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Children / Family Travel

Day Trip: Nederland Fun and the Carousel of Happiness

Day Trip: Nederland Fun and the Carousel of Happiness

“I’m going to ride the zebra!” yells one daughter from the back seat as we buckle in for our 30-minute drive to the Carousel of Happiness, just up the canyon in Nederland.

“I want the mermaid!” cries a smaller voice. “No, the gorilla!”

Such is the anticipation as we twist our way toward one of Colorado’s most whimsical, fantastical and affordable attractions.

The backstory of the Carousel of Happiness, which opened in 2010, is pretty well known by now — Scott Harrison, a Vietnam veteran from Nederland, obtained a classic carousel frame and motor, then spent 26 years carving 50 animals. The people of Nederland chipped in, raising $700,000 and creating a nonprofit volunteer organization to house and run the Carousel.

Four years later, the Carousel is celebrating passing the 250,000-visitor mark by adding six animals to the menagerie in the Carousel’s main room. They’re not for riding — rather, they are featured in “Somewhere Else,” an art piece conceived by Harrison and his friend, illustrator George Blevins. The work shows parts of creatures disappearing into and coming out of a mysterious membrane.

“The wall is a kind of portal, we think, maybe to a new dimension,” says Harrison. “Honestly, we haven’t been able to explain it. But certainly, magic is afoot.”

For a buck a ride, the Carousel of Happiness is hard to beat, whether I’m hosting visitors from out of town or killing half a day with my daughters. It’s only an hour’s drive from Denver, and you can combine a visit there with a drive along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, a hike at Brainard Lake National Recreation Area, or at the very least, a quick, cooling splash in Boulder Creek on the way down.

One friend takes her kids to the Carousel in Ned as an après-ski treat after a day at Eldora Mountain Resort. Someone else I know has a tradition that her daughter rides first by herself, then holds both her parents’ hands from the animals next to her. When Moises Gadea, my musician friend from Nicaragua, visited the carousel between concerts, he rode the dolphin. It was the first one he’d ever seen. Afterward, his smile bigger than my daughters’, he exclaimed, “I feel like I’m in a movie! The music box is fantastic!”

Today, however, I am not hosting visitors; it’s just me and my girls. Inside, I buy three rides for each of them, and we enter the round, cheerful, light-filled chamber; the brightly painted animals await our arrival. The 1913 Wurlitzer band organ starts to play, the smiles on the riders faces broaden, and I give a silly wave every time my girls pass. After their three rides (on a different animal each time, of course), we climb the stairs to the self-service puppet theater.

“I’m the lion! No, the monkey!”

They disappear backstage, then open the little curtains, and I sit back for a performance … while the Carousel of Happiness spins below.

Joshua Berman


Caribou Village Shopping Center, Colorado 72, Nederland, 303-258-3457, By bus, take RTD Route N.

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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