Length: 4.9 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Why we love it: Gentle gradients, vibrant forests, and a gorgeous meadow are the perfect combo for a serene (and family-friendly) stroll.
When to go: Any time of year, but its best during the fall for the pockets of autumn colors and elk mating calls.
Pre-hike buzz: Grab a coffee and some freshly baked bagels at The Bagelry in nearby Bergen Park.
Dogs: Must be leashed
Drive time from Denver: 33 minutes, 25.9 miles

This relaxing loop encircles the beautiful, grassy meadow for which Jeffco’s 1,657–acre Elk Meadow Park is named. This is the most likely spot in the county’s open space system to spot Rocky Mountain elk, the graceful brown animals with tan rumps that are best known for the males’ poignant autumn mating calls.

Elk thrive in mountain meadows, where they feast on plentiful wildflowers, grass, and tender willow buds. You get a great look at the fertile meadow, and the forested slopes rising behind it, as you leave the Lewis Ridge Road trailhead and wind west on the Sleepy “S” Trail. Just over a mile from the trailhead, the Sleepy “S” intersects the undulating Meadow View Trail, whose smooth, wide surface wanders through increasingly larger groves of trees. The more south-facing slopes are dotted with open, park-like stands of ponderosa pines, whereas the slopes that face a bit more east and north host denser pockets of forest, including Douglas fir, juniper, and aspen.

After passing the junction with the Bergen Peak Trail, the Meadow View Trail continues another couple of miles, gradually circling around the meadow’s western and northern sides, offering good views of the meadow and the beautiful mountain backdrop en route. As you hike, listen for the chirps of prairie dogs and pocket gophers, the calls of mountain bluebirds, and—in autumn—the haunting sound of elk bugling.

It is fortunate that there are any elk left in Colorado. Hunting once so severely depleted their once-plentiful numbers that by 1900, only a few hundred remained. In 1914, about four dozen elk captured in Montana were released around Estes Park, and the species has made a dramatic comeback. Colorado now hosts about 260,000, the largest elk population in any North American state or province.

As you near the northern end of the Meadow View Trail, the path gradually descends before bending east to join the mile-long Painters Pause, which passes an historic barn before completing the loop and returning you—all too soon—to the trailhead.

Getting there: From Denver drive west on I-70 to Exit 252 (CO 74). Head south on CO 74 for 2.25 miles to Lewis Ridge Road. Turn right here into the large, gravel parking lot.

Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.