Vien R. Guenther
Apex Park - Jefferson County, Colorado
Apex Park was once used as a toll road in the 1800's. Today, the park is popular for bikers, hikers and equestrians. So, if you want solitude this is not for you. This park has ten miles of trails with interconnecting variations to choose from. Although there are not many great views here, there are some nice trails with easy to moderate elevation gains. You will need spikes to hike here in winter since you will encounter icy spots, especially along Magic Mountain/Enchanted Forest, Apex trails.
Apex Park has 700 acres of land acquired by Jefferson County Open Space. The county acquired it through donation and several land purchases since 1974. You might not know it but this area was once a hub of activities. For thousands of years the foothills served as hunting grounds and winter camps for multiple native tribes. Later, miners on their way to California during the gold rush of 1849 decided to stay and mine in Colorado.
These miners however did not benefit from the land, but entrepreneurs saw the potential. They called it "Mining the Miners". In 1861, creating a toll road was one way to make money. Part of it ran through Apex and over Lookout Mountain.
The Apex Gulch was the path of the "Apex and Gregory Wagon Road", one of the most direct routes to the gold fields of Central City and Leadville. The recently closed Heritage Square near the main trailhead in the park was once a frontier settlement where tolls were collected from miners and suppliers.
You will find toll road signs at the beginning of the trail and by the small wooden bridge at the upper end of the Apex Trail. Take time to read it, if you haven't yet, and see how much they charged back then to use the road.
Hiking here, you will notice the trails have names reminiscent of the old mining era, such as the Sluice-box, Grubstake, Pick N' Sledge and Paydirt.
TO GET HERE
There are two trailheads you can go to, one is the Apex West/Enchanted Forest Trailhead on Lookout Mountain Road, and the other is by the Heritage Road with a much bigger parking lot. From Denver to Heritage/Apex Trailhead is about 20 minutes-drive. This is the shortest route following US-6 (W. 6th Avenue) then to US-40 (W. Colfax Avenue).
- THE TRAILS -
It's been a while since we hiked here and we found out that they changed the name of part of the Apex trail to Magic Mountain from the trailhead up to the turn-off to the Paydirt Trail. You might get confused if you look at Google Maps and find this stretch of the trail with a different name. When you hike here, just grab one of the park's free trail maps that can be found at the information kiosk by the parking lot.
We always begin our hike at the Heritage/Apex Trailhead. We follow the Magic Mountain, Enchanted Forest and Apex trails - the old toll road. You will hear the stream alongside this trail and in winter it can be icy.
Magic Mountain Trail then becomes the Enchanted Forest Trail, then at the top it connects to the Apex Trail. At the turn off (picture below) is Paydirt Trail, a short bypass, about 130 yards or so, connecting Magic Mountain Trail, Apex Trail and Hardscrabble trail. You can shorten your hike by taking this short trail, skipping Enchanted Forest and Apex Trail. There are plenty of options, it's up to you to choose which way to go. But it's worth following the Enchanted Forest Trail all the way to the top - it is the best hike in the park.
At the top, the Enchanted Forest Trail connects to the Apex Trail which you can take back down. Shortly after, you will find another toll sign by a small footbridge. Another cool thing to look out for when hiking here is wild animals. We usually see Mule deer when we go hiking in the foothills, but we rarely see elk, except during rut season. But on our recent hike we found a big herd of elk - so look around and you might get lucky.
Apex Park does not have much of a view to boast about, but once you reach the eastern side of the mountain you will see an open view of the valley, as far as the eye can see, even to downtown Denver and beyond.
There are now new rules to follow when hiking here. Affected trails are Enchanted Forest, Magic Mountain, Poco Calle, Rocker, Paydirt and Smelter. As of September 10, 2020, the odd calendar days are for hikers and equestrians only while even calendar days are for bikers only. That does not apply to the other trails in the park though. The county did this to manage the trail’s safety and conflicts among users.