Elk Creek Falls Trailhead: Group Picnic Area near main park entrance

Activities: Hiking, Mountain Biking, Snowshoeing, Rock Climbing

Closest City / Town: Conifer, Colorado

Driving Directions:

  • Take U.S. Highway 285 south out of Denver.
  • Hang a right at Shaffers Crossing, about 6 miles west of Conifer
  • Head north on Elk Creek Road for 1.5 miles.
  • Take a right at the entrance to Staunton State Park.
  • Park at the group picnic area, which is located about 1/8 of a mile beyond the main parking area at the park entrance.

Hiking Distance:  11.2 miles (roundtrip)

Description: The Elk Creek Falls Loop in Staunton State Park is one of our favorites no matter what time of year it is.  However, be prepared for some light snow travel during most winter months (this might include bringing snowshoes if it has snowed a lot).

The trails in Staunton State Park are well signed, so you shouldn’t have a problem navigating.  The hike described here is a loop, but there are a few trail variations you can pursue.

From the trailhead, head out on the Staunton Ranch Trail for 3.0 miles.  This is an undulating trail that also provides some of the main climbing access in the park.  At mile 3, head straight through the trail intersection, continuing for 1.1 miles on the Bugling Elk trail.  Hang a right at Elk Falls Pond on the Lion’s Back Trail.  The Lion’s Back trail goes 1 mile and ends at the Elk Creek Falls Overlook.

Retrace your steps for 1 mile back to Elk Falls Pond.  When you get to the pond, take a right on the Marmot Passage Trail.  Continue on the trail for 2.0 miles, and then turn off on the Scout Line trail.  Continue for another 1.5 miles until you hit the Staunton Ranch Trail.  Take a right on the Staunton Ranch trail.  This will take you back to your vehicle after another 1.6 miles.

Worth Noting about Elk Creek Falls Hike:

Staunton State Park was acquired in numerous stages. The first 1,720-acre parcel was donated to Colorado State Parks in 1986 by Frances Hornbrook Staunton. Subsequent parcels, including a portion of the Davis Ranch and Elk Falls property, were acquired in the late 1990s. In 2006, a small key parcel, called the Chase property, was added to the Park to reach its current land base of approximately 3,828 acres. The properties that make up the Park include:

1) Staunton Ranch

The Staunton Ranch began as a homestead around the turn of the 20th century. Drs. Rachel and Archibald Staunton were on their way to California from West Virginia and a rest stop in the Denver area convinced them that Colorado should be their new home. The first 160 acres of the Staunton Ranch was homesteaded by Rachel Staunton who lived there in the warmer months and provided medical care to the people who lived in the area. Some of her clientele were Native American families who bartered beadwork, pottery, jewelry, and rugs to show their appreciation and pay for her services. The Staunton Ranch grew to 1,720 acres over the years. Frances H. Staunton, daughter of Archibald and Rachel, preserved and protected the Staunton Ranch throughout her life and gifted the land to the state in 1986 with the understanding that the ranch would someday be developed into a state park.

2) Elk Falls Ranch
The Elk Falls Ranch, on the west side of the Park, was purchased in 1999 to improve conservation and provide access to the Park. This acquisition added such landmarks as Lions Head, Chimney Rock, and Elk Falls to the Park. State Parks bought the 510-acre northern parcel of Elk Falls Ranch with Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Legacy Grant funds. The 540-acre southern parcel was purchased by the State Land Board and is leased to and managed by Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

3) Davis Ranch
The 1,000-acre Davis Ranch, also purchased in 1999 with a Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Legacy Grant, is located on the east side of Staunton State Park.

4) Chase Property
In 2006, State Parks, in conjunction with the State Land Board, purchased the 80-acre Chase parcel. This parcel was once owned by Mary Coyle Chase, a Denver native, journalist, and playwright best known for her play “Harvey” (Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945). These acres will play a key role in developing important trail connections and future park roads.

Staunton Ranch opened to the public in 2013 and is truly one of Colorado’s most cherished gems!

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Shelley September 24, 2016 8:36 am
Overall Experience
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This is a fantastic hike for fall colors. The best experience is to plan on the full 12 mile loop to the lower part of the falls and the climb to the fall overlook. The best aspen viewing is the portion from the lower falls to the overlook as this is in an aspen forest…incredible…thus the 5 stars. Be sure to take the new trail, Elk Falls Trail, completed in August of 2016. http://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Staunton/Pages/Trails.aspx