hiking the hessie trail is one of the most popular things to do in nederland
Colorado,  Destinations,  Mountains US,  RV Travel

Top 15 Things to Do in Nederland: Our Favorite Colorado Hippie Town

Travel date August 2020

Nederland is a quaint mountain town about an hour from Denver that boasts a strong culture of music and art. It is a great weekend destination for those seeking cooler temperatures and a break from the city. Nearby outdoor recreation options are abundant. There are enough things to do in Nederland to fill many visits.

Where is Nederland?

Nederland is located 44 miles from Denver and is a popular day trip for city dwellers. The journey from Denver to Nederland takes an hour. Boulder is only 17 miles away from Nederland but you should expect the curvy Boulder Canyon Road to take half an hour. The drive from Boulder is scenic and offers roadside viewing of Boulder Falls.

Boulder is a great day trip from Nederland. Check out our upcoming Boulder post to learn how we spent a full Saturday exploring the best of Boulder on our bicycles.

History of Nederland

Nederland was first inhabited by the Ute and Arapahoe tribes. They used the mountain valley and river as a summer hunting and foraging grounds.

Hunters and fur trappers seeking beaver pelts discovered the valley in the early 1800s. The flat area with a good water source was very attractive to early settlers. White homesteaders gave the town a variety of names over time including Dayton, Brownsville, and Middle Boulder. The first post office was opened in 1871 in the town of Middle Boulder.

In 1871, the nearby Caribou Mine was purchased by Abel Breed. He decided to bring silver ore from Caribou Hill to Middle Boulder for milling in a warmer climate.

Also in 1871, the Boulder Canyon Road was completed from the town of Boulder. However, the first automobile didn’t make the difficult journey from Boulder to Nederland until 1910.

Mining in Nederland

In 1873, Abel Breed sold the Caribou Mine to the Netherlands Mining Company from Holland. Miners began calling the mine’s ore milling base as “the Netherlands”. Netherlands translates to “low lands”. The name is appropriate for the valley location compared to the mine’s Caribou location at 10,000 feet elevation. One year later when the town incorporated, the residents voted for the name Nederland.

As with most mining towns, the area suffered several booms and busts over the next century. First, silver brought miners but in later years tungsten attracted new business. Tungsten used in the manufacturing of steel was particularly critical during WW2. The town lost most of their residents after war time demand for tungsten declined.

The town experienced a population surge in the 1960s when hippies started moving to Nederland. The new residents created a vibrant music and art scene. The development of shopping and dining venues has been supported by both resident and tourism dollars. Since the 1960s surge, the town’s population has leveled out. Many current Nederland residents commute to jobs across the Front Range.

What is Nederland known for?

Nederland has a rich mining history but today Ned is known for being quirky. The small mountain town’s residents embrace their quirk. The town’s motto is “Keep Ned Weird”.

When exploring shops in town, I noticed most had new and used goods for sale. Many had unique handmade products and art.

The most famous news story from Nederland is super weird. A resident of the town made national headlines for keeping a dead body frozen in their backyard. It resulted in the creation of the annual Frozen Dead Guys Festival.

Top 15 Things to do in Nederland

In addition the weird stories, Nederland offers an abundance of things to do.

Check out the Frozen Dead Guy

Nederland is known for the frozen dead guy and it’s a weird story. National new reported on a resident who created a low-tech cryonic storage facility for human bodies in their backyard.

A Norwegian family living in Nederland decided to cryogenically store their grandfather’s body in the shed behind their house in the early 90s. They used dry ice to keep the body preserved. After being evicted for building violations (living without electricity and plumbing in an unfinished house), they contacted the press to share their story. They worried grandpa’s body would thaw out in the shed if they weren’t there. As you imagine, the story made the news headlines and several businesses stepped in to help. TuffSheds built a shed in the middle of downtown Nederland which houses a few bodies including grandpa and sponsors the annual Frozen Dead Guy Days celebration. It has become a tourism draw and we saw Frozen Dead Guy branded souvenirs around town.

Who is the Frozen Dead Guy?

In 1989, Bredo Morstoel died from a heart condition in Norway. Trygve Bauge, his grandson, brought “Grandpa Bredo” from Norway to the US shortly after he died. Tygve and his mother, Aud, decided to preserve grandpa’s body by keeping it frozen. They believe when science advances and a cure for his heart condition is discovered, they will be able to revive Grandpa.

Trygve began constructing a cryonics chamber at his home for his grandpa’s body. In the meantime, he stored the body in liquid nitrogen at a California cryonics facility. In 1993, Trygve moved his grandfather’s frozen body to his home in Nederland. He kept the body in cryonic suspension in a shed behind his house using steady supply of dry ice.

Frozen Dead Guy Needs a New Home

Trygve was deported from the US due to visa complications. His mother, Aud, continued to live in their house in Nederland with ‘Grandpa Bredo’ frozen in the backyard. The town became aware of code violations at the home and eventually evicted her. The violations were unrelated to the dead body storage. Aud was living in the house without running water or electricity which violated local ordinances.

After her eviction, Aud contacted the press to share the story. She worried grandpa’s body would thaw out in the shed if she wasn’t there. As you imagine, the story made the news headlines and several businesses stepped in to help. As publicity increased, the town’s people joined Aud to keep grandpa frozen.

Corporate sponsor TuffShed provided a new shed for ‘Grandpa Bredo’. The shed is an attraction in downtown Nederland. Tourists can visit the Frozen Dead Guy. Volunteers deliver more than 1,500 pounds of dry ice to keep the body frozen.

What is the Frozen Dead Guy Festival?

Seeing the commercial potential of the weird story, the town renamed their spring festival to the Frozen Dead Guys Days. The annual March festival includes a parade, dozens of live music acts, craft food vendors, craft brews and cocktails. Three large heated tents keep attendees warm while enjoying the festivities.

Trygve receives a portion of the proceeds of tours offered during the Frozen Dead Guys Festival. Popular festival activities include frozen turkey bowling, Tuff Shed Coffin races, frozen t-shirt contests, salmon toss and snowy beach volleyball.

tuff shed cryogenic mausoleum is a can't miss thing to do in nederland
By rickpawl – originally posted to Flickr as don’t ask – frozen dead guy days

Go for a hike

One of the most popular hikes near Nederland is the Hessie Trail. The 4.0-mile roundtrip Hessie Trail leads to the Lost Lake, an crystal clear alpine lake. It is a moderate trail that requires some elevation gain but is possible with kids. Trailhead parking fills up quickly and shuttle service from town is available during summer weekends. Check out our Hessie Trail to Lost Lake blog post for everything you need to plan your hike.

Other popular nearby hiking options are the Jasper Lake Trail and the Caribou Trail.

Jasper Lake is a 9.8-mile moderate hike to another alpine lake in the Roosevelt National Forest. The Caribou trail is a 4.0-mile easy loop trail through the popular Caribou Ranch Open Space. It offers wildflower and meadow views. To protect local wildlife populations, the trail may be closed in spring.

kara at lost lake after hiking from the hessie trail in nederland

Try some local brews

After hiking, we visited Knotted Root Brewing and I enjoyed a smoothie-style Berliner Weisse on their back patio. It was a creamy and smooth fruit-flavored beer. The beer oddly reminded me of a mimosa (fizzy and fruity). Their brewery is located a few minutes from downtown in a red barn-esque building. They have a large outdoor seating area in addition to limited indoor seating. This by far the best atmosphere of the three breweries in Nederland.

Busey Brews is located in downtown Nederland very close to the Frozen Dead Guy. It is a brewery and a smokehouse. We ate lunch here with a friend. It seemed they were more focused on their food than their beer. The service was a bit unorganized and we aren’t really sure what beers we actually drank. Of the three we ordered, they all had a sour element. I was happy since I ordered a Saison and expected a little sour. The other two guys were not expecting sour so they were a bit disappointed in the beers. The food was decent with veggie options. I recommend the mac and cheese but would probably skip the meats as they were just okay.

Finally, to round out our brewery tour of Nederland, we visited the 3rd and final brewery in town, Very Nice Brewing. Their beers are the most accessible in my opinion with a few solid flagship brews. They seemed to place less focus on the most recent trends and more attention on producing solid classics. Our favorites were the brown ale and Belgian Abbey Ale.

Very Nice is located in the only shopping center in town. It is near the Wild Bear Nature Center downtown location and the Carousel of Happiness. We enjoyed a sunny afternoon on their outdoor patio which shared space with the local grocery store parking lot. Nederland is a great location for people watching.

Support a local restaurant

For such a small town Nederland has several restaurants. If your budget allows supporting a local restaurant is a great thing to do in Nederland. We only ate out once in Ned but were surprised by the queues at most places during our visit. Plan ahead to arrive early if you tend to get hangry while waiting. A few of the more popular locations based on lines were Busey Brews and Smokehouse, Crosscut Pizzeria and Taproom and New Moon Bakery and Coffee.

Busey Brews and Smokehouse is a popular barbeque restaurant in downtown Nederland. I would recommend the mac & cheese.

Crosscut Pizzeria and Taproom had a line of people waiting for a table every time we drove by. We didn’t eat there but their woodfire scratch made pies have great online reviews.

New Moon Bakery and Coffee was also very busy during our visit. They offer beverages, baked goods and sandwiches via counter service.

Hit a bike trail

Kevin got to mountain bike on the extensive West Magnolia trail system. I was still early in my mountain biking experience and opted to skip these intermediate trails. He loved the ride. Additionally, we saw many other bikers riding the popular trails during our stay at West Magnolia dispersed camping

The West Magnolia trail system includes 8 miles of non-motorized singletrack trails and 8 miles of gravel roads that can be combined in many ways to create your perfect ride. This is one of the most popular trail systems in the Boulder Ranger District.

For even more trails, the West Magnolia trail system can be combined with those at the Front Range trailhead via a short section of Magnolia Road. The Front Range trail system offers 10 miles of non-motorized in addition to many unofficial social trails.

single track trail near nederland colorado

Find a free campsite to enjoy nature

Free camping is available in several locations on public lands around Nederland. The key is finding an open spot in this popular location. Learn from our rookie mistakes so you can enjoy free camping while exploring Nederland and its neverending supply of things to do. Based on our experience, iOverlander is the best free app for finding free campsites in Colorado.

We arrived in the Colorado Front Range area near Nederland around 1 pm mid-week thinking we’d pull right into a spot without any issues. Thinking back, I laugh at my naive self. Locals bring their tents and set them up days before the weekend to ‘save’ their campsite.

After hearing about our struggles to find a spot in Nederland, a Colorado friend recommended using the iOverlander app for boondocking spots. So far, I have noticed the ioverlander app includes several boondocking sites not listed on the other free campsite apps. We also use Campendium, FreeRoam and RVParky to find campsites. iOverlander includes service locations such as water fills, recycling dropoff locations, showers, and laundry.

Free Campsites Aren’t Always Easy

After a Google navigation mishap sending us up a very steep dirt road, we finally decided to park Pippi on BLM land overlooking the highway. To see a pic of Pippi and learn how she got her name, check out our About Us page. This roadside site was not an ideal spot due to no cellular coverage and road noise. At this point, we were worried if we’d find anything else. We wanted to ensure we had a place to stay while we explored in our tow car for a better spot.

We disconnected the car and spent the next 4 hours looking for a camping spot for the weekend. During our exploration, we found a few boondocking spots that were not in our Campendium app only because I happened to spot camping information signage from the highway. Unfortunately, all of the Pippi accessible sites were already occupied.

West Magnolia Dispersed Camping

We chatted with a single cyclist in a large campsite at the West Magnolia dispersed camping area. He was just passing thru with plans to leave at 7 am the following morning. The next morning, I woke up early at our roadside spot and took the car to West Magnolia to hold the site until Kevin arrived in Pippi. With this method, we were able to secure a nice site for our stay in Nederland.

West Magnolia is a dispersed National Forest area. The location is available in Google maps for driving directions. There are 22 designated campsites that are first come first served. They are scattered along National Forest Service Road 355 and its offshoots within one mile of the main paved road, CR 132W. Some of the roads are not accessible by larger or low clearance vehicles so be sure to scout before taking your RV down a route.

The number of ground squirrels and chipmunks inhabiting the tree stumps around Pippi was impressive. Kevin even saw a bull moose walk thru our site early-ish one morning while I was still inside getting dressed. I was very disappointed to miss him.

The Colorado wildfires did cause haziness for several days. However, the overall air quality was much better than we expected based on news reports.

chipmunk

A more positive tourist attraction than a frozen dead guy is the Carousel of Happiness. The carousel is primarily volunteer run. I would rank it as a can’t miss thing to do in Nederland. Even without any kids, we rode the carousel and loved it.

The story of human perseverance to make this unlikely carousel dream a reality is impressive. The hand carved wooden animals and Wurlitzer band organ are worth the $3 admission price. To read the story of the Carousel of Happiness and why it’s a can’t miss thing to do in Nederland, check out this blog.

  • Location: 620 Lakeview Dr. Unit 107 Nederland, CO 80466 (Caribou Village Shopping Center)
  • Admission: $3
carousel of happiness is an absolutely can't miss thing to do in nederland

Visit the Wild Bear Nature Center

The Wild Bear Nature Center is an education organization focused on mountain ecology. Their mission is to help “adults and children forge a lifelong connection to nature through creative exploration”. They offer an abundance of programs for all ages including summer camps.

If you would rather explore nature on your own, at the least check out their hands-on nature center in the town’s shopping center. Admission is free and kids of all ages will enjoy the live animal residents, maker space, and hands on displays. They have several educational displays and half an hour is more than enough time to visit the center.

  • Location: 620 Lakeview Dr. Unit 107 Nederland, CO 80466 (Caribou Village Shopping Center)
  • Admission: a few bucks for snack OR free to just wander around

Relax in a Train Car with a Treat

The Train Car Yogurt and Coffee Company is located next to the Carousel of Happiness. It is housed in 3 cars including a pullman, caboose and a circus car. The circus car toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

They offer sandwiches, soups, coffees, drinks and sweets. Sweet treats include housemade mini-donuts, milkshakes, frozen yogurt and smoothies. The donuts looked amazing but we chose beer over sweets while in Nederland.

  • Location: 101 CO-119, Nederland, CO 80466 (Caribou Village Shopping Center)
  • Admission: a few bucks for snack OR free to just wander around
train car cafe in nederland colorado
Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor user JoshB

Nederland Visitor Center

A great way to get information about a new location is to visit the visitor center when you arrive. If you aren’t sure which things are available to do during your visit, check out the Nederland Visitor Center. Seasonal closures are common in both winter and spring for wildlife and habitat protection so check at the visitor center for real-time updates before heading out into the wilderness. Visitor centers offer free brochures, maps and local insights.

  • Location: 45 W 1st St # 1, Nederland, CO 80466
  • Admission: FREE

Nederland Mining Museum

The Nederland Mining Museum is open weekends from 11am until 5pm. It is operated by the Boulder County Parks Department. Admission is free. The museum offers educational displays about the history of hard rock mining in Boulder County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Learn about the life of early miners that called the area home. Displays include antique mining equipment and an opportunity to try your hand at panning for gold.

  • Location: 200 N. Bridge Street Nederland, CO 80466
  • Admission: FREE
nederland mining museum

Drive the Peak to Peak Highway

The Peak to Peak Highway is Colorado’s oldest scenic byway. It was established in 1918.

The 3 hour drive runs from Estes Park, just outside the Rocky Mountain National Park, to I-70. The route passes through Nederland and can be enjoyed in smaller sections. It begins as CO Highway 7 in Estes Park, passes Lily Mountain and Twin Sisters, then turns south just past Allenspark on CO Highway 72, goes to Nederland where it continues south on CO Highway 119, through Blackhawk, through Clear Creek Canyon and down to I-70. 

Several old mines line Highway 72 and 119. Many weekend prospectors still search for gold flakes in the area creeks. Some of the old mines are open for those interested in trying gold panning without the equipment investment.

The drive passes through aspens groves. The bright yellow and orange aspen leaves are particularly gorgeous during the autumn leave changes.

 yellow aspen trees along roadside

Visit the Caribou Ghost Town

As described in the Mining in Nederland section above, Nederland’s early economy relied on silver mining in nearby Caribou. Over 3,000 people, mostly miners and their families, lived in Caribou at its peak in 1875. There was a church, a brewery, 3 saloons and even a town newspaper. The Caribou mining operations are no longer in operation but you can drive right up to the ghost town. Two stone ruins and one collapsed wooden cabin remain in Caribou.

  • Location: GPS 39°58′50″N 105°34′40″W
  • Admission: FREE

Shop Local

Nederland is an adorable town with several small shops offering unique handmade and vintage items. There are gift shops with Frozen Dead Guy t-shirts and shot glass if that’s your speed. But I recommend wandering through a few of the more unusual offerings like Alpaca Store & More, Alpine Botanicals and Blue Owl Books.

Additionally, I enjoyed wandering through several small shops in the Caribou Village Shopping Center while Kevin enjoyed a beer at Very Nice Brewing. Each shop had both pre-owned and new goods available.

Visit Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Golden Gate Canyon State Park is only 11 miles from Nederland. The park offers two established campgrounds and several hike in backcountry camping sites. Cabins and yurts are also available for those seeking more luxury.

19 miles of multi-use trails are open to leashed dogs, hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riding. Other popular park activities include hunting and fishing which require special permits. Backcountry rock climbing opportunities also exist for experienced climbers.

Check out our upcoming Golden Gate Canyon blog post for everything you need to know before you visit the park and to learn where we encountered moose in the park.

  • Location: 92 Crawford Gulch Rd, Golden, CO 80403
  • Admission: $10 day-use fee
golden gate canyon state park near nederland colorado

Is Nederland worth visiting?

Overwhelmingly YES, Nederland is worth visiting.

We love quirk and the Colorado town of Nederland has more than its share. Nederland is definitely worth visiting.

The town claims a full-time population of 1,500 residents. Summer tourism supports a good variety of restaurants, local breweries, and unique shops. The area attracts both day-trippers from nearby Denver and Boulder and overnight travelers and campers from further away.

Hiking and mountain biking trails attract most visitors to Nederland but those aren’t the only things to do. Make the trip to one of our favorite Colorado towns, Nederland, you won’t regret it.

moose

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