Beginner’s Trail Guide: Elk Falls Hike in Staunton State Park

staunton state park trail map

The Elk Falls Overlook is one of the more iconic views of Staunton State Park (after Lion’s Head at least), and the trek out to see it is perfect for a beginner looking to push into longer distance hikes. It’s a challenge, but not out of reach for a beginner as the trail isn’t too technical and you aren’t at an unreasonably high elevation.

Somewhere between reading the CPW website and setting out on the hike, we managed to forget that Bugling Elk is the shortest way to get to the overlook from the main trail. This trail is 10.8 miles roundtrip. The route we took was just under 13, a few miles of which included some intense switchbacks, so probably not our best decision. In retrospect, I have absolutely no idea how we decided our route was the most direct.

You will receive a trail map from the ranger station when you enter the park, but if you want to do research ahead of time you can download it here. Our route is highlighted in purple. The shorter route is in yellow.

All of those zig zags? That's where it hurts.
All of those zig zags? That’s where it hurts.

Staunton State Park is a great place to go hiking in general because of all the amenities it offers. There are trashcans and port-o-potties at the major trail junction along Staunton Ranch, the trails are really wide and very nicely maintained, and the parking lots have picnic areas, bathrooms, and water fountains.

I’ve blogged about the Staunton Ranch Trail before, so I’m going to mostly skip over that part of this hike. It’s the easiest part, has great scenery, and if you just hike that to the junction about 2 miles in, you’ll still have a great time. We opted to take the Scout Line trail from there, which turned out to be super scenic. There are some pretty incredible overlooks on the trail, and it gives you a little taste of what more technical trails might be like. Click to make the pictures full size:


Once you reach Marmot Passage (you’re at 3.3 miles at this point), you’re really going to start sweating. Marmot isn’t a technical trail, but there are lots of switchbacks, plus you’re still going uphill at this point. You will reach an overlook where you can see a nice pond, but that pleasure soon diminishes as soon as you realize you have to get down to the pond…and then back up here afterward. This is why you should take Bugling Elk.

staunton state park
And you’re down…which only fills you with the sense of dread because you have to go back up. If you continue straight here, you take Bugling Elk.

After the pond, you start climbing back up. And by that I mean there’s a HUGE incline you have to get up for the last part. You really have to work for this overlook. You’re on the home stretch, so try to focus on that…and how easy it will be walking back down!

The final ascent.
The final ascent.

Once you’ve reached this point, you’re basically there. It’s literally less than three minutes from this point, especially if you’re power-scrambling out of desperation to be “done.” The overlook is totally worth it though. You have a nearly 360 degree views of the mountains. Elk Falls is actually a pretty small part of the overlook, and in my opinion, mostly a nice afterthought considering how breathtaking the rest of the view is. Again, click for full size photos:


As I’ve mentioned, if you took Bugling Elk, you will not be as unhappy on the rest of the hike. We took Marmot Passage all the way back, bypassing Scout Line, and the last several miles of Staunton Ranch HURT. We ended up covering about 13 miles, which was a personal record. My feet may have been killing me, but it was perfect to push myself with a more advanced hike than what I was used to. This hike is a great opportunity for fellow beginners looking to challenge themselves a bit.

Since this is a long hike, you will need to stay hydrated, bring snacks, and dress appropriately. Lucky for you, I’ve got blogs for each of these! What I don’t have a blog for is the weather, since it’s always changing…so please make sure to check it and exercise caution when deciding whether to hike.

Published by Laura Cardon

Laura Cardon moved to Colorado as an adult and quickly realized how difficult it was to get started exploring the outdoors in a state full of experts. She founded Outdoor Beginner in 2014 to fill the gap in beginner-friendly content for camping, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. In addition to Outdoor Beginner, she coaches beginner trail runners and works at Runners Roost in Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her spouse and toddler.

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