Staunton State Park may not have the name recognition of, say, Rocky Mountain National Park, but this little-known state park in the heart of Colorado offers classic mountain scenery alongside a handful of the state’s most serene hiking trails. Since visiting, the park has become a favorite of mine to recommend to fellow hiking enthusiasts, and here’s why:
The Rocky Mountains are spectacular and Estes Park makes for a beautiful homes base while exploring – but the beloved hamlet is packed with tourists year-round. In fact, Denver, Estes Park, and other hot hiking spots across Colorado can become so crowded during the summer that gates close and parking lots fill up before even eleven in the morning. Due to the influx of tourists with a sense of adventure and an outdoor-oriented local culture, it can be hard to find a quiet spot in the greater Denver area. Staunton State Park is an exception, even when I visited on a sunny Saturday morning in mid-August.
Even though the park is new, there are still plenty of trails and routes for those of all abilities. The most popular, however, takes hikers to the Elk Falls Overlook – a whopping 10.8-mile round trip.
Did I know the length of the hike before heading out to the park? Yes. Did I tell Kevin? Nope. The two of us typically enjoy shorter but more strenuous hikes, and Staunton State Park’s collection of trails are largely flat and certainly offer challenges to one’s determination and endurance.
Also, I will work hard for a waterfall. I’ve forced Kevin to drive hours out of our way to see waterfalls across Europe and North America, and my obsession shows no sign of subsiding. When I visited Staunton, I hadn’t seen a waterfall in over a month, and I was in need of a fix.
There is no direct trail leading to Elk Falls Overlook, the only spot in the park from which to view the waterfall. Instead, hikers can combine trails to build their own route. I selected the traditional (and shortest) route: Staunton Ranch to Bugling Elk to Lion’s Back. Luckily, each of these three trails were well-maintained and clearly marked. The scenery? Spectacular. Classic Colorado rock formations jutting out of the Earth towards a beautiful blue sky alongside crisply scented Alpine trees. Obviously, I love parks with endless photography opportunities.
Before moving to Colorado in June 2016, I visited the Rockies with my parents when I was in my early teens, and one of the standout memories for me is driving along the national park’s roads and stopping to see marmots, these cute furry animals that look like a cross between a squirrel and a prairie dog. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch a glimpse of any marmots while at Staunton, but this sign reminded me of my first Colorado experience:
After 5.4 miles of hiking under bright sunshine and fluffy white clouds, we reached the Elk Falls Overlook just as storm clouds came in and dumped rain on us.
That’s right. We hiked nearly five and a half miles to reach an overlook only to be dampened by rain and chilled by a strong wind. In order to protect my beloved camera from the rain, I wasn’t able to take my usual one hundred and fifty photos per mountain summit. Sad, I know, but the view was still gorgeous:
At the overlook, I made a little friend who wandered surprisingly close to Kevin and I. I know, a regular ‘ol squirrel isn’t as exciting as a marmot (which, in the course of penning this article, I learned is actually a type of squirrel), but I couldn’t resist taking a photo:
Annnnd…guess what happened as soon as we left the overlook? About ten minutes after beginning our descent, the clouds cleared and the sun returned. Of course. I would suggest hikers check the weather before arriving at the park, but I looked at the forecast twice that morning only to see nothing but sun predicted for the rest of the day. How are we able to send data collecting robots to the surface of Mars but unable to accurately predict the weather? A mystery, I tell you.
While the hike may not be the most physically strenuous the Denver area has to offer, the average hiker heading towards Elk Falls Overlook will probably spend about four to five hours on the trails. Bring plenty of water and wear sturdy, durable shoes. As my visit proved, the weather can be finicky, so sunscreen and a light waterproof layer are recommended.
For more information, including a printable trail map, please visit the park’s official website here.
To see more photos from my visit to Staunton State Park, please check out my photography gallery here!