Elk Falls - Best Waterfall Near Denver Opens to the Public

May 3, 2013 Comments (6) About 45 Min, Best Hikes, Blog, Colorado State Park Hikes, Creek or Brooks, fall colors, Meadows, Rock Formations, Waterfalls

Elk Falls – New Waterfall Near Denver

Elk Falls in Colorado’s new Staunton State Park opened to the public in 2013. This highest waterfall near Denver had been unknown to most, and inaccessible, except to a few. Now it’s an adventure waiting for able hikers! If you are a fan of waterfall hikes and you live near Denver, you’ll know that it’s kind of slim pickings; most of the best waterfalls in Colorado require driving beyond the Front Range, or into Rocky Mountain National Park. Elk Falls, is just 50 minutes from Denver! The 3700 acre Staunton State Park offers incredible hiking, rock climbing, and beautiful rock formations – all making for some great Colorado day hikes. Explore the full Elk Falls hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and many of the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Staunton State Park.

Parking & Trailhead Information for Elk Falls in Staunton State Park

The parking and trailhead area are immediately noticeable after the park entrance. On weekends, things can really back up at the entrance due to the number of visitors and those who need to purchase a parks pass. If you don’t have your yearly parks pass, you can pick one up at a local Kings Soopers grocery store at the customer service area. Because your hike will begin with the Staunton Ranch Trail, the main artery of Staunton State Park, just look for the main trail which heads to the center of the park. If you’ve parked at the lower parking area, you’ll have two Trailheads before you, the Staunton Ranch and the Mason Creek trailheads. Be sure to choose the Staunton Ranch Trail. The Elk Falls overlook can be reached by starting on the Mason Creek Trail, but its a significantly longer and more difficult 17 mile loop hike. Maps are available at the entrance and highly recommended for this hike.


The Hike: Elk Falls in Staunton State Park

The Staunton Ranch Trail leads hikers into the heart of Staunton State Park, through stands of ponderosa pine and past the Staunton Rocks climbing area. After 3.3 miles, the trail ends at a trail intersection with three new trails. The most direct route to the Elk Falls overlook is to choose the Bugling Elk trail which follows a small creek for 1.1 miles until it arrives at Elk Falls Pond, a good place to stop and Fish.

At Elk Falls Pond, a third trail, the Lion’s Back Trail, leads another 1 mile up to the Elk Falls Overlook. Atop a highpoint, hikers will gain great views down to where Elk Falls drops from the cliff face into a beautiful mult-tiered waterfall. Out and Back, its a total of 10.8 miles.

Colorado State Parks is working on an Elk Falls Trail project that will eventually open access to the base of Elk Falls. This is projected to be completed and opened to the public in the Fall of 2016.

If you’d like to add a more challenging return segment to your hike and see new areas of the park, hikers can pick up the Marmot Passage trail until it meets with the hiker-only Scout Line trail, which eventually leads back to the main Staunton Ranch trail. This return route will add additional mileage, difficulty, and time to the hike back. Consult the trail map and topo lines to get a feel for the demanding nature of this option.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking To Elk Falls Overlook :

  • TIP: Getting into the park can be slow at times, so be prepared to wait at the entrance on busy weekends.
  • Trekking Poles & Traction Devices are Recommended in Spring and Winter: During this time of year, there can be patches and even longer segments of snow and ice on the trail. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail.
  • Trail Map for Staunton State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Crow Hill Cafe in Bailey
  • We would like to express our gratitude to Bill Chopp for sharing such an amazing photograph of Elk Falls.


Map & Driving Directions

Click for Driving Directions

6 Responses to Elk Falls – New Waterfall Near Denver

  1. Palmer & Co. says:

    Awesome!! We’ll put this one on our list. Great post, A+J!

  2. Paul says:

    The trails in Staunton are top notch. So good that there is quite a bit of horse and bike traffic on the main trails. I took the entire loop around the park (15 miles). While the feature site is the view from Elk Falls Overlook, take in the equally impressive view from Staunton Rocks if you can.

    I highly recommend the Scout Line and Marmot Passage trails on the way to Elk Falls Overlook. On the return trip take the Bugling Elk and Border Line trail to Staunton Rocks then the Old Mill trail back to Staunton Ranch trail. If you want to extend the hike take the Mason Creek trail that loops the NE side of the park. While there is nothing outstanding about the Mason Creek trail it is a nice long hike through nice hills and meadows….although this trail is popular with horse and bike riders.

  3. Caitlin says:

    The trails here are very well marked! No chance of getting lost! I hiked with my dog for 12 miles and really enjoyed my time. The hours are also later for summer so much more time to enjoy the trails. I would recommend these trails for anyone.

  4. Vitalii says:

    11.2 miles done in 4.5 hours. Very nice trails, clean and well maintained. Definitely recommend to take Marmot Passage Trail and Scout Line Trail on the way back from Elk Falls Overlook (very spectacular).

  5. Erika says:

    The trail down to Elk Falls itself is open. As of yesterday, the Chimney Rock trail (connects Elk Falls Pond to the Elk Falls trail) had a little ice, but was easy to pass in just hiking boots. The falls were half ice and gushing through–beautiful! I would recommend going down to the falls instead of up to the overlook to get a better sense of their grandeur, and the hike through the canyon walls to get there is breathtaking. Staunton is definitely one of my favorite places to hike within an hour of Denver–the views are unbeatable, the park has so many trail options (and all are perfectly maintained and well-marked), and there’s something new to discover each time I visit including views of diverse wildlife (from deer and marmots to moose and eagles).

  6. Chris says:

    Hiked in Staunton in early June this year, Mason Creek to the Mill site and the SR Trail on the return. About 7 miles roundtrip from the Mason Creek Trailhead lot. Wildflowers were out and everywhere and the trail was in great shape.

    It was a Sunday, and crowded as expected, but still got a parking spot around mid-day without issue, and the trail was not overly trafficked. We encountered two horse groups and 3 MTB groups and only one of them was not riding with awareness and courtesy. (It happens, not everyone gets it, but it was not a major deal) Many hiking groups, all who were friendly and said a hello as we passed.

    Mason Creek takes you out along the “right side” of the park and up around behind Staunton Rocks. You can cut across to the rocks from the MC trail and loop back to it adding about 1.5 miles of trail. We continued on to the mill and skipped the cutoff (we will be back – park pass has to pay for itself!). The hike out from the lot through to Staunton Rocks Trail is pretty much a steady uphill, but well marked and maintained. Once at the Mill Site you can carry on around the outside of the park or cut back downhill to the SR trail and back to the lots. We chose the latter, and enjoyed the quiet walk along the creek and down to the SR trail.

    The SR trail itself is very easy, rolling up and down trail and well trafficked as it is the route to all the other trails in the center of the park (including the rock-climbing areas). It was not overly busy and was an enjoyable walk out to end the hike.

    Staunton Ranch is an absolutely brilliant piece of nature, close to Denver and easily accessible and is being further developed in stages so there will be many new things to come as the park is fully “finished”. Personally I have hiked here many times already and will be back many more times in the future and recommend it to anyone looking for a great hike close to the city.

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