Hiking to Elk Falls

This hike is not for the faint of heart! I set off to find a waterfall, which I did. But what I did not expect was the rise in elevation, the switchbacks, and the seemingly never-ending trail. 13.3 miles and 3,800 calories burned later (thanks FitBit!) I felt accomplished, exhausted and ready to sleep for twelve hours.

I returned to Staunton State Park to hike a much longer trail, leading to a waterfall! Check out my original post about Colorado’s newest state park here!

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As you can see from the map, there are many different trails offered at this state park. There are even multiple ways to reach Elk Falls, and you can choose from visiting the falls directly or hiking to an overlook! I hiked directly to the falls, but I took different trails on the way there and on the way back. These are two very different options, so whether you’re looking for a tough climb with great views or stable elevation leading to the falls, there is a path for you.

Strenuous Switchbacks

Getting to the falls, you will start out on Staunton Ranch Trail. It’s 3.3 miles long, and barely raises in elevation. However we will only stay on this trail about 2 miles. This beautiful trail that wraps between mountains and gives views of rock outcroppings and wooded mountain sides.

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Soon we came upon Scout Line Trail. This is a hiking-only trail, so we decided to take a chance on it. It starts off as a small, wooded path, but soon becomes elevated switchbacks rising almost 1,000 feet in elevation in one mile.

While it is a strenuous climb, take it easy and enjoy the views on the way up. Nothing can match them!

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From here we turned onto Marmot Passage trail. It’s high in elevation and mostly woods, which offers shade and stunning views of the mountain range. This trail is two miles long and leads to Elk Pond. The hike on this path is relatively constant in elevation until the very end, where it begins to switchback down the mountain. There is a lovely bench next to the pond where you can stop to rest and enjoy the view, knowing you are just one mile away from the falls!

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Finally, there are just two paths to go. The Chimney Creek trail is straight ahead net to the cabin. It’s 0.6 miles long and wraps around large rock formations, while on the other side it slopes drastically into a canyon. On this trail you can hear the running water of the falls, another sure sign you are close! In the picture below, Chimney Rock is on the right.

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Then it connects to Elk Falls Trail, which is 0.35 miles long. This trail is very short, but it is entirely switchbacks down to the base of the waterfall. It was one of the hardest parts of the hike because we had already walked so far! But nothing could beat the view of the falls, as well as watching the water stream farther down into the canyon and the incredible views of the mountains around us.

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Easy Elevation

Once you reach the falls on the path we took, you’ve officially hiked 7 miles. On the way back, you can trace your steps back, or you can choose a path that wraps around the mountain rather than climbing up through it. We chose to try a different path with an easier elevation rise.

To begin, hike back up the Elk Falls Trail & around Chimney Rock Trail. Once you make it back to the pond, instead of switchbacking up the mountain, take the Bugling Elk Trail instead. It’s just 1.1 miles and will lead you back to the Staunton Ranch trail.

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Pretty quickly we reached the end of the Staunton Ranch trail, so we turned on it and hiked the last 3.3 miles back to the trailhead. This trail goes by pretty quickly, and because there is no real gain in elevation it was a great option for ending the long hike.

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I think the way we hiked was a great way to get to the falls. We had the opportunity to climb into high altitudes and see breath-taking views of the Rocky Mountains, but then we also had a relaxing walk back to the trailhead after we had seen the falls.

A little advice about this trail: We saw two bathrooms the way we hiked, one at the start of Scout Line Trail and at the end of Bugling Elk Trail. However, there are no water stations, so make sure to bring plenty of water with you! I had two large, full water bottles and drank every drop. With the elevation and length of this hike, your body will need plenty of water to keep you from getting sick.

All in all this is a lovely hike and State Park, and I really enjoyed getting to see the waterfall! As you’re hiking the last two trails, you can hear the water running, which only increases your anticipation to get to Elk Falls. Once you’re there, the view of the falls, its run-off, and the canyon around you is enough to take anybody’s breath away. While it wasn’t easy, it was worth every second.

What are some of your favorite trails & parks in Colorado? If you’ve been to Staunton State Park, did you hike to the falls? I’d love to hear about your experience!

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