The Peak-to-Peak Highway has been traveled since the early 1900s and is Colorado’s very first designated Scenic Byway. The highway skirts 55 miles of the Front Range’s foothill mountains along the scenic peaks between Estes Park and Central City.
The route begins as Highway 7 in Estes Park on the north end, and continues south as Highway 72 and then Highway 119. As you travel the Scenic Byway, you move through some of Colorado’s historic gold towns, including Allenspark, Ward, and Nederland.
The quaint and quirky town of Nederland is located about 30 minutes north of Central City in the Eldora Mountains at an elevation of 8200 feet. The town is renowned for its colorful locals and hosts numerous diversions and annual events that give visitors an idea of the unique nature of the little town.
Nederland was initially established as a trading post along a trade route used by the Ute Indians. In 1859, gold, silver, and tungsten mineral deposits were discovered in the Caribou gold district in the mountains west of Nederland, and the resulting “gold rush” brought people to the area in search of fortune.
In 1873, the Caribou Mine was sold to a Dutch mining company from the Netherlands, which brought the gold ore from the mine at 10,000 feet elevation down to the area now known as Nederland to process the ore out of the wind and deep snows found higher up. In 1874, the town was officially incorporated with the name of Nederland.
You can explore the town’s mining history at the Nederland Mining Museum, which showcases many of the tools used by the early miners. It will give you a great feel as to what daily life was like during the gold rush era.
It is also worth the detour up to the location of the old Caribou townsite if you have a road vehicle that can negotiate steep gravel roads with some washboard areas. The sweeping views of the Colorado high country provide a sense of the same wilderness that greeted the original gold rush miners.
The Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center is a non-profit nature center that hosts educational opportunities for kids of all ages (even the grown-up ones) and has two locations: one in downtown Nederland and the other at Mud Lake just a few minutes out of town.
Although there is still some modern mining in the area, Nederland is now known largely as a mountain town offering access to the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Eldora Mountain Resort ski area, and year-round outdoor recreation activities. Visit the Mud Lake or Caribou Ranch open space areas to enjoy the natural setting and spectacular scenery of the area.
Nederland has a rich history of famous musicians that contributed to the cultural fabric of the town. During the late 60s and early 70s, the Caribou Recording Studios (which burned down in the 1980s) hosted many notable musicians of the time, such as Neil Young, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, and Michael Jackson.
More recent musical residents of Nederland include Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, and Yonder Mountain String Band (to name a few). As part of the music scene, NedFest is a 3-day music festival that is typically held the last weekend of August and features a wide variety of music ranging from bluegrass to jazz, including many local musicians.
One of the town’s truly unique local events occurs during the first weekend in March. Nederland celebrates Frozen Dead Guy Days to honor the town’s notorious cryogenically frozen resident, Norwegian Bredo Morstøl, who has been in a state of cryopreservation in a Tuff Shed in Nederland since the 1990s.
The Carousel of Happiness is open during the summer season. This carousel is a throwback to the early 1900s when merry-go-rounds were common in America. There are now only a few hundred of the original wooden carousels left in the US. The Carousel of Happiness was created in 1910 and much of it has been restored to its original condition, featuring more than 50 hand-carved wooden animals. There is even a second story viewing balcony where you can observe the inner mechanical workings of the carousel.
The downtown area is filled with interesting shops, eateries, coffee houses, brewing companies, fortune tellers, and time-warps that hold endless surprises for all interests. Some local recommendations include Ned’s, Kathmandu Restaurant, New Moon Bakery, and Blue Owl Books. If you want to stay and explore, check out the dry campsites nearby at Kelly Dahl National Forest Campground, located just off Highway 119.