Visitors looking for a route that allows exploration of many of Colorado's ecosystems need to look no further than this scenic route in Staunton State Park.
Beginning from the main parking area in the southern extent, visitors will start out on the Staunton Ranch Trail
. This portion is fairly mellow and makes for a good warm up. Though the going will be fairly easy, you'll be on a steady incline. If you notice that your heart rate is up, this sneaky uphill is to blame! You'll pass through a variety of terrain types and ecosystems, which ensures that you'll have enjoyable views along the whole trail. Keep an eye out for elk in both mixed conifer/aspen and aspen forests, as these large ungulates are particularly partial to snacking on aspens.
As you continue along, the trail will start to get a bit steeper, but beautiful views will be your reward. At just over three miles into your journey, you'll take a left onto the Marmot Passage Trail
. As its name suggests, you might be able to catch sight of a yellow-bellied Marmot on this trail, so keep an eye out! Once you transition to this trail, the going will get a little more difficult, as the grade increases slightly, and there will be more technical aspects on the trail, including roots and rocks. About halfway through this trail, you'll begin a gradual descent, hinting at the fact that you're beginning your initial descent to the falls.
Don't despair, you'll continue to enjoy scenic views of both forests, meadows, and incredible rock formations. Soon enough, hikers will make another left onto the Chimney Rock Trail
. This route will continue more of the same from the Marmot Passage Trail
, but you'll be getting ever closer to your goal, the scenic Elk Falls!
A short continuation will lead to the Elk Falls Trail
, which will lead you on a steep descent to North Elk Creek. Though this portion is steep, you'll be able to get up close and personal with Elk Falls as it tumbles 100 feet to meet the creek. Take some time to enjoy the sound of the water and potentially have a snack before returning the way that you came. The first few miles hiking away from the creek will be a climb, but you'll be able to coast back to the parking area.
Even though you'll be moving along the same trails, you'll enjoy the new perspective on the landscape. By the time you'll return to the parking area, you can congratulate yourself on knocking out a lovely 14 miles!
You're likely to see plenty of Colorado natives, including aspens, wildflowers, elk, marmot, and many avian species.