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The view of Evergreen Lake —All photos by Erin Skarda

First-Timer’s Guide: Evergreen

Come to this mountain enclave for the outdoor recreation, but stay for the friendly community vibe.

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Just a short jaunt from Denver, Evergreen is a world away from city life. Nestled at 7,200 feet, this quaint mountain town is famous for its outdoor recreation, but visitors shouldn’t rush back to a Mile High. From delicious restaurants to live music and unique shops, plus cozy places to stay, Evergreen is calling you to kick back, relax, and stay awhile. Here’s how to make the most of your trip.

The Odometer: 28.6 miles, one way

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Get Outside: From hiking to mountain biking and horseback riding, Evergreen offers recreational areas to suit any interest, all within a short drive from Denver. For an easy, scenic hike, we recommend Meadow View Trail, a 4.9-mile, family-friendly stroll in Elk Meadows Park—a sprawling 1,659-acre parcel named for the elk who can often be spotted grazing in the meadow (or perilously crossing Highway 74). If you’re looking for a hike that feels like a true destination, check out Maxwell Falls. This beautiful trail system (there are three routes to choose from) winds through Arapaho National Forest before arriving at the namesake falls. But watch your step: The rocks under the cascading water are slippery. Another option is the Evergreen Mountain Loop in the Alderfer/Three Sisters Park. This moderate, 5.2-mile (round-trip) trail climbs more than 1,000 feet in elevation, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of Mt. Evans from the top.

If Fido will be tagging along with you (and he should; Evergreen is very dog-friendly), make Elk Meadows Park’s off-leash area your first stop (pictured above). This five-acre puppy playground is the only Jefferson County-managed space where dogs can roam alongside their people without a leash, and offers more than three miles of hiking trails, as well as a large fenced-in play area.

Eat: After a hike at Elk Meadows, cross the highway and enjoy a hearty meal at Dandelions Café. This spot is located outside of Evergreen’s main drag, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less popular. Grab a spot on the small, shaded front patio if you can. If you’re by the lake, check out Lakeshore Café for breakfast or lunch. Expect traditional fare in a relaxed restaurant that feels like home. In town, opt for a meal at the rustic Wildflower Café (pictured above). From the wooden tables and stools out front, you can people watch and plan the rest of your afternoon. If you have pizza on the brain, check out Evergreen’s Beau Jo’s outpost (don’t skip the salad bar).

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For dinner, check out Willow Creek by the lake. This spot is a little more upscale, but the menu—including seasonal risottos, Rocky Mountain trout, and crisp salads—doesn’t disappoint. Outside of town, check out Bistro Colorado, lovingly dubbed BICO, which also has a traveling food truck. This farm-to-table restaurant has locally driven menus, and is perfect for special occasions.

Sip: So you’ve spent the whole day exploring, and now it’s time for a cold one. Stop by Lariat Lodge Brewing for a brew (try the ever-changing IPA or the summery Hiwan Hefeweizen—or better yet, order a flight). Grab a spot on their new, dog-friendly beer garden, and don’t resist trying just about any item from their recently updated food menu. If vino is your thing, stop by Creekside Cellars in the heart of town (pictured above). This award-winning winery (their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot were both winners at the 2015 Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup) offers tastes of five wines for $5. Order a glass of your favorite and take a seat on the patio overlooking the bubbling Bear Creek. (Tip: Ask for the rosé, which isn’t on the menu but is dry and delightful on a hot summer day.) Creekside harvests grapes from their own vineyard, Vinelands, in Palisade, Colo., so you know you’re getting a truly local treat.

If you’re looking for a nonalcoholic libation, head just outside of town to EverBean by the Lake. Order the Silver Delight, a coffee brewed especially for the EverBean—a mix of chocolate and caramel with a nutty finish. Grab a spot on the shaded patio, which is cool even on scorching days.

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Listen: One thing locals will tell you about Evergreen: It has a solid (and sometimes raucous) music scene. Little Bear Saloon and restaurant (pictured above) has been a town mainstay for more than 40 years, hosting such famed musicians as Neil Young and Gregg Allman. Bands from around the world still vie for the chance to perform in this authentic Western saloon, which hosts live music from Tuesday to Sunday. Stop by for a show, learn about the spot’s history (it was once a church, a dancehall, and a drugstore), grab some dinner, and imbibe. If you’re venturing to Evergreen on Thursday or Friday, stop by the Muddy Buck, a popular daytime coffee house that transforms into a nighttime music venue. On Thursdays, the place is packed with burgeoning musicians waiting to perform during their open mic night. On Fridays, they host a rotating schedule of live music. Best part? No cover.

Just a short walk away, revelers can catch more live music on the patio at Cactus Jack’s during their Creeskside Music Series, taking place between Memorial Day and Labor Day. During the winter months, the bands move inside, but the music plays on. Warning: During busy evenings, the service can be slow, but the scene is worth it.

Shop: Ladies will love Marmalade, a cute shop packed with eclectic, artisan-crafted jewelry and accessories. For a mix of home decor—think candles, vases, frames, pillows, and more—clothing, crafting (hello chalk paint!) and more, stop by Sisters & Co. (pictured above). For gifts for anyone in your family, swing by the family-owned Evergreen Crafters, where we found handmade walking sticks, moccasins, stationary, hats, baby gifts, and more.

Art collectors (and art lovers) will enjoy Evergreen’s diverse mix of galleries. Don’t miss Evergreen Fine Art, located just off Highway 74 as you drive into town. Here, visitors can peruse two floors of open galleries, with artwork from local and national artists, take a stroll through the peaceful sculpture garden, and gawk at distinctive fine jewelry pieces. In town, check out the ceramics at The Evergreen Gallery before strolling down to Stoneheart Gallery to check out their paintings, many with a Western tilt. We were especially taken by Evergreen-based artist Julianne Miller’s vibrant pastel paintings. You can also find Shadow Mountain Gallery, a business owned by 40 local artists, and Main Street Fine Art, hosted by the Evergreen Artists Association.

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Stay: Although Evergreen is only a short jaunt from Denver, there’s so much to do that you might as well stay awhile. Rent a homey cabin from The Cabins at Country Road. Or enjoy a bit of romance at The Highland Haven, which offers a range of accommodations, including suites, cottages, and even a “TreeHouse.” If you’re looking for a bed and breakfast experience, check out Bears Inn, just three miles south of Evergreen in the Marshdale community, or the dog-friendly Elk Run Bed & Breakfast.

If you do one thing… Take a stroll around Evergreen Lake Park. The 55-acre site includes easy hiking along the park’s 1.25-mile trail, complete with views of the surrounding mountains and neighboring golf course, as well as the historic Evergreen Lake House and the Evergreen Nature Center. The lake is stocked with trout, and year-round fishing is allowed. But during the hot summer months, you’ll want to get on the water. Visitors can rent stand-up paddleboards (pictured; $20 per hour for ages 9 and up), canoes and trikes ($10 per half hour), kayaks and paddleboats ($10–$12 per half hour), or even a sailboat ($25 for four hours; lessons or previous certifications required). Pack a picnic and make a day of it.

Erin Skarda, Digital Editor

Erin oversees the editorial strategy for 5280.com, manages multimedia projects, and writes and edits articles for the website.

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