Apex Park is one of the most popular places to ride and hike in the Colorado Front Range, and until recently, lay somewhat dormant during winter when big dumps would envelope the trails in deep, impassible snow. Enter the fat bike, and the past three seasons seem to have maintained Apex’s popularity even when the mercury pointed to the negative and Old Man Winter howled through its canyons. What once was visited only by rogue riders on steel Surlys with flasks filled with whisky has seen an exponential jump in traffic that parallels the popularity of the fat bike.
Normally, an increase in trail traffic is somewhat unpalatable to most riders, but when the storms roll into central Colorado and the inches pile up, it is really nice to have more riders, more hikers, and more snowshoers packing down the trail, making it rideable and sustaining it even as temps start to rise after the front has moved through.
A common misconception is that Denver is a “cold” place for skiing and winter sports, when in reality, Denver and its front range counterparts stay relatively warm most of the year, seeing an average of 300 sunny days a year, often with temps in the 60s even in January and February, even when powder is hammering the Rockies.
Because of this, Apex can also be a fickle place to ride a fat bike (or any bike) during the winter. In the days immediately following a large winter storm, the trails get packed in by trail users and are pure bliss to ride if you are fortunate enough to have a fatty. However, there is a sweet spot, a short window if you will, to ride before temps climb again and start to turn the trails to ice. Then slush. Then mud. It’s fairly common to ride the east side of Apex park as mostly dry dirt, and descend the “gut,” or valley (the actual Apex trail) on snow or ice, or both. In short, Apex is certainly not a fat bike destination, but if you are lucky enough to be in town a couple of days after a storm hits, it can be some of the most fun you will ever have on a fat bike.
There several ways to ride Apex when the snow is perfect. My preferred way, however, is to take the east trails of Argos (0.6 miles) where it meets up with Pick n Sledge (PNS). This adds mileage, is a great warmup , and has fantastic views. As you make your way up PNS, the trail eventually splits, but keep right on PNS (0.8 miles) until it intersects Grubstake. Remain on PNS as you continue to climb Indian mountain, and take a rest at the overlook under the tree, which affords fantastic views of Golden, Coors Brewery, and parts of the Front Range stretching north to Boulder. You will have climbed a little over 1,000ft at this point, which is quite a workout when there is deeper snow.
Fortunately, the descent begins at the lookout, as you proceed west. The trail will intersect with Grubstake again, and if you want to add another 1.3 miles as a loop back to where you first saw it intersect, this is the place to do it, but keep in mind you will climb some parts of PNS twice. If you are in a hurry, as I usually am, take a left to descend down Sluicebox for 0.3 miles of technical switchbacky goodness, then take Hardscrabble, another 0.3 miles of rolling trail. Hardscrabble will intersect with Apex Trail, and you should proceed west, or right, on the trail, for a one-mile grunt of a climb.
No one in their right mind would put their body through this kind of suffering if there wasn’t some sort of reward, and in this case, the reward is a descent down a trail called “Enchanted Forrest.” Though it is not all downhill, and not overly enchanted, it is a 1.4-mile segment of some of the best trail you will ever ride, any time of year, as featured in this awesome video from Yeti (who incidentally is based a mile from this trailhead).
Enchanted is full of ups and downs, roots and streams, and a few rollers and jumps. Despite being between two affluent geographical swaths of suburbia, you feel pretty isolated and remote here, which is part of why Apex in general is so special. Not to mention it is common to encounter deer, elk, coyotes, mountain lions, and bear.
After you finish the Enchanted Forrest, you will again intersect the Apex Trail proper, which continues a 1.5-mile descent full of poop-eating grins and woot woots back to your vehicle. When dry, the trail is one of the chunkiest, technical trails in existence. In winter, however, after repeated snows, this shaded portion of the trail can be dolphin-smooth.
The main lot, which is now paved, offers restrooms and running water. Keep in mind that due to its popularity with trails users of all types, there exists what is known as an “odd day rule,” whereby mountain bikers can only use certain trails on odd days. Therefore, it is best to ride the route that I laid out on even-numbered days. Also, the riding season, as I mentioned, is variable, but ranges from late November to April. It all depends on the snow.
Below is a video of a perfect winter descent on the Apex Trail, packed in by users over several days, and “Zambonied,” as my friend puts it: