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.

Trail Snapshot: Elk Falls Overlook Hike at 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.

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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.

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.

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Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions

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Looking for more waterfalls near Denver? Explore our more than 50 Colorado Waterfall Hikes, our favorite Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, or 7 Waterfalls within One Hour of Denver.

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