Elk Meadow Loop, Elk Meadow Park, Boulder - Denver - Golden - Fort Collins - Lyons, Colorado
Elk Meadow Loop - 3.5 miles
Elk Meadow Park
|Round-Trip Length:||3.5 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||7,628' - 8,097' (max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+469' net elevation gain (+582' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Elk Meadow Loop - 3.5 Miles Round-Trip
Elk Meadow Park spans an aggregate of historic homestead parcels that were first established in the late 1850s, and changed hands several times over the decades before acquisition by Jefferson County Open Space in 1975.
Elk Meadow Park covers 1140 acres of expansive meadows, ponderosa parks and montane forests at the foot of Bergen Peak. A well-maintained multiuse trail system offers routes of varying distance and difficulty through the meadows, foothills and up to the summit (9,708’).
Prior to European settlement the central Colorado foothills were a mosaic of open meadows and pinyon – ponderosa forests that supported large elk herds.
The grassland - ponderosa forest ecosystem is naturally maintained by low-intensity fires every 5-15 years that keep tree and shrub densities in check. Mature ponderosa bark can withstand such fires, while their cones need this heat to open and release seeds. Fire also rejuvenates soil and clears space for grazing and seasonal migrations.
Homesteading in the late 1800s ushered in decades of fire suppression, producing forests of unnatural densities susceptible to widespread, high-intensity fires from which they cannot always recover.
It's thought that only a few dozen trees once naturally occupied an acre of land, whereas today they can exceed thousands.
Through careful management, selective cutting and prescribed burns, Elk Meadow Park has successfully restored this ecosystem to a natural state. Elk now roam here year round, joined by deer, badger, bear and mountain lion.
The Sleepy S, Painters Pause, Founders, Meadow View and Elk Ridge trails form an easy 3.5 mile loop around the heart of the meadows. Hikers, runners and cyclists will enjoy mild grades, year-round utility and a great chance to see elk in their natural habitat.
The following description travels counter-clockwise on the Elk Meadow Loop:
From the trailhead on Lewis Ridge Road, veer right off the Sleepy S Trail to pick up the Painters Pause Trail. Painters Pause runs north to the Founders Trail (.45 miles : 7,655'), where you can divert a few steps to see an historical cabin.
The Founders Trail edges northwest across the meadow and bands of ponderosa to the Meadow View Trail (1.05 miles : 7,825').
The Meadow Trail turns south and undulates through intervals of mixed pine, aspen and open space between the meadow and lower slopes of Bergen Peak. This is a particularly good stretch to minimize your profile and look for wildlife.
You'll reach the Elk Ridge Trail at 2.45 miles (8,058'), and turn back down through the meadows to pick up the Sleepy S Trail (3.0 miles : 7,752'). The Sleepy S Trail returns to the trailhead on Lewis Ridge Road to complete the loop (3.55 miles : 7,628').
- N39 39.802 W105 21.535 — 0.0 miles : Elk Meadow Park Trailhead
- N39 40.120 W105 21.615 — .45 miles : Painters Pause - Founders Trail split
- N39 40.353 W105 22.151 — 1.05 miles : Founders Trail - Meadow View Trail split
- N39 40.270 W105 22.523 — 1.5 miles : Meadow View Trail - Too Long Trail split
- N39 39.958 W105 22.733 — 2.0 miles : Undulating travel on west side of meadow
- N39 39.776 W105 22.341 — 2.45 miles : Meadow View Trail - Elk Ridge Trail split
- N39 39.719 W105 21.866 — 3.0 miles : Elk Ridge Trail - Sleepy S Trail split
- Prior to European settlement, this land was used by the Utes, Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes for hunting and wood gathering. Logepole pine was particularly sought for supporting teepees and other structures.
- This is a popular multi-use trail network that sees heavy weekend traffic. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.
- Mild grades smoothed over from heavy bike use are ideal for runners, families and winter recreation.
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs must be leashed at all times.
- Camping is not permitted in Elk Meadow Park
Directions to Trailhead
The Elk Meadow Park Trailhead is located on Lewis Ridge Road, 4.6 miles from I-70 in Evergreen. From I-70, take the Evergreen Parkway exit (#252) and continue on Evergreen Parkway (Hwy 74) 4.6 miles to Lewis Ridge Road. Turn right on Lewis Ridge Road and veer right into the parking lot.
Jefferson County Open Space
700 Jefferson County Pkwy, #100
Golden, CO 80401 - 6018