Staunton State Park is one of my favorite state parks for hiking in Colorado. I’ve been to this place around 5 times. There are several trails to explore, which cater to many different skill levels of hiking, mountain biking, horseback, and rock climbing. I’ve yet to explore the entire state park but plan to in the future.
One of the main attractions to this Colorado gem of hiking trails is Elk Falls. It’s one of the closest waterfalls to Denver, at about an hour drive, to the park entrance anyways. There are 2 ways to view the waterfall, up close via Chimney Rock Trail, or the overlook, via Lions Back Trail. I’ve been to each once, and though I’ve never personally logged the distances, from most reviews it’s about 12 miles RT to the falls, a little longer to the overlook.
Staunton State Park in April
Early April, I arrived at Staunton State Park at around 6 am. I wanted to make it to Elk Falls before the sun got too harsh. At the beginning much of the trail was free of snow. Which is pretty normal in April for the beginnings of most Colorado trails up in the mountains…
I took the Bugling Elk Trail route to the falls, which was pretty snow packed, with tons of icy spots. Of course I didn’t bring the right footwear but still managed to get through with no injuries. Just a few minor slip ups.
This is my first time taking Bugling Elk trail to Elk Falls. Compared to the Marmot Passage trail though, the scenery seemed pretty bland. That was until I got to the northern most part of Bugling Elk trail, where there was an intersection of paths to take. I didn’t see it on the map but your supposed to hang to the left to continue on that trail.
At that intersection there is a giant field with an old, abandoned, really cool looking Hay Rake. I wonder how old it is? I hung out there for about 15 minutes trying to figure out how I was going to photograph this antique.
Definitely one of the coolest photos I got today. As I continued onward towards the trail I had a feeling that I was going to see a frozen waterfall once I reached Elk Falls. I was reassured of this once I made it to Elk Falls Pond.
Elk Falls Pond elev. 8846 ft
Once I got up to Elk Falls Pond it was frozen like Starbucks’s egg sandwiches. This is such a cool part of the trail, where the Marmot Passage and Bugling Elk trails meet. I’ve still never taken the West Meadow Trail to explore, but plan on doing so in the future.
Once you get to Elk Falls Pond you are at the home stretch to get to the waterfall. It’s a pretty steep and rocky hike from here but it’s not too difficult if you are in decent shape and have moderate experience hiking at high elevations.
Elk Falls was a Frozen Waterfall when I got there…
I made it to Elk Falls at about 8am, and as I had suspected it was frozen. But only about 95% of the waterfall was frozen. Although I would have preferred it not to be frozen, this was a new experience for me as I’ve never seen a frozen waterfall up-close before.
There was a little bit of water shooting out near the top of the waterfall, which is hard to see in this image. The water was flowing pretty good under the rocks where I was standing. So there was plenty of flow under all the ice that is pictured.
The 6 mile hike back wasn’t too bad. Still didn’t see barely anybody on the trail, which is nice. That’s one benefit of hiking Colorado in April.
Since I missed it on the way up to Elk Falls, I decided to take a small detour and hike the Historic Cabin Trail. Although none of the cabins are in current use, they are still a pretty cool site.
Historic Cabin Trail
On this trail you will see cabins that were constructed in the early 1900’s. I love seeing and photographing older architecture, even if it’s less than a hundred years old it’s still a great experience.
Staunton State Park Elk Falls Overlook
Video taken with Nikon d7000, 300mm f/4, tripod.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the overlook of Elk Falls. If you plan on doing this trail get in touch with the Park and see if the trail is open first. I believe that they close it off in the summer due to nesting raptors.
The first time I hiked to the overlook I wasn’t aware that there was a trail to the waterfall itself. It may have not yet been open though to. It’s still a great view and definitely worth the hike up. I took off my teleconverter to my 300mm lens and mounted the lens on my tripod to get some close up photos of the waterfall. I usually don’t shoot waterfalls midday but since I was late to getting up to the overlook I had to take what I could get.
Though the waterfall looks close in the image above understand that it was photographed with a telephoto lens. A 300mm lens, which has quite a bit of reach. I took a photo of myself viewing the waterfall from the overlook, which will give you a better visual perspective of how far the waterfall is from the overlook.
Wildlife Photography Staunton State Park
Staunton State Park is one of my favorite places in Colorado for wildlife photography. Specifically bird photography. During the summer you can pretty easily find and photograph Williamson’s Sapsuckers, where Mason Creek Trail and Dines Meadow Trail intersect. Although it’s been about 4 years since I’ve photographed and gotten video footage of the Williamson’s Sapsuckers, recent eBird reports say they are still there.
Davis Pond’s trail provides excellent bird photography, and bird footage opportunities. As with any popular outdoors park, get there early, as the trails get pretty busy quickly.
I had a pretty good experience getting photographs and footage of some Pygmy Nuthatches and there young at the nest. Using a long lens they didn’t seem to mind my presence or even care that I was there. Just always be sure to keep a safe distance from nesting birds. They Pygmy nuthatches don’t seem to nest as high as other birds in the park. This makes for great bird photography as you typically don’t aim to shoot ‘up’ at a bird, or any kind of wildlife for that matter.
I’ve heard reports of many types of wildlife in the area but I personally haven’t ran into anything except a few different types of squirrels.
If you are looking for some of the more rare woodpeckers and other rare bird park visitors, check out the Dines Meadow and Mason Creek trails. Keep in mind though photographic opportunities may be limited as I know the woodpeckers like to hang out high up in the trees.
If you are coming to Staunton State Park just to try and get some good pictures of birds then stick to the Davis Ponds trail. It’s super active with birds, especially during the time the sun rises to a few hours after.
Tips for Making the Journey to Staunton State Park
- There’s an entrance fee around $7 to $8 if you don’t have the state park pass
- Although maps are sometimes available at the pay station, you should print one out prior, you can find a map of Staunton State Park here.
- Bring plenty of water if you plan on hiking to the waterfall. It’s 12 miles round trip, IF you plan your path and know where you are going. The trails are marked well for the most part, but it’s still easy to get sidetracked if you don’t have a map.
- There are restrooms at the parking lot
- Camping is allowed at designated camping areas but you will need a permit and reservation PRIOR to camping there.
- Checking trail conditions prior to planning your hike is highly recommended.
Have you been to Staunton State Park and have an experience, or photos you would like to share? Let me know in the comments below!