-dead guy. The facility still operates to this day and has a caretaker, though the town had to adopt laws to ban anyone else from cryogenically freezing loved ones in town.

*Due to a raft of issues, Frozen Dead Guy Days will not be held in 2023. You can read about the announcement here.

Nederland, Colorado.

Food and Drink

Despite its small size, Ned has some memorable food and drink joints, which are perfect for relaxing after a day of outdoor adventures! 

Best Places to Stay

With major Front Range cities close by, there are numerous places to stay within an hour of Nederland. For lodging options in town, the following three are the best bets.

If you’re interested in some camping options, the following selections will work as well.

Photo from a backpacking trip in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado.

Outdoor Activities

Nederland is close to a lot of cool outdoor locations which showcase a ton of different environments, including forests, rock outcroppings, lakes, rushing mountain streams, alpine ridges and rugged peaks. It’s also a great way to experience the northern Front Range. The mountains here are dramatic, steep and rugged.

Rock Climbing

The Boulder Canyon, which separates the city of Boulder from Nederland, has hundreds of established rock-climbing routes and is popular with residents from both towns. Some of the most popular areas are Animal WorldCastle Rock, and The Dome.

Rogers Pass Lake.

Hiking/Backpacking

Benefiting from its superb location, Ned has access to some stellar hiking options. This small selection should get you started but rest assured there are dozens of additional options that exemplify the spectacular scenery of the northern Front Range.

  • Caribou Ranch Open Space: For those looking for a leisurely environment that’s family-friendly, the Caribou Open Space sports a decent mix of trails, lakes and mountain views. A nice bonus is that it’s only a few minutes from town.
  • Diamond Lake: This large, subalpine lake is accessible via the popular 4th of July Trailhead. To get to the trailhead, you’ll take the road that passes by Eldora Ski Resort and the super popular Hessie Trailhead. Both trailheads have numerous hiking options, but Hessie usually fills up first. Most two-wheel drive cars can make it to the 4th of July Trailhead, but it is a bumpy dirt road. The trailheads can be closed until the first weekend in July, depending on snow levels.
  • East Portal – Rogers Pass and Heart Lake: The East Portal refers to the eastern entrance of the Moffat Tunnel, which burrows under the Continental Divide and connects Winter Park to the Front Range via rail. At the tunnel entrance is a large parking lot and a network of trails. The route to Rogers Pass and Heart Lake is a fantastic introduction to the area, featuring lakes, forests, wildlife and typically spectacular Colorado mountain views.

Backpacker looks at Lake Isabelle near Nederland, Colorado.

Scrambling

If you’re looking for something more demanding than hiking, Nederland is close to some of the most iconic scrambles in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The Indian Peaks themselves are a rugged N-S stretch of the Continental Divide between Rocky Mountain National Park to the north and James Peak wilderness to the south. All three have stupendous hikes and peaks, but the Indian peaks are particularly rugged.

  • North and South Arapaho Peaks: This is one of the best scrambles in the Indian Peaks and is highly visible from many parts of the city of Boulder. The Arapaho Peaks are connected by a Class 4 ridge, which requires a lot of care and alpine knowledge.
  • Mt. Neva: Second to the Arapaho Peaks in terms of popularity, Mt. Neva is as dramatic as the former and probably a little harder. Regardless, the crux wall is a scrambling treat, along with the undulating ridge before it. There are non-scrambling ways to climb Mt. Neva, but the Class 4 North Ridge is a northern Front Range staple.
  • Brainard Lake Recreation Area: This pay-to-play area has an abundance of scrambling routes, including the challenging Blue Lake Traverse and Niwot Peak. A lot of these routes are covered in our Boulder article, but their ease of access from Ned gives the area a multi-purpose appeal.

Arapaho Glacier, along the route to South Arapaho Peak.

Resort Skiing: Eldora

Nederland is lucky to have its own decently-sized ski resort. Eldora is one of only a few ski resorts on the eastern side of the Front Range and only a few minutes outside of town. Eldora attracts residents from the surrounding communities and pull a large number of people from Boulder. One of the big appeals is that you don’t have to drive the crowded and hazardous I-70 to get there. There is also a bus service from Boulder (only 20 miles away) that runs multiple times a day during peak season.

Currently, the resort is a part of the Ikon Pass, which also includes Winter Park, Arapahoe Basin, Copper Resort, and the four ski mountains around Aspen (Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass).

Eldora is known for its fantastic learning terrain, fun glades and excellent views. The runs are on an east-west trending ridge which ultimately leads up to the Continental Divide, though this is outside of the ski resort area. Here are some key statistics associated with the resort.

  • Total acreage: 680 acres
  • Base Elevation: 9,200 ft.
  • Top Elevation: 10,800 ft.
  • Vertical: 1,600 ft.
  • Number of Runs: 53
  • Beginner Runs: 20%
  • Intermediate Runs: 50%
  • Advanced/Expert: 30%

Eldora Mountain Ski Area near Nederland, Colorado.

Backcountry Skiing

While established ski resorts are hard to come by (aside from Eldora), the terrain around Nederland is ripe with backcountry potential. Many areas are frequented by Boulder residents and were included in our Boulder Adventure Town Article.

Please visit our backcountry skiing planner and gear guide to make sure you are prepared for this activity. Traveling in avalanche terrain is dangerous. All backcountry skiers should check CAIC before heading out, it’s a free resource, so there’s no excuse not to.

  • St. Vrain Area: Located just outside of Allenspark, this area is perfect for light backcountry skiing. St. Vrain Mountain has at least three reliable ski lines on it, and the ridge extending east from the summit once housed an old ski hill. This area also avoids the tougher and steeper options around Brainard Lake. The approach is navigationally simple but long. Budget a full day if you’re thinking about skiing multiple lines.
  • Arestua Hut: Just beyond the ropes at Eldora is a mountain hut owned by the Colorado Mountain Club. It operates like many other backcountry huts by producing shelter for Nordic or backcountry skiers. Staying in a mountain hut is a unique winter experience for those looking to take advantage of superb terrain for winter activities.
  • 4th of July: The Arapaho Peaks and Mt. Neva are excellent scrambles, and they both have awesome backcountry ski lines on them. Compared to St. Vrain, though, these are much more serious. Mt. Neva has a series of couloirs that point towards Lake Dorothy and are popular spring destinations, while South Arapaho Peaks has the famous Skywalker Couloir.

Mount Toll in the snow.

Trail Running

Trail runners will also find a lot to love in the hills surrounding Ned. Multiple trails off the Hessie and 4th of July Trailheads contain excellent opportunities for trail running. A few of the options overlap with our Boulder Article, but the satisfaction is so high they deserve to be mentioned twice.

  • Arapaho Glacier Trail: This thumper of a trail is an out-and-back that can either start at the 4th of July Trailhead (easier) or the Rainbow Lakes Trailhead (harder). Appropriately named, the trail ascends a long ridge with fantastic views of Arapaho Glacier. If starting from Rainbow Lake Trailhead, the trail is 7.9 miles one way and climbs nearly 2,800 ft. before descending to meet the Arapaho Pass Trail.
  • High Lonesome Loop: This decadent loop is located off of the Hessie Trailhead and attacks the Continental Divide. Clocking in at 15.7 miles and with a total elevation gain/loss of 6,200 ft, this trail will challenge and inspire you. Along the route, you’ll pass three alpine lakes, spend three miles atop the Continental divide with expansive views in all directions, and pass the iconic Devil’s Thumb rock formation. As briefly touched upon before, the trailhead is very popular on summer weekends; get there super early or on weekdays if possible.

A young woman trail runner takes a break high up on Arapaho Pass in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Nederland, Colorado.

Mountain Biking

  • Mud Lake Open Space: (Easy) The area around Mud Lake has a few trails open to mountain biking. The loop combination will give you a few miles of family-friendly terrain, perfect for a couple of laps or a quick ride in the morning/afternoon. There is a 0.7 trail that connects the Mud Lake Open Space to Caribou Ranch.
  • Blue Dot Trail: (Moderate) Located just south of town, this nearly 10.5-mile lollipop loop is a great mountain biking challenge. The trail is lightly used and will offer long stretches of solitude, but the mountain biking is not as easy as Mud Lake. There is an option to bike a dirt road back once you reach the end of the trail.
  • West Magnolia Trail: (Moderate/Hard) Long-billed as an excellent, albeit confusing maze of trails, the West magnolia area is a perfect mountain biking location. If it’s your first time in the area, consult some local maps and trails to make sure the loop you create hits the best elements.

Mountain Biking

Overlanding

  • Switzerland Trail: In between Ned and Boulder, this easy off-roading adventure is a perfect regional introduction to the network of dirt roads that await. By its traditional route, this is a route that’s recommended for 4WD vehicles but can be completed by AWD vehicles with enough clearance (think Outbacks, 4Runners, Pathfinders etc.). It’s also a great access road to harder routes like Pennsylvania Gulch.
  • Middle St. Vrain Road: This gnarly 4WD road can be combined with Coney Flats for a 15-mile adventure. The biggest obstacle is a deep river crossing that is impassable in late spring due to snow runoff but should be exciting and manageable by mid-summer in a high-clearance 4WD vehicle. Because of the difficulty of the trail, the road also serves as an often-overlooked trailhead to isolated peaks, alpine lakes and the beautiful St. Vrain Glaciers.
  • Rollins Pass Road: Located near the East Portal, the Rollins Pass road used to connect the area near Nederland to Winter Park on the other side of the divide. The road is no longer continuous and has been split into two pieces because of an unstable railroad trestle near the divide that is in danger of collapse. The eastern side of the road is called Rollins Pass, and the western side is called Corona Pass road. From the entrance, the rough dirt road ascends to a series of beautiful lakes and alpine views. If attempting, something with high clearance and 4WD capabilities is recommended. For current road status, visit this site.

Skyblue Overland on the Switzerland Trail near Nederland, Colorado.

Peak-to-Peak Highway

The Colorado high country is littered with scenic byways that give you stunning views. Many of them can be used for trail access or just a leisurely afternoon drive. Nederland sits right on the Peak-to-Peak Highway, which is the main scenic byway for this region. For more information on the 55-mile route, visit the Colorado Department of Transportation website here.

Peak to Peak Highway through the Rocky Mountains near Nederland, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park

If those adventures weren’t enough and you don’t mind traveling a bit more, Nederland is less than an hour from the main entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park. This brilliant mountain park is loaded with adventures! Fees and passes apply; visit the official site here to figure out what you’ll need.

View of Hallett Peak from Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Summary

Only twenty minutes from Boulder, Nederland is an entirely different world and highly worth exploring. Between rolling single-track, hiking, resort skiing, backcountry skiing, scrambling, trail running and rock climbing, it’s easy to find something to love out here.

Global Rescue is there whether you’re hiking, kayaking, snowmobiling, fishing or simply enjoying the outdoors and get ill or injured and you’re unable to get to safety on your own. Global Rescue is the red button you push in an emergency. Their team of medical and security experts come through for you when it matters most.