Elk Falls Overlook, Staunton State Park
Staunton Ranch > Scout Line > Marmot Passage > Lion's Back > Bugling Elk > Staunton Ranch Trails
- Date Hiked: June 7, 2014
- Distance: 11 mi (RT)
- Elevation Gain: 2,084ft
- Elevation Min/Max: 8,289 to 9,214ft
- Managing Agency: Colorado Division of Parks & Wildlife
Staunton State Park Trail Map
Elk Falls Overlook Trail Map (Google Maps)
Directions: From Denver, head south on Hwy 285 to Schaffer's Crossing just before Pine Junction. You'll see signs for Staunton State Park. Exit the highway and head north on S. Elk Creek Road, the park will be on the right.
Staunton State Park opened in 2013 and is a wonderful new hiking area in the Front Range. Elk Falls is the park's main attraction, yet it takes at least a 10 mile hike to get there and back. The effort is well worth it.
If you can, park at the upper parking lot next to the group picnic area, this will shave 1 mile off of your hike. Start out on the Staunton Ranch Trail as it meanders through evergreen and aspen forest. From the trail you'll be looking up to some of the park's many towering rock formations. Every now and then the forest will open up to views of Lion's Head (the thing that looks like a small Half Dome), the Kenosha Mountains, the Tarryall Mountains, and if the weather is clear, Pikes Peak way off in the distance.
After about 1.5 miles you'll come to a service road, this is the Staunton Ranch Trail for the next 2 miles, however, you should deviate from Staunton Ranch Trail onto the Scout Line Trail. The Scout Line Trail is amazing, strenuous, but amazing. First you descend to a creek among a lush dense forest. Then you'll gain altitude on a steep stretch but there are numerous rock outcroppings for rest stops. The views along this park of the trail, are fantastic. You get a great view of Black Mountain and the Staunton Rocks area. As you continue switchbacking, the trail will get rockier until you hit the high point of the trail. From here the trail follows steps and rocky ledges across the ridge. This part is a lot of fun to hike and the views to the south are tremendous, especially of the many rocky ridges that comprise this area of the park. After about 1.5 miles, you'll come to the junction with the Marmot Passage trail, bear left and follow the same ridgeline that you've been traversing. The views get rockier and the Lion's Head becomes your main focus. The Lion's Head is a stunning and iconic landscape feature, although it would be dwarfed in comparison, it really does remind me of Half Dome or El Capitan at Yosemite. Eventually, you start descending gradually until you finally reach Elk Falls Pond, 5 miles into the hike.
Elk Falls Pond is a serene setting, but don't stop here. Follow the Lion's Back Trail for another mile to the destination. This part of the trail should be stellar in the Fall. The trail follows an old service road through aspen forest, a very young aspen forest. In a few years this area will be a classic Fall aspen hike. After a mile you'll see a sign pointing to the Elk Falls Overlook. Climb a rocky section and before you know it you'll pop out on a rocky ridge right next to the Lion's Head. The view stretches out before you and is amazing. If you look carefully, you'll see the falls in the distance. This view point is really less about the falls and more about the landscape. Aside from seeing the whole park, you will be looking down into the Buffalo Creek/Hayman Fire/Lost Creek Wilderness Area. You'll see the Cathedral Spires, Scraggy Peak and Long Scraggy Peak, Raleigh Peak, the Castle, Buffalo Peak, Pike's Peak, and countless other landmarks. One of the best views you can get 45 minutes from Denver.
Your return trip takes you back via the direct route (if you so choose). From Elk Falls Pond, take the Bugling Elk Trail next to some rolling meadows and into the forest to a saddle. From here you follow the Staunton Ranch Trail all the way back to the parking lot. This part of the trail should be boring as you are just following an old service road, but that is far from the truth. The trail skirts the base of the Staunton Rocks area and the cliffs and towers are wonderful. By the time you arrive back at the trailhead, you've gone 11 miles with over 2,000ft of elevation gain from all the ups and downs.
It took the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife quite some time to open this park, but they did a magnificent job. The trails are easy to follow and well marked, there are no facilities past the parking area (which is scarce itself), and the grandeur of the landscape is preserved and showcased. I truly hope that they never open the service road to the public. Getting around takes a lot of effort but the park is all the better for it. I look forward to exploring every nook and cranny, it will take a life time, but what a life it will be.