Elk Falls | Colorado | 06/10/21

Elk Falls | Staunton State Park

Pine Junction, CO | 06/10/21 | 11.98 miles | 1,806′ gain


It’s not too often that I hike to a waterfall, so I was excited to finally get up to Elk Falls with Diana. (It’d only been on my to-do list for years.) As far as Colorado waterfalls go, 75-foot Elk Falls is on the bigger side, so it’s no wonder that this 12-mile hike is so popular, especially considering its close proximity to Denver.

Elk Falls is in Staunton State Park, one of Colorado’s newest state parks opened to the public in 2013. The idea for this park started in 1986, when Frances Hornbrook Staunton gifted her family’s 1,720-acre ranch to the state to be developed into a state park. Over the next twenty years, the state purchased additional land surrounding the Staunton Ranch. The park reached its full size of 3,828 acres in 2006.

This was my first time to Staunton, and while I had heard the park was beautiful, the sweeping vistas and towering rock formations far surpassed my expectations. Even the drive in was pretty! We got an early start to beat the heat and any potential Thursday crowds. At 7am, we were packed up and leaving the Meadow Lot on the Staunton Ranch Trail.

Staunton Ranch Trail

In the magic that is early morning, we happened upon two mule deer fawns frolicking in a meadow. They darted across the trail just ahead of us, unconcerned by our presence. Diana and I watched them play for a few minutes, but sadly I was too immersed in the moment and I didn’t get any pictures. The remainder of the Staunton Ranch Trail was uneventful: quiet meadows, forest, and the occasional “peek” of the peaks around us. We were still low in the valley, having ascended only 300′ in 1.8 miles, so we couldn’t really see much yet. But that was about to change.

We crossed Black Mountain Creek and turned onto the Scout Line Trail. Just below us, construction workers were hard at work building the new Lazy V Lot. This lot has since opened and while it has limited parking, scoring a spot would cut off about 3.5 miles from this hike.

The 1.5-mile Scout Line Trail climbs steeply up to a ridge, then follows the ridge past a number of overlooks before connecting with the Marmot Passage Trail. The views along the Scout Line Trail were incredible, by far the best of the day. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Black Mountain
The Black Mountain Creek valley
A look towards the southeast, away from the park
Rock formations on Peak 9256
Lions Head just coming into view on the right

We continued onto the Marmot Passage Trail toward Elk Falls Pond. This two-mile segment wraps around Peak 9480 before descending 450′ to the water’s edge. The trail was mysteriously devoid of marmots until we neared Elk Falls Pond, where we saw (and heard) plenty of the little buggers.

Zoom of Lions Head – Elk Falls is about 500′ below the summit on this side
Snowy peaks are just visible to the northwest
We spotted some type of old building in the valley below
Zoom of the building
Elk Falls Pond
Elk Falls Pond

The pond was very cute and made for a good rest stop. There is private property in this area (including roads and cabins), so we were careful to stay on the designated trail. After walking around the lake, we connected with the short but diverse Chimney Rock Trail. In just 0.6 miles, we plunged back into the forest, found our first orchid of the year, passed towering rock formations, walked across a manmade stone path, and approached a wet meadow bounded by rock walls. It was a very exciting final approach to Elk Falls!

Fairy Slipper or Calypso Orchid
Diana on the stone path
I believe the rock formation on the right is Chimney Rock

The 1/4-mile Elk Falls Trail descends 250′ to the base of Elk Falls. We could hear the falls before we could see them.

Diana descends a rocky section
Wet meadow just above Elk Falls

There was a small sitting area at the end of the trail, which we somehow managed to have to ourselves for a while. What a beautiful spot to eat lunch.

Elk Falls
Elk Falls

Eventually, we somehow managed to peel ourselves away from Elk Falls to hike the 6 miles back to the trailhead. After retracing our steps back to Elk Falls Pond, we decided to take a slightly different route back to the car. We started on the Bugling Elk Trail, a 1.1-mile trail that mostly follows old ranch roads, before reconnecting with the far end of the Staunton Ranch Trail, which heads all the way back to the parking lot.

Bugling Elk Trail

While our morning’s hike was mostly forest and rocky outcrops, the Bugling Elk Trail was reminiscent of the ranching days. Old roads, meadows which were perhaps once hayfields or grazing land for livestock, and the occasional piece of old equipment littered the landscape. It was certainly more of a subtle beauty than the views along the Scout Line Trail, but I felt it was worth the visit, if only to see something new on the return hike.

A meadow and a piece of old ranch equipment along the Bugling Elk Trail

Once back on the Staunton Ranch Trail, it was a busy 3.1 miles back to the trailhead. We passed bikers, trail runners, rock climbers, and even a family who had rented one of the park’s tracked wheelchairs. It seemed everyone had the same idea we did: what a beautiful day (and place) for a hike!

Upper Staunton Ranch Trail

I would like to acknowledge that Elk Falls and Staunton State Park are on the ancestral land of the Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute) and Cheyenne.


24 thoughts on “Elk Falls | Colorado | 06/10/21

    1. That’s awesome! I haven’t been to Staunton in the winter, but FatManLittleTrail was just up there and it looks like the trails are decent! If you start from the Lazy V lot, you can get up on Scout Line right away and see all the good views 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s