Skip the Crowds in Estes Park and Explore Nederland, Colorado Instead

Skip the Crowds in Estes Park and Explore Nederland, Colorado Instead

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By: Meg Atteberry

If permitted entries to national parks and expensive, overcrowded lodging isn’t your thing, consider visiting Nederland, Colorado this summer. As an alternative to the tourist-packed Estes Park, you’ll find boundless mountain beauty in and around Nederland.

How to Get to Nederland, Colorado

Called “Ned” by locals, Nederland is a small, cute town nestled at the base of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The easiest way to get to Nederland is to take Boulder Canyon Drive to the heart of town. If you’re coming from Denver, it’s just a quick 1-hour drive to reach Ned.

Where to Stay

Nederland is a super-small, community-based town with just one hotel - The Boulder Creek Lodge. This quaint, log cabin-style lodging offers up unique rooms in a beautifully wooded setting. If you plan to camp, you can try your luck at the Rainbow Lakes Campground or the 4th of July Campground (4WD required) or stay at the nearby Kelly Dalh Campground (reservations recommended). One of the most popular ways to enjoy Nederland is to go on a backpacking adventure. Diamond Lake, Lost Lake, and the areas around Arapaho Pass are all popular places to pitch a tent. Keep in mind you’ll need permits to backpack in summer.

What to Do

Nederland is a hiker’s paradise. With countless breathtaking trails for all abilities, the nearby trails grant access to stunning mountain scenery. Nearby Brainard Lake Recreation area (timed entry required for 2021) has plenty of activities from paddle boarding, fishing, hiking, camping, and more. Spend the afternoon touring the quaint town of Nederland. Enjoy coffee in a train car. Cap the day off with a scenic drive fo the Peak to Peak Highway.

Nederland’s Best Hikes

Known for its stunning hikes in the Indian Peak Wilderness, you’ve got to check off a few trails with your trip to Ned. Big rewards await those who venture into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Arguably more beautiful than Rocky Mountain National Park, these hikes are a must-visit:
  • Caribou Trail: 4 miles, 308 feet of gain easy. A stunning stroll through a wildflower-filled meadow (blooms are best in July).
  • Dorthy Lake via Arapaho Pass: 7.1 miles, 1,942 feet of gain, moderate. A consistent, yet gentler gain takes you through the pines to stunning mountain views as you make your way to Dorthy Lake. Don’t forget to stop and scope out the scenes beyond Arapaho Pass. 4WD required to reach the trailhead.
  • South Arapaho Peak: 8.1 miles with 3,321 feet of gain. Very challenging. Stand on top of a 13,000-foot peak with this walking trail to the top. A few boulders may need to be navigated with your hands, but the scenery is well worth the effort. 4WD required to reach the trailhead.

Paddle or Fish the Water

The Brainard Lake Recreation area allows for non-motorized boating at Brainard Lake. The easy access, coupled with striking mountain views, make this a great place to canoe, paddle, or even fish (license required). Stay at the nearby Pawnee Campground, or have a picnic by the water. Just don’t forget the mosquito repellent.

Spot Wildlife

Vast amounts of wildlife call the Indian Peaks Wilderness home. In fact, I’ve spotted more moose here than I ever have in Rocky Mountian National Park. Head out on an early morning hike to Lake Isabelle or Diamond Lake for a chance to spot a moose grazing in the morning light. Bear, elk, deer, sheep, and other wildlife are quite common throughout Nederland. Be sure to keep an eye out and if you’re camping, store your food in bear-safe containers or in your vehicle with the windows up while you’re away.

Other Activities

Looking for more? There are plenty of other ways to enjoy some time in Nederland. A few other activities include:
  • Driving the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway for sunset
  • Visit the Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center and learn about the local habitat
  • Have a picnic at the Barker Meadows Reservoir.

Where to Eat

Ready to satisfy that hiker hunger? These Nederland eateries offer up great grub for that post-adventure meal.
  • Crosscut Pizzeria and Taphouse. Grab a slice (or a whole pie) and your favorite local brew after a day on the trail. Traditional Italian-style pizza featuring deliciously fresh ingredients.
  • New Moon Bakery and Cafe. For the perfect breakfast sandwich or your favorite pastry, head to New Moon for a daily dose of fresh eats.
  • The Train Cars Coffee and Yogurt. Pick up a hot beverage and hang out inside of an old train car at this funky coffee house. PS, the mini donuts are a local favorite!

For an authentic Colorado mountain town experience, plan to spend some time in Nederland, Colorado this summer.

About the Author: Meg Atteberry

Meg ditched the 9-5 world as an architect in pursuit of adventure. Now a freelance writer for the outdoor industry, she’s made it her life’s work to inspire others to say “yes” to adventure. From the remote wilderness areas of Colorado, to exploring a foreign country, Meg specializes in off-beat destinations for the intrepid soul. You can find her in the backcountry searching for the perfect camp spot in her home of Colorado.