Outdoors: Hike in Staunton State Park

This is part of 5280's weekly Outdoors column, where every Tuesday we explore a part of the state for you.

August 2013

Why we love it: It's the new kid with a hundred-foot waterfall, granite cliffs, and lush meadows filled with wildflowers.

When to go: Whenever you need a daytrip (it's just 40 miles from downtown Denver).

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In our June issue, we told you about Colorado's new baby: For the first time in 27 years, we opened a new state park, Staunton State Park. Since then, we have had some time to get familiar with the terrain, which is the legacy of Frances Staunton, whose parents—both of whom were doctors—homesteaded the original 160-acre nub around the turn of the last century.

Today, the old Staunton Ranch is at the heart of a 3,800-acre park with terrain rising from about 8,000 to 10,000 feet. You’ll find old-growth ponderosa pine habitat, vibrant stream corridors, and towering granite cliffs where several birds of prey nest and rock climbers cling. Based on our travels, here are two hikes to try.

JUST STOPPING BY

Davis Ponds Trail: This 2.0-mile trek is ideal for families as it loops in a figure-eight from the paved parking lot to a series of small ponds where you can try your luck angling (don't forget to buy a fishing license). The smooth, wide trail alternates between conifer and aspen forests, is favored by the grazing elk herd, and borders lush meadows filled with purple Hare Bells, delicate Scarlet Gilia, and many other flowers. Along the way, keep an eye out for coyote, deer, wild turkeys, and black Abert’s squirrels.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

Elk Falls Overlook: This 17-mile lollipop loop follows the Mason Creek, Border Line, Marmot Passage, and Lion’s Back trails out to the waterfall overlook, and then returns by backtracking along the Lion’s Back and Marmot Passage trails before following the shorter Staunton Ranch Trail. Hint: If you’re hiking, you can return via the Scout Line Trail, which saves about two miles.

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Getting there: From Denver, follow U.S. 285 west to Shaffers Crossing, which is about 6 miles west of Conifer. Turn right on Elk Creek Road and follow the signs 1.5 miles to the entrance booth.

Logistics: Current park hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. There is a $7 fee per vehicle to enter the park.

Bonus: Staunton State Park is being developed in stages. Keep an eye on the website for future additions, including camping.