Head over to Ned

Nederland has options aplenty for outdoor fun

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Mud Lake
Courtesy of Alan Apt

The small town of Nederland (8,228 feet, population 1,445) is known not only for the Frozen Dead Guy, but also for being the gateway to a variety of great places for outdoor recreation — hiking, mountain and road biking, picnicking or fishing. When you crest the hill next to Barker Meadows Reservoir you will see the backdrop of the spectacular Indian Peaks. There are several access points not far from Nederland where you can enjoy the high foothills and mountains. There is also a nice trail along the north shoreline of the sparkling reservoir, close to downtown and not far from the local brewpubs, coffee shops and other restaurant options. The reservoir is stocked and is a popular place for fishing.

Go south from Ned and take the Eldora Ski Area turnoff to go to the Hessie Trailhead, about a mile west of the little village of Eldora. It is the access point for several lake hikes of varying length: Lost, Woodland, Skyscraper, King, Betty, Bob, Diamond, Devil’s Thumb, Jasper and Storm lakes. You can also fish Middle Boulder Creek on the way. If you choose to drive past Hessie, on the very rough 4th of July road, you can start at the 4th of July campground trailhead. You must arrive early on weekends to get a parking spot as it is the primary access for climbing the twin peaks of South and North Arapaho, both of which are over 13,500 feet. You can also access Diamond Lake, or hike up to scenic Arapaho Pass if you aren’t a peak bagger.

Jasper LakeCourtesy of Alan Apt
Jasper Lake

If you don’t feel like driving to Nederland, there is excellent bus service 12 hours per day, seven days per week from the Boulder-Denver area. You can also connect with the weekend hikers shuttle to the very popular Hessie Trailhead at the Park-n-Ride. This will save you the hassle of trying park, as most of the spots are usually gone by 7:30 or 8 a.m. on summer weekends. The shuttle runs every 15 minutes.

The next closest recreation areas are Mud Lake and Caribou Ranch Boulder County Open Space, 2 miles north of town. Mud Lake is great for families with small children and features a nice picnic area and two short, hilly 1 mile trails. Caribou Ranch is closed from April to July to protect migratory birds and calving elk, but has a historic homestead and mine, and longer trails around a pretty meadow and aspen groves.

A couple of miles south of Nederland is the West Magnolia Road area that is a mountain-biker paradise. There is a spaghetti network of trails for bikers of all abilities. Beginners and families can enjoy the lightly used forest campground roads, especially the 355, A through E series. The less challenging mountain biking trails are west of the Peak to Peak highway at several trailheads throughout the campground area. The more challenging, advanced mountain biker trails are east of the Peak to Peak and are called the Dot trails. Road bikers frequently bike on the Peak to Peak highway if they are very fit. Going south from Ned on the Peak to Peak is much easier than traveling steeply uphill to the north. An easy 10-mile round trip ride is out to the village of Eldora and back. Adding on the climb to the Eldora Ski Area will get your heart pumping. The trails can also be hiked at West Magnolia.

Five miles south of Ned is Rollinsville, the historical railroad gateway to the East Portal/Moffat Tunnel Trailhead, where there are more scenic lake trails, 5 miles down the gravel road. The challenging Heart Lake route, the easy Crater Lake option, and the moderate Forest Lakes trails in the James Peak Wilderness Area. Mountain bikers can enjoy the former railroad route, Rollins Pass, or the Mammoth Gulch route. Rollins Pass goes all the way over the Continental Divide to Winter Park, if you really want to challenge yourself.

A little south of Rollinsville are the rolling foothills trails of scenic Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Try the Coyote and Mule Deer Trails for great wildflowers. The short Raccoon Trail starts with a dramatic view of the Continental Divide. There is a $7 per car admission fee.

Seven miles northwest of Nederland is the Rainbow Lakes Trailhead, and access to the south end of the Sourdough Trail. You can hike or bike out and back to Brainard Lake on the Sourdough. Or you can bike Rainbow Lakes Road to the campground or drive there to enjoy the Rainbow Lakes or Glacier View trails.

Mud Lake is great for families with small children. Courtesy of Alan Apt
Mud Lake is great for families with small children.

Sixteen miles north of Ned is the spectacular but very busy Brainard Lake Recreation Area. It is the primary access for the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. There is a $10 per car fee unless you park in the lot east of the entry gate and hike in. You can hike up to Left Hand Reservoir for free, and enjoy the spectacular setting. The enjoyable, rolling Sourdough Trail is next to the first parking lot, and goes north and south. Mountain bikers savor these routes too. The parking lots near the other lakes and peaks also fill up early on weekends. You can drive 5 miles to the closer lots and hike to Mitchell and Blue Lakes, or Long and Isabelle Lakes. You can also get much closer to the trailhead for 13,000 foot Mount Audubon, and the other soaring Indian Peaks.

Another 5 miles north will take you to the turnoffs for Beaver Reservoir and the Peaceful Valley-Camp Dick areas with many additional trail options, including Buchanan Pass.

Even the Wild Basin section of Rocky Mountain National Park is a reasonable commute north from Nederland just north of Allenspark.

No visit to Nederland would be complete without a visit to the renowned Carousel of Happiness. It is fun for children of all ages, and only cost $1 per ride.

So dust off your hiking boots, saddle up your two-wheeled steed or dig out your fishing gear and head up the hill to little Ned.  

Alan Apt is the author of Afoot and Afield, Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Rocky Mountain National Park: 148 Spectacular Outings in the Colorado Rockies.