(Note: This is a contemplative hike you can do on any trail or park near your home. I did this one in Evergreen, Colorado at the Elk Meadows Open Space Park.)
Directions: From Interstate 70 (east or west) take the Evergreen Parkway exit. Go west on Stagecoach Blvd. to the Elk Meadows open space parking lot on the north side of the road.
Duration: 90 minutes–3 hours
Route: Proceed west directly behind the trailhead sign to Meadow View trail. Turn left on the Bergen Peak trail and walk as far as you want before turning back.
Access Notes: Dogs are allowed on a leash. This hike is moderately strenuous at the point where you turn onto the Bergen Peak trail because it is a steady uphill walk up. The trail is gravel with occasional rocks, roots and small boulders to step over. In the winter the trail is likely to be snow packed or icy, so be sure to bring snowshoes or YakTrax. It’s mostly shady the entire hike, which keeps this trail cool year-round. There is some road noise at first from Stagecoach Blvd., but that gets muffled as your make your way north and into the trees.
In his book, “thanks!”, Dr. Robert A. Emmons details research that shows that people who took time to list the things for which they’re grateful every day for a period of 10 weeks experienced 25% more of a feeling of happiness than a different group that focused on hassles or events.
In other words, if you want to feel happier next month than you do today, make it a habit to be thankful for all the blessings in your life.
A daily affirmation of gratitude can put you in a positive mindset for the entire day, in my opinion. I also think that having an attitude of gratefulness for what you have, even if it isn’t quite everything you dream of, can actually get you more of what you really want than constantly complaining about feeling deprived. It’s the Law of Attraction—you attract more of what you want by focusing on the positive and following the energy of gratitude and optimism.
This hike is a way to boost your energy and mood by focusing on the things in your life that make you feel thankful and appreciative.
As you begin the hike, you’ll pass the trailhead sign and shortly past that is a small bridge. Stop before you cross the bridge and think of your intention for the hike. If you want to, voice your intention out loud. Then imagine the small bridge as your threshold between the profane space and the sacred space of your contemplative hike.
Walk in silence (if you’re with others) along the Meadow View trail, which winds its way around the mountain to the north, at which point it gets encased in shadow and trees. This is a nice hike to do when it’s hot in the city in the summer. In the winter, the shade keeps the snow from melting even when temperatures spike into the 40s and 50s around Denver. On a weekday, you will probably encounter a few hikers on the path, some with dogs, and even a few bicyclists (probably fewer in the winter).
Knowing that this is called a “gratitude hike” you’ll probably start thinking of things you’re grateful for as you walk through the woods. Resist doing this as much as you can until you reach the point where you’d like to turn around and head back. That way, you’ll be mindful of everything that you’re seeing and hearing along the trail instead of being lost in thought. Try to open up your vision to the slope of the trail, the way the trees look, and any animal sightings or calls.
Hike along the Meadow View trail until you get to the Bergen Peak trail and follow that trail to the left and up the mountain. The trail will switchback several times before you get to the top, and at that point you will be able to see a view of Evergreen, all the way down the foothills to the plains, if it’s clear enough that day.
When you’re ready to call it a half-way point and turn around, find a spot to either stand or sit for 15-30 minutes. Take a water and snack break.
(If you’re alone) Find a spot where you can look out toward a direction that feels peaceful and soothing—either into the woods or looking east onto the meadow and the town of Evergreen below. Take several deep breaths and a few moments to transition from the active, body-focused task of walking to a more internal, restful and reflective state.
Answer these questions. Take time in between statements to absorb what you just wrote. Don’t rush it. Let each one settle in. If you prefer, speak your answers.
Take notice of any birds or animals while you are doing this activity. Do they play a role in your life on this day, too?
What are you most grateful for in this moment?
What are you grateful for in your life?
(If you’re with a friend or group) Take turns saying what you’re grateful for in the moment and in your life. Don’t judge anyone’s answers and resist the urge to say, “me too.” Acknowledge everyone’s statement with a nod. Be sure to count to five between each person’s proclamation, so everyone feels acknowledged and heard, not rushed.
The activity can end when no one has anything more to say (and it can go on for a while, depending on the size of the group and everyone’s mood).
Before you return to the parking lot, offer gratitude to the mountain and forest for all your insights and mindfully step back over the small bridge threshold.