Get Outside! Hiking Elk Meadow

An After-Work Hike Through Forest, Meadow

Basics: Distance: 3.6 miles, you can add much more Elevation gain/loss: about 570 feetLocation: Near Evergreen (directions below) Trailhead: sign, maps, bathroom and trash can Fee: none Dogs: Allowed on leash Hiking partners: Danielle and her son Reese (5 months)

I'm always looking for good hiking spots to hit after work. I don't get off work until 5:30 p.m., in downtown Denver, and I prefer to be finished with the hike by sunset.

Danielle and I decided to try Elk Meadow Park or Three Sisters in Evergreen. We originally thought Three Sisters would be our destination, but I didn't bring good directions. We spotted Elk Meadow Park on Highway 74 and decided it would work. We really wanted to climb Bergen Peak (9,708), but it's more than 9 miles roundtrip. There just wasn't time for that.

We set out from the parking lot with a trail map, figuring we could find a loop. (Note: there are three parking lots, we parked just off Highway 74.) A short distance from the parking area, we found our first trail split. The Sleepy "S" Trail goes west and east. We decided to go west because it went up. I like starting with up.

As we hiked along, I started getting concerned. Highway 74 runs along the east side of the park and there was a lot of traffic. I prefer hikes with some solitude, trees, peace and quiet, but we continued on. Hiking through a forested area

At the split between Sleepy "S" and Elk Ridge we took Elk Ridge. This trail is not easy. It climbs. The park description says the average grade here is 14 percent. It was hard to talk and breath, but we managed to do both.

By the time we hit our next trail split, the hike was improving. At the Meadow Ridge trail split you can go north or south. South takes you towards the Bergen Peak trail, we chose to go north. Good choice. This trail winds through a thick forest area. This is my kind of hiking trail. It was peaceful, quiet and at one point I saw something behind a tree. I made Danielle stop and look and asked "Do you think it's real?"

It was real.

It was a bull elk -- a rather large bull elk with a pretty impressive set of antlers. He was just a few feet off the trail. He decided to take a walk through the trees, across the trail and up the hill. I stopped some runners behind us so they wouldn't collide with the elk on the trail up ahead. I didn't get any great pictures of the elk, but my mind sure did. Danielle pointed out the park is called "Elk Meadow." One of my hiking books mentions to be on the lookout for wildlife in this section of the trail. I guess I should have read the book before I went.We actually spotted an elk in the trees at Elk Meadow Park

After our elk headed up the hill, we went on. We encountered a few bikers along the trail, everyone was polite and shared the trail well. At the "Too Long" trail split, we stayed on Meadow View and soon found out why the trail is called Meadow View. We hiked out of the forest and back to the meadow view.

That's when we noticed the dark clouds had moved in. We decided to play it safe and took the Founder's Trail cutoff towards the parking lot. Good choice. By the time we got back to the Sleepy S trail, it was starting to rain and we saw some lightning. We managed to make it back to the car just before the rain started pouring. View of Bergen Peak

Along the trail we saw several signs that talked about the importance of fire and prescribed burns. There was also a big barn along the trail near Highway 74. Jefferson County's Web site said the barn is evidence of the ranching history in the park. The area was homesteaded in the 1800's. From 1905 to 1977, various ranchers bought up the land as cattle pasture. In 1977, Jefferson County Open Space began purchasing the the land.

Along the Founders Trail, there is also an overlook with benches. It's not what I think of as an "overlook", but it does have a nice view of the meadow and the peaks. There are also descriptive signs. Because of the approaching storm, we didn't stop.

This park has a nice mixture of meadow, forest, wildlife, history and trails. I'll be back someday to climb Bergen Peak.

While Evergreen may seem a bit far from Denver, Bergen Park is only about 13 miles from C470 and I-70.

Directions: From downtown Denver, we took 6th Avenue to I-70 West. Take exit 252, Highway 74. Drive past the Walmart and gas stations here. Drive past the signs for Bergen Park, there are two or three of them. Watch for the sign that says "Elk Meadow Park" on the right. Turn right on Lewis Ridge Road, it will lead you into the parking lot. (If you're climbing Bergen Peak, you'll want to take Highway 74 to Stagecoach Blvd and turn right)

I appreciate your comments, questions and hiking trail suggestions. I'm especially looking for after work hiking ideas, preferably trails that can be hiked in about 90 to 105 minutes. Just email me at: deb_stanley@kmgh.com.

Previous hiking reports:(lower elevation hikes have a star) Boulder: Caribou Ranch*, Mallory Cave*, Marshall Mesa,Heil Valley Ranch* Forsythe Canyon*, South Boulder Peak*, The Boulder Flatirons*, Walker Ranch*, Bear Peak*, Rabbit Mountain*, Bald Mountain*, Betasso Preserve*, Wonderland Lake* Golden area: Forgotten Valley, Chimney Gulch*, Apex Park* Jefferson County: Mt. Falcon* I-70 area: Herman Gulch, Chicago Lakes, Chief Mountain Rocky Mountain National Park: Granite Falls, Twin Sisters, Bierstadt Lake, Chasm Lake, Lulu City & Little Yellowstone, The Loch, Andrew's Glacier, Sandbeach Lake Indian Peaks/James Peak Wilderness: King, Bob & Betty Lakes, Forest Lakes, Arapaho Lakes, Mitchell & Blue Lakes, James Peak Area, Heart Lake Northern Colorado: Homestead Meadows, Devil's Backbone*, Lake Agnes Summit & Eagle Counties: Booth Falls, Missouri Lakes, Mohawk Lakes & Continental Falls Grand County: St Louis Lake, Waterfall At Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby Ranch Other: Exploring Fulford Cave, Our Favorite Hikes, Our Favorite Bike Rides