Travel Journal

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Exploring the World...our way

We don't just travel, we explore

 

- Vien & Hermann

  • Vien R. Guenther

Staunton State Park – Jefferson County, Colorado

Updated: May 25

Staunton State Park is one of the the newest state parks in Colorado, opened on May 18, 2013. The park is still in the developing phase today, so every time we come here there is something new. This is a beautiful park that offers something for everyone who seeks outdoor activities - hiking, climbing, biking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, bird watching and wildlife viewing. We’ve been hiking here since it was first opened, sometimes twice or even three times a year. Here, you can find some of the best views in Colorado without going up to the high mountains.

Black Mountain, Staunton State Park

THE PARK

When exploring this park, you will find many remnants left behind of what was once a ranch, homestead and a sawmill operation. Staunton Ranch, owned by Rachel and Archibald Staunton in the late 20th century, was gifted to Colorado State Parks in 1986 by their daughter, Frances H. Staunton. Frances protected and preserved the ranch throughout her life to have it developed as a park someday. She got her wish, Staunton ranch is the heart of Staunton State Park today.


In later years, the park purchased more parcels of land such as Elk Falls Ranch, Davis Ranch and the Chase property. Added to that is the land donated by Allen Dines, former Colorado State Senator and Representative. Today, the park covers 3,918 acres with elevations that range from 8,100 to almost 10,000 feet.

View along Staunton Ranch Trail

Staunton Ranch Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Staunton Ranch-Rural Historic Landscape. The park has plenty of parking spaces with charging stations for electric cars near the Visitor Center. There are picnic shelters and picnic areas with BBQ grills, as well tent camping sites. The open pit toilets are clean! If you have plans for an outdoor wedding , check the Marmot Burrow Amphitheater.


TO GET HERE


To Staunton State Park from Downtown Denver is about 47 minute-drive (40 miles) via US Highway 285 South, the fastest route. Take US-6 West and CO-470 East to US-285 South in Jefferson County. Then take exit 5A from CO-470 East and follow US Highway 285 South. Turn right to South Elk Creek Road/83 to Staunton State Park.


-HIKING TRAILS-


We have hiked all the trails in the park except West Meadow Trail. Trails here interconnected and most are multi-use, but some are designated for hikers only - the trail signs/junctions will tell you which ones to take. Depending on your hiking capabilities you can choose your own combinations. Take a map with you, it’s free! It will be useful in case you decide to take on a more challenging and longer hike.


Hermann and I usually follow a loop using a combination of trails, which means longer hikes but that’s what it takes to get to some of the best parts of the park. We vary our hikes, taking combinations of trails to all the overlooks, which can be as long as twelve miles at the most. Of course, you can make it longer if that is not enough for you. Don’t know where to start? Staunton Ranch Trail is pretty much in the middle of the park. Taking this trail will take you to various other trails and overlooks in the park, also to the Historic Cabins Trail. However, getting to the three overlooks in the northeastern part of the park we take the Mason Creek Trail. Below are examples of the trails we like to hike in the park.


ELK FALLS POND & ELK FALLS OVERLOOK - 12 miles


From the western end of the Staunton Ranch Trail, follow the Bugling Elk Trail to Elk Falls Pond then to Lions Back Trail and to the Elk Falls Overlook. You can either end your hike by the pond or continue on. If you have a fishing license you can try your luck here.

Elk Falls Pond
Elk Falls Pond in Spring

From Elk Falls Pond to Elk Falls Overlook is about 1 mile. The view is wonderful there, a beautiful spot to have lunch and recharge before hiking back down. From here you will see Elk Falls below, but too far away to get a good view of it.


Once you are back at the pond, you have a choice of trails to take. If you want to make a loop hike, instead of hiking back to Bugling Trail take the Marmot Passage Trail and Scout Line Trail back to Staunton Ranch Trail.


TO ELK FALLS – 11-12 miles


When we first hiked in the park, the trail to Elk Falls was not yet constructed. We could see the falls from the Elk Falls Overlook, but is too far to appreciate it. Soon enough Elk Falls Trail was built and opened for hikers to get up close and personal with the falls.


To get here from Staunton Ranch Trail, we took the Bugling Elk Trail, passing Elk Falls Pond to Chimney Rock Trail. The Elk Falls Trail branches off from this and will take you over several switchbacks as it descends to the falls. The falls drop 100 feet into North Elk Creek. We first hiked here in Autumn, so the water was not as spectacular, but we imagined it in Spring. Needless to say we got to see it then. Photo and video below shows the difference.

Elk Falls in Autumn
Elk Falls in Spring

Elk Creek Falls is gushing with snow melt in spring. Any day is the best time to see this falls but for us, Spring is definitely the best time to hike here. Especially when we had the place to ourselves.




View of Lion's Head from the waterfall

CATAMOUNT OVERLOOK, PIKES PEAK OVERLOOK & EAGLE CLIFFS OVERLOOK – 8.5 miles


These overlooks are the newest ones and offer some of the best views you can get in the park as far as we are concerned. The new Bear Paw Trail takes you to these fine viewpoints and is rated moderate, but that also depends on your hiking skills. We began this hike at the main parking lot and followed the Mason Creek Trail about two miles to the Bear Paw Trail junction.


The Overlooks


We hiked her recently and we got lucky having all three overlooks to ourselves. Not a person in sight throughout so we took our time. Coming from the Mason Creek Trail the first overlook is the Catamount Overlook. The view is stunning enough but wait until you reach the other two. Most of the Bear Paw Trail was covered in snow, which may be why we saw nobody else on it.

View from Catamount Overlook

The Catamount and Pikes Peak Overlooks are close to each other. To get to the Eagle Cliffs Overlook, however, is about a mile beyond the other two. You would think you missed it after a while, but just keep following the trail downhill and look for the sign.

Pikes Peak Overlook
Pikes Peak Overlook

Among the three overlooks, the Eagle Cliffs Overlook has the best view. You will have a little scrambling on rocks to reach the top but it is doable for almost everyone.

View from Eagle Cliffs Overlook
Eagle Cliffs Overlook
Eagle Cliffs Overlook

Going back down from overlook, you continue on the Bear Paw Trail. You can either hike back to Mason Creek Trail the way you came or continue on to the Old Mill Trail which takes you back to the Staunton Ranch Trail, which take you back to your starting point to complete the loop. If you want an even longer hike, instead of the Old Mill Trail, take the Border Line Trail. Snow can linger here in Spring and some areas can be icy so take spikes with you.


On this trail you will find remnants of a Sawmill. Logs that was milled here was used for building cabins and other structures, as well as for railroads. What is left of the mill is a structure that collapsed in the 1970s and a 1919 Pierce Arrow car engine. Past the Mill Site you will be amazed at the many protruding rocks in this park. Look up and you will find climbers scaling to the top.


- THE PARK IN AUTUMN -


We like to come here in Autumn when Aspen trees change their leaves to a vivid gold. You don't even have to hike far, these aspen groves are found all along the Staunton Ranch Trail. You just have to time it right - their peak season is short and varies from year to year, depending on the weather conditions, though early October is a good time.