Staunton State Park is home to one of the prettiest waterfalls in Colorado, Elk Falls, and is less than one hour from Denver. The Elk Falls Trail opened in 2017 and leads directly to the waterfall. Previously, the closest you could get to Elk Falls was Elk Falls Overlook.
Why I love this hike: Staunton State Park is a personal favorite of mine. It’s the newest park in the Colorado State Park system, and feels new and unexplored. I’ve wanted to do this hike since the new Elk Falls Trail opened. I was so excited the night before, I could barely sleep! It was well worth getting up before the sun (I got to the park at 7 a.m. to beat the crowd and soak in the solitude). This hike is an all-around stunner. Comfortably challenging with tons of features, you’ll find aspens, red rock formations, jaw-dropping views, a meandering creek, and a homestead-worthy pond, all with the payoff of standing at the base of a waterfall and feeling the spray on your face. I did this hike in the fall and had the added payoff of seeing fall colors.
Fun Facts about My Elk Falls Photos
- I use my Nexus 5X cell phone for taking pictures. A few days before the hike, I went on a trail run with my phone in my armband. Sweat built up inside the camera lens and I couldn’t get it out. The new lens I ordered hadn’t arrived before I did this hike. I was too excited about this hike to wait! So, some of the pictures in this post are kind of blurry.
- I hiked Elk Falls solo. Newbie blogger problems! You should have seen the shenanigans I went through using my AVAWO tripod, while setting the timer on my phone, to get some shots with me in the picture. Here’s how that looked: set the tripod on a rock, start the timer on my phone, dash to a wet boulder, hope the tripod doesn’t fall over in the meantime, almost fall and bust my ass, strike a pose while feeling like a dork, and hope no one is watching. You just gotta laugh!
Elk Falls Hike Details
Staunton State Park has multiple routes to Elk Falls Trail. Check out the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Staunton State Park trail map for details. Ask the entrance staff for the best way to get to Elk Falls for the season and current trail conditions. The trail markers and signage are excellent in Staunton State Park. Pick up a trail map at the entrance and you’ll have no problem picking your route.
- Hike Distance: 13.5 miles
- Duration: About 6 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Low-High Elevation: 8,500′-9,331′
- Dogs Allowed? Yes, on leash
- Bikers Allowed? Yes
- Horses Allowed? Yes
- Entrance Fee: $7.00 (for one day)
- Driving Directions to Staunton: Google Maps
- Trail Map: Staunton State Park
- More Information: Elk Falls, Colorado Parks & Wildlife
My Elk Fall Trail Route
Staunton Ranch Trail
From the parking lot, start on Staunton Ranch Trail. Staunton Ranch Trail is a great warmup as the ascent is gradual. You’ll hike through a mixed conifer/aspen forest and cross a creek.
Marmont Passage Trail
Staunton Ranch Trail ends after 3.3 miles. Turn left on Marmont Passage Trail. Here the hike gets a little more difficult, with more rocks and a steeper grade. There are lots of places to pull off the trail, take a break, and gawk at the view. After about a mile on Marmont Passage, the trail begins a gradual descent. You’re getting closer to the waterfall!
Chimney Rock Trail
Marmont Passage Trail ends at Elk Falls Pond. When I caught my first view of Elk Falls Pond, I had an overwhelming urge to grab a tiny house, park it in the meadow, and never leave. I’m not the first person to have that urge, because there is an old homestead nestled up to the pond.
Just past Elk Falls Pond, turn left on Chimney Rock Trail. Chimney Rock winds through a pine forest and hugs a rock face.
Elk Falls Trail
After 0.6 miles, Chimney Rock Trail meets Elk Falls Trail, a hiker’s-only trail. There is an equestrian and cyclist dismount area at the beginning of the trail. Here the trail is much rockier and trickier to navigate, with a steep descent.
After a few minutes on Elk Falls Trail, you can hear the waterfall. Rounding the corner after 0.35 miles of switchbacks, you reach Elk Falls. There is a rock ledge just above the falls where you can stop. But you can also scramble over the rocks right up to the waterfall.
I stayed at the waterfall for almost an hour, feeling the spray on my face, marveling that I was up close and personal with a waterfall. Elk Falls itself is stunning, and it’s surrounded by beauty on all sides. You can see the Lion’s Head rock formation in the southwest. Gorgeous cliffs surround the falls.
Scout Line Trail
Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy Elk Falls. When you’re ready to drag yourself away, you can return the way you came or check out another trail. Instead of taking Marmot Passage Trail back to Staunton Ranch Trail, I took the hiker’s-only Scout Line Trail. This trail is much rockier than Marmot Passage yet it’s worth the scrambling to see different, but still stunning, views. I figure, if you’re going to hike, check out different options! Scout Line Trail is 1.5 miles to Staunton Ranch Trail.
What are your favorite waterfall hikes? Do you have any questions about this hike, Staunton State Park, or hiking in general? Leave me a comment!