Why we love it: Evergreen has plenty of great trails, but this park is special. It's easily accessible, and they don't call it Elk Meadow Park for nothing: The town's resident herd uses this as a home base. They often cross the highway in this area, so drive with caution.
When to go: Right after a snowstorm.
When I lived in Evergreen, this open space park was my go-to for marathon training. You can put together endless combinations of trails for a new route every time. Since the vast majority of Painters Pause is completely exposed to the elements, I like this trek for cold-weather hiking—it's much too hot in the summer. After a big storm, the wide open spaces of the alpine meadow are perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
From the parking lot, head east on Sleepy "S" Trail about 500 feet until it intersects with Painters Pause. Go left. After cresting the first small hill, the trail opens up into a nice, wide gravel path. Keep right on Painters Pause, which, with its gradual climb, runs parallel to Evergreen Parkway. About a mile in, you can turn around, head toward the forest on Meadow View Trail, or—for about twice the distance—stay on Painters Pause. You'll see a small cluster of pines on a hill at the far right of the meadow. That's where you're headed.
The next stretch of trail has small rolling hills, and fantastic views of Evergreen. After you crest the hill on the other side of the pine cluster, head south, and circle back around. There's an old sawhorse at the 2-mile point. You can't tell when there's snow on the ground, but here, the trail opens up into truck tracks—very nice during mountain biking season.
At the 2.7-mile mark, Painters Pause intersects with Meadow View. Head right on Meadow View and skirt the forest's edge. A quarter-mile later, go left on Founders Trail, which cuts diagonally through the meadow. You'll be able to see the parking lot in the distance. There's a scenic overlook (with a great view of Bergen Peak) and a memory bench in this section, named after Carol Karlin—a pioneering conservationist who spearheaded the Jefferson County Open Space project. Stop here for a water break and a moment of reflection. Without Karlin, you probably wouldn't be standing here.
Follow Founders back to Painters Pause and go right. This will bring you back to your car.
Getting there: Take Highway 6 West to I-70 West. Take exit 252 (Highway 74/Evergreen Parkway). Drive five miles; turn left on Lewis Ridge Rd. Take the first right into Elk Meadow Park.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock