Nederland Area Driving Tours

Stanley Steamers were the first cars that brought tourists to the mountains over a century ago, and people have been driving through the mountains ever since. Silvia Pettem's Excursions from Peak to Peak (Boulder: TARP, 1997) captures the excitement and charm of early auto travel in our area. There are many interesting and beautiful sights to see as you drive through our area.

The route from Black Hawk and Central City to Estes Park has been designated the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway by the state of Colorado. The drive of less than two hours takes visitors through aspen and evergreen forests, small towns with a history of mining, state and national forest campgrounds, summer homes and modern conference centers, and dirt roads that wait to be explored.

Here are some suggestions for loop drives:

Boulder - Gold Hill - Nederland Loop See Map

  • Start in Boulder by driving west on Highway 119 (Canyon Boulevard).
  • Turn north on Four Mile Canyon Road a short distance from town.
  • Drive up the part paved, part graded dirt road to the historic mining town of Gold Hill.
  • Drive west to the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.
  • Drive south to Nederland.
  • Drive east down Boulder Canyon (Highway 119) to return to Boulder.

Along the way to you'll follow the route of the Switzerland Trail railroad; you'll pass several old mining camps, such as Orodell, Crisman, Salina, and Summerville; you'll see the oldest public school in continuous use in Boulder County (in Gold Hill); you'll pass by the site of the largest (at the time) tungsten mill in the world; you can relax with some retail therapy in Nederland; and on the way back to Boulder, stop for a short walk to Boulder Falls.

Denver - Golden - Central City - Nederland Loop See Map

  • Start in Denver.
  • Drive west on I-70 to US 40 and US 6 to Golden. Then drive west on US 6 about 12 miles to Highway 119 and north to the historic mining town of Central City, just a mile west of Black Hawk.
  • Return to the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway and drive 26 miles north to Nederland.
  • Drive down Boulder Canyon on Highway 119 to Boulder and on to Denver via US 36.

Along the way, you'll pass the headquarters of Coors Beer; you can visit the site of the ¾Richest Square Mile on Earth² (Central City), and contender for the site of the state capital; a side trip from Central City will take you to the ghost towns of Nevadaville and Russell Gulch; you can hike through the quiet trails in Golden Gate Canyon State Park; you might do some shopping or get a bite to eat in Nederland (stop by the Visitors Center for some suggestions); remember to stop at the Boulder Falls parking area eight miles east of Nederland for a short walk to the falls.

Boulder - Estes Park - Nederland Loop See Map

  • Start in Boulder and drive north on US 36 to Lyons and on to Estes Park.
  • Drive south on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway (Highway 7 and 72) to Nederland.
  • Drive down Boulder Canyon (Highway 119) to Boulder.

Along the way, you can see where most of the flagstone used in Colorado buildings is quarried; you can extend your stay in the Estes Park area by driving through Rocky Mountain National Park, either on the paved Trail Ridge Road or the well graded dirt Fall River Road, both of which lead to the park's Alpine Visitors Center; you'll have magnificent views of Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, and other peaks that make up the Continental Divide to the west; stop in Nederland for a snack and a gift for those left behind; and on the way to Boulder, stop for a short walk to Boulder Falls.

Boulder - Lyons - Nederland Loop See Map

  • Start in Boulder.
  • Drive north on US 36 to Lyons.
  • Go west on Highway 7 to Allenspark.
  • Head south from Allenspark on Highway 7 and 72 to Nederland.
  • Go east on Highway 119 to Boulder.

Along the way, you will pass by flagstone quarries and see where miners scratched and dug the earth for gold and tungsten; you can take a 5-mile side trip to view the crest of the Continental Divide reflected in the waters of Brainard Lake at 10,000' above sea level; you can have a good meal at one of Nederland's outstanding restaurants (or just a cup of great coffee at one of our coffee shops) to put the finishing touches on this 80-mile trip through Colorado's Front Range.

Catch Those Fall Colors

Autumn typically offers fantastic weather scattered with a few surprise snow showers. One of the most popular autumn activities is driving the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway and viewing the fall aspen colors. The best time is generally mid-September.

Here are some suggestions for viewing the changing aspen in the fall in the Peak to Peak area. We would like to emphasize the benefits of getting out on foot as often as possible. Please stop at the Nederland Visitors Center for free maps and specific directions to each of these areas.

The Switzerland Trail

This old railroad bed offered famous panoramas of mountain valleys and snow-covered peaks in the early 1900s. Today the road is accessible at several points. Unmaintained, it can be rough on the auto, but the gradual grade provides a perfect trail for leisurely hiking. The best place to access this narrow dirt road is about five miles from Highway 72 down the Gold Hill Road.

If you would like to take a short walk, leave from the parking area where the Gold Hill Road and the Switzerland Trail intersect. The first mile skirts aspen covered hillsides and leads to the Mount Alto picnic site.

Note: One can also pick up the Switzerland Trail at Sunset or by following the Glacier Lake Road east of the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, about four miles north of Nederland.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park See Map

This is a good time of the year to visit Golden Gate Canyon State Park, about 10 miles south of Nederland on Highway 119. Of special interest are:

  • The Panorama Point overlook is spectacular. To the west is a long sweep of the Continental Divide, and it looks down into the South Boulder Creek valley.
  • Raccoon Trail runs down from the overlook to the state park campground (about one mile). Campers might enjoy climbing up to the overlook by this trail.

Hessie and the Fourth of July Trailhead See Map

The paved road to Eldora is flanked by smaller aspen trees that shimmer and shake along the tumbling waters of Middle Boulder Creek. Drive slowly through the town of Eldora: kids, bicyclists, and pets are likely to cross the road any time.

Beyond Eldora, the road is rough and slow going, but well worth the trip. Three-quarters of a mile past the end of the pavement in Eldora, the road splits. The right fork heads five miles up to the Buckingham (Fourth of July) campground and is tunneled by tall aspen trees.

If you would prefer the left fork, you must choose to park along the side of the road and walk to the site of the old town of Hessie. Or, if your vehicle is worthy of the effort, you can drive the half mile through the rocky and flooded road to the town site. In either case, you end up at the Hessie trailhead (about half a mile from the fork in the road), and from there various trails will take you past waterfalls, rushing streams, and fields of aspens.

East Portal/Rollins Pass See Map

The East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel burrows its way into the mountain about eight miles west of Rollinsville. The drive down the dirt road along South Boulder Creek to the East Portal follows an ancient valley which spreads itself out before the peaks that rise to the Continental Divide. Along the way you pass Tolland, a community left over from mining's boom days, populated now by a few hardy souls who wish you would drive slower. The drive is spectacular, with its intermittent eruptions of shimmering gold and red, and watching a train emerge from the black hole in the mountain is a dramatic addition to a fall day.

The Rollins Pass Road, which begins just a few hundred yards from the Tunnel, is a favorite route for mountain bikers. If you have a 4 wheel drive or a high clearance vehicle, you might want to drive up the pass road. Be warned that it is narrow and often quite jarring to your car's shocks and tires, as well as passengers. You can't drive all the way over to Winter Park because the Needle's Eye Tunnel is closed from a rock slide just three miles from the summit. However, no matter how far you get, the views are thrilling and luminescent.


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