Staunton State Park may be known for its rocks, history and scenery, but waterfall fans will be happy to know the park is also home to a tall waterfall. While the trail to the falls is still under construction (Spring 2013), the overlook gives waterfall fans a chance to see the waterfall from top to bottom.
The hike to the overlook starts on the Staunton Ranch Trail. Technically, the trail starts in the main parking lot, but if you park at the group picnic area, you can cut a half mile or more off the roundtrip distance. From the group picnic area, cross the main road and look for the Staunton Ranch Trail sign on your left in the trees.
The first section of the Staunton Ranch Trail is new. It’s mainly dirt, with very few rocks, making it very easy on the legs and feet. The trail winds through the trees for 1.65 miles. The forest is thick in spots and thin in spots, so sometimes you’ll be in the shade, sometimes the sun. As you walk, look through the trees at the surrounding rock formations.
As you hike the Staunton Ranch Trail, look for homes. A half mile in is a gray house surrounded by a fence. I believe this is employee housing. (You’ll notice a road going to the house.) (Remember this spot, it will be important later.) When you get about 1.45 miles from the trailhead start looking in the trees to your left, you may spot an old homestead or a few. The map marks this as the Staunton Cabin District. There is no trail over to the cabins, but I’ll talk more about the buildings and how to see them on the hike out.
At about 1.65 miles, the Staunton Ranch Trail turns onto a road. The road is now your trail for the next 3+ miles. A short distance away is one of two major trail splits in the park. Here hikers can turn on the Old Mill Trail and see the northeast side of the park. Turn left for the Scout Line Trail, when it opens in Summer 2013. We continued on the main Staunton Ranch Trail. Just a few steps away is another trail split, this one takes climbers and observers to the Staunton Rocks climbing area.
It’s another mile or so until the Stounton Ranch Trail ends at a fence. Turn right here on the appropriately named Border Line Trail to skirt the edge of the park’s border and circle to the northeast side of the park. Hikers going toward Elk Falls Pond and Elk Falls can take the Marmot Passage Trail or the Bugling Elk Trail. Since the Bugling Elk Trail was shorter, we took that option. The Bugling Elk Trail has a bit of a steep climb, then its drops into a scenic meadow. Look closely in the meadow and you may spot some old farm equipment. There’s even a small BE trail marker that says 1/2 way on it. A little encouragement to keep you going to the pond.
Elk Falls Pond is a nice spot to take a break. The pond has a rock formation at one end that makes for scenic photos. Walk around the area and you should spot a historic homestead below the dam, a newer home and an outhouse. When you’re done wandering around, it’s time for another steep climb above the lake on the Lion’s Back Trail. As you hike, if you need a break, look through the trees at the view of the lake below you.
The Lion’s Back Trail is the last mile to the overlook. At the end of the trail is a sign, “Elk Falls Overlook, 250 feet.” Hike up this short, rocky, steep trail and you’ll be treated to a view of Elk Falls. As you look across the valley at the falls, count how many different drops you see. There’s a cascade at the top, that leads to the main drop. The main drop has a shelf in the middle so you may say it’s two drops. There’s a pool at the bottom of that big drop that leads to several smaller cascades. Just beautiful.
Find a spot on the rocks here and enjoy the falls. Look around and you may see Pikes Peak to the south and a snow-capped Mount Evans to north.
When you’re done enjoying the view, it’s time for the hike back. On the way, look at your map, you may decide to take a different trail back. Most of the trails funnel back to the main Staunton Ranch Trail.
On the way back, after you pass the split of the Staunton Ranch/Scout Line/Old Mill trails and turn on the single-track trail Staunton Ranch Trail, start looking through the trees on your right for the old homestead. Hike through the grassland over to the house. This is the Staunton’s homestead. The main home was built in 1919. The kitchen was added in 1920. The home was added to the Register of Historic Places last year. You can not go inside the home. It’s been vandalized and damaged over the years. Park officials are hoping to restore the home in the future. There is a small fence around the home, but you can easily walk around the fence line and see the home.
Imagine living here in the early 1900s. Rachel and Archibald Staunton built the home. Rachel had to live here 9 months out of the year to earn the homestead. The Stounton’s started with 160 acres and eventually bought up the surrounding land to create a ranch of 1,720 acres. The Stounton’s daughter, Frances, donated the property to the state park. The state bought more land to create the park here. Read more about the history here.
After exploring around the house, walk down the remnants of a dirt road (turn left when you pass a gate) and soon see a smaller cabin that says Brola. That’s the cabin for Frances’ music teacher. There’s another larger cabin, then a small cabin with pipes. The pipe-filled cabin was a showerhouse. Continue down the road until you reach the gray house you saw earlier. You can get back on the Stounton Ranch Trail here and continue back to the parking lot.
Learn more about the park and get a trail map here. If you like waterfalls, check out my list of 15 waterfall hikes and more than 200 other great hikes in Colorado here.
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Details: The hike to the overlook and back from the group picnic area parking lot is about 10 miles with 1,500 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs each way.
Directions: From C470, take US Highway 285 south to Shaffers Crossing, about 6 miles west of Conifer. Turn north on Elk Creek Road and follow the signs 1.5 miles to the park entrance.