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Elk Meadow Park

Elk Meadow Park is in Evergreen, Colorado, and is one of 37 parks in the Jefferson County Open Space system. The park has only one named mountain – Jenkins Peak, the highest and most prominent at 8,068 feet. Interestingly, this mountain is not the highest elevation in the park, nor does it have a trail to its summit. In fact, the peak sits in the middle of a closed area held as a conservation easement. No public access is allowed. So one might ask what the park offers in terms of recreational attributes. I can say from experience, plenty. But more about that later. Let’s just first offer some introductory information.

Jefferson County is the fourth most populous county in the state of Colorado. It lies just to the west of Denver and includes some of the city’s western suburbs. But most of the county is mountainous and encompasses a significant number of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The county’s Open Space system has 27 parks comprising 56,000 acres of preserved land with 261 miles of trails. A dedicated county sales tax provides funding for the creation and maintenance of these parks, and admission is free to all parks and to all visitors, county residents or not. Most of the parks are in the county’s mountainous areas. They are very popular, especially on weekends. All parks have visitor amenities including restrooms, information kiosks and adequate parking lots. Some have picnic areas, storm shelters and even campgrounds.

Elk Meadow Park, Colorado

Typical Open Space Trailside Storm Shelter

Elk Meadow Park consists of 1,658 acres and has almost 15 miles of trails (which also connect to more trails in other jurisdictions). It is bounded on the east by Evergreen Parkway (State Highway 74) and on the west by Denver Mountain Parks and Colorado Parks and Wildlife properties. It has two trailheads – one is on Stagecoach Boulevard (Stagecoach Trailhead), which forms the southern boundary of that portion of the park that is open to public access, and another is on Bergen Peak Drive just adjacent to Evergreen Parkway on the east side (Lewis Ridge Trailhead). Both trailheads offer plenty of parking and public restroom facilities. Most of the park is on rolling meadowlands on which large herds of elk can be found in late summer and early autumn – hence the park’s name. But there is also plenty of higher terrain reaching elevations of over 8,700 feet, which is accessible by means of some fine hiking trails. Most of the steeper terrain is covered by evergreen forests.

Elk Meadow Park, Colorado

Elk roam all over Evergreen and Elk Meadow Park

Recreation in (and around) Elk Meadow Park

Given that the park works in conjunction and cooperation with two other jurisdictions, the visitor will welcome the various recreational venues and opportunities he or she can find here. Since my wife and I lived for many years only 18 miles and less than 25 minutes from Elk Meadow Park, we were frequent visitors seeking recreation here, including in winter. When there is adequate snow, which can be hit-or-miss in this part of the foothills of the Rockies, the terrain in the meadows part of the park offers some fine and relatively gentle cross-country skiing. Those with more experience can certainly also follow the steeper trails into the higher terrain, as they are not extreme. Since all trails are multi-use, you are always likely to find mountain bikers as well as hikers. Equestrians make occasional appearances although in all the years I have hiked there, I have never seen a horse on the trail. The Bergen Peak Wildlife Area on the west side of the park permits seasonal hunting as well.

Elk Meadow Park, Colorado

Cross Country Skiing at Elk Meadow Park

Major Trails and Hiking Areas

Because of the three jurisdictions forming this delightful recreation area, hikers can get a great variety of hiking experiences starting at either of the two trailheads. Levels of difficulty can range from very easy to very strenuous. However, even the most strenuous trails are not technically difficult – just very long as we shall see.

Lewis Ridge Trailhead

Meadow View Trail - The longest trail entirely within Elk Meadow Park boundaries is the three-mile Meadow View Trail. In combination with the Painter’s Pause and the Sleepy S Trails, a nice and easy five-mile loop hike can be completed by almost anyone in reasonable condition. This hike will meander up and down as well as in and out of the forested areas. There are occasional benches along this route for convenient rest stops. This hike can be made longer or shorter by utilizing some of the other shorter trail segments available.

Pioneer Trail – This five-mile point-to-point trail connects Bergen Park (part of Denver Mountain Parks) just north of Elk Meadow Park to Evergreen Lake in the south. It passes through Elk Meadow Park and can be easily accessed at the Lewis Ridge Trailhead. If you want to hike to both ends of this trail and back to the trailhead, you will be walking about ten miles. There is also parking at both ends, although restroom facilities are only at the trailhead and at Bergen Park. Keep in mind that this trail follows adjacent to Evergreen Parkway, so you will have to deal with traffic noise. But the views toward the west and Bergen Peak (more about this later) are truly nice. Now, if you want to do this from the Lewis Ridge Trailhead, and you want to get a little more out of your hike, you should certainly consider adding the 1.4-mile walk around beautiful Evergreen Lake. The lake itself offers all kinds of recreation including paddling (we took our inflatable kayak), fishing, ice skating in winter, wildlife watching and the adjacent Evergreen Golf Course.

Elk Meadow Park, Colorado

Evergreen Lake, cleared for skating, Bergen Peak (c)

Stagecoach Trailhead

If you are interested in doing some more strenuous hiking, this is the trailhead where you would be more likely to start your hike (although what I will describe here can also be done from the Lewis Ridge Trailhead, the consequences being that you will make your hike even more strenuous due to more miles required). The big attraction here is Bergen Peak (elevation 9,705) – located in the Denver Mountain Parks property and much higher than anything in Elk Meadow Park. I have hiked to the top of this peak with its panoramic views many times. In the early years of doing this, I never even realized that the peak is not in Elk Meadow Park – the trail network is laid out seamlessly so that you get a continuous experience. There are two options for climbing (actually just hiking) Bergen Peak. Both options described here will cross Denver Mountain Parks and the Bergen Peak Wildlife Area. Both hikes can be extended at the lower elevations to include more trail miles for those in need of more punishment.

Bergen Peak, Elk Meadow Park, Colorado

Summit of Bergen Peak

Bergen Peak/Meadow View Trails – This route goes all the way to the top of Bergen Peak via a short segment on the Meadow View Trail. This is the shortest way to get to the peak and back – round-trip hike will be 9.5 miles and an elevation gain of 2,000 feet. Taking this route will require that you return the way you went up. While the trail is long, it is not steep thanks to about 30 switchbacks. Honestly, they can get a bit boring since they are mostly in the trees. The upside is that you will get plenty of shade from the sun. And of course, the summit is why you want to do this. Most hikers, after the final straight trail segment, will find themselves on a rocky and exposed shoulder of the mountain. It is a fine place to rest, have a sandwich, and enjoy the views – to the east is Evergreen and much of the western Denver metropolitan area. To the west you will get a great view of the only fourteener that can be seen from here – Mount Evans. In autumn, there are fine fall colors. But if you want to get to the true summit, you need to go into the trees above this spot and follow a short unmarked spur for only about a tenth of a mile to a nondescript point where there is a summit sign. Most hikers don’t bother to do this. But I do.

Mount Evans, Elk Meadow Park, Colorado

Mount Evans from Bergen Peak

Bergen Peak/Meadow View/ Too Long Trails – If you want a little more variety while attaining the same objective – to reach the summit of Bergen Peak – this slightly longer variation from the Stagecoach Trailhead is just right for you. It involves a large loop in the middle, sometimes called a keyhole loop. The loop can of course be done either clockwise or counterclockwise – I have done it both ways many times. Going up the same way we did above, there is nothing new except that the Bergen Peak Trail encounters a junction at just one mile from the summit. This is where the Too Long Trail (yes, it is called that for a reason) diverts to the north on its way to its junction with the Meadow View Trail way down below. You can opt to just do the loop and save yourself two miles of hiking. But you would miss the best part of the hike.

sighn, Elk Meadow Park, Colorado

From that trail junction you just follow the latter trail back to your starting point. This variation adds another 16 switchbacks to the overall length of the hike, which is about 10.5 miles round trip. Total elevation gain is about 100 feet more than the hike described above due to some additional uphill segments on the way down. See below one of my GPS tracks uploaded to the 3-D view in the PeakVisor app. This was a hike of over 11 miles starting at the Lewis Ridge Trailhead that I have done a number of times.

Elk Meadow Park, Colorado

Major Towns and Resorts

When you visit Elk Meadow Park, you may get the feeling of being “out in the country”. Well, you may be, but remember that this park is in the town of Evergreen, which is right at the edge of the urban area. Many people that live in Evergreen commute to work in Denver daily. Thus it should be obvious that this place is popular, especially on weekends and holidays. But I have hiked there many times (usually on weekdays) when I saw no more than a handful of other hikers. This is definitely a place where it is possible to find solitude at certain times. But let’s talk about nearby civilization.


Evergreen is definitely a “bedroom” community where people want the benefit of living in the mountains while still able to deal with going to work in the city every day. They are willing to make the extra drive (along with its associated higher costs) for enjoying the scenery and easier access to a variety of recreation. Other hiking areas nearby include Mount Falcon Park, Alderfer/Three Sisters Park, Lair o’ the Bear Park as well as several smaller county and town parks that all offer hiking trails. Evergreen has a population of around 9,000 inhabitants and sits at an average elevation of 7,220 feet. Being 2,000 feet higher than Denver gives the town a more moderate climate making hiking here more of a year-round activity – hiking in the lower foothills closer to Denver can be too hot in the summer for hikers that cannot tolerate heat on the trail (people like my wife and me). Winter can be quite cold and snow can last longer, but then the sun comes out, the temperatures go up and the snow melts quickly. This is not primarily a tourist town since most of it is residential with some commercial development, mostly along Evergreen Parkway. But there is one exception – the old historic part of town along Bear Creek Road just downstream from Evergreen Lake gets its fair share of visitors. This is called “downtown”. There are shops and boutiques, restaurants and bars. The Little Bear is the go-to place for locals, and by locals I mean people not only from Evergreen. I have heard that patrons come from all over the Denver metro area to partake of their offerings. But accommodations here are few and far between. For that, you generally have to go down into the developed areas. It is a nice place, however, if only for the scenery.

Elk Meadow Park, Colorado

Evergreen Lake

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