Apex Park in Golden is a great place to hike in the winter. It offers more than eight miles of trails close to town with some forested areas that make you feel like you are not in the city.
The trails start near Heritage Square close to Colfax Avenue, Highway 6, C-470 and I-70 (directions below). At the trailhead, there is a large parking lot, an information board with maps and a porta-a-potty.
To get to the trails, hike up the damaged blacktop path west of the information board, under the trees. The path goes past the upper parking lot of Heritage Square and over a bridge. Turn left/west on a path marked Apex Trail. The trail heads west to the foothills.
Less than a half mile from the parking lot is the first trail split. This is why you'll want a map. There are lots of trail splits/options at Apex Park. That means, depending on how you feel during your hike, you are can easily make a turn and get more mileage, or make a turn and head back to the parking lot.
The first trail split is for the Apex and Argos trails. In the late afternoons, I like to hike up the Apex Trail and down the Argos Trail, so continue up the Apex Valley. And I mean up -- this is where the trail begins to gain some elevation.
A short distance up the Apex Trail, visitors come to a sign explaining the history of Apex Park. In 1861, this valley was part of a the "Apex and Gregory Wagon Road." That's a fancy name for a toll road. It was a supply route to the towns of Gregory and Russell -- later known as Central City and Black Hawk. When the railroads opened lines in the area in the 1870s and the Mount Vernon Toll Road was made free in 1880, the Apex and Gregory Wagon Road faded away.
As you hike the rocky trail, imagine trying to drive a wagon up here with a herd of sheep.
Also as you walk, look down at the creek below. In the winter, with the vegetation gone, it's easier to see the creek. If the winter is cold enough, you may even see some of the designs created as the water freezes in the creekbed.
About 0.7 miles from the trailhead is the second trail split, this is the Pick N' Sledge Trail. Continue up the valley another 0.7 miles to the Sluicebox Trail.
Depending on how much snow has fallen, you'll need your traction devices in this section. Because the valley is so narrow, it doesn't get a lot of sun in this area, so the ice tends to stay here, even when the other trails have melted.
If you're tired when you reach Sluicebox, that's because you've climbed about 600 feet in elevation gain. You can continue up the valley to the Enchanted Forest. However, for this hike, it's time for the big climb up the hill.
The Sluicebox Trail is a series of switchbacks that will take your breath away. You'll climb almost 200 feet in a quarter mile to the Hardscrabble turnoff, then another 150 feet in the next quarter mile or so to the Pick N Sledge turnoff. Yes, we're back to Pick N' Sledge. This is the western end of the trail. Turn here and head up the hill. There's just a little more elevation gain, before you drop down on the front side of the park and get your first view of the metro area. If you hike here in the evening, this is a beautiful view as the lights of the city begin to turn on.
The now narrow trail winds across a plateau of sorts, through some trees and begins to seriously drop down the mountain. When you come to the Grubstake Trail, turn right and stay on Pick N' Sledge. Part way down, I like to turn left and take Argos Trail back down to the bottom. The Argos Trail is a series of switchbacks on the front side of the mountain, but it's not very rocky, making it easier for the descent, especially in the dark.
At the bottom of the hill, take the Apex Trail back to the parking lot.
Details: The Apex to Sluicebox to Pick N' Sledge to Argos to Apex loop is about 4.6 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From 6th Avenue/I-70/C470, take I-70 West to exit 259, Morrison. Turn right. Drive 1.1 miles to the small Heritage Road (not Heritage Square), turn left. As you come around that first turn, take a quick left onto an unsigned paved road to the parking lot. (If you see Kimball or Berthoud streets, you've gone too far. Turn around, there is a sign for Apex park in the other direction.)