Back in May, a new state park opened up in Colorado; Staunton State Park, near Conifer, which is just under an hour Southwest of Denver along highway 285. I started hearing the buzz about this new state park during the springtime, just before and just after the park’s opening in mid-May. The manner in which people talked about, and anticipated, the opening of a new state park in Colorado reminded me of how people would respond to the opening of a new restaurant, particularly by one of those celebrity chefs, in Chicago.
Through this, I came to the conclusion that the opening a new state park is the Colorado is the equivalent of the opening of a new restaurant in Chicago. So, I applied the same crowd-avoidance rules to visiting this park that I would have applied to visiting a new restaurant in Chicago. I waited a few months (until August), and I went on an off-peak day (today is Wednesday). And, it worked! It was not too crowded today at Staunton State Park.
I decided to check out a few different parts of the park, as well as a few different types of trails. Most of the trails in the park, or at least most of the trail length, permits mountain biking. The first mile or so of the trail was actually smooth enough that I would have felt comfortable riding my cyclocross bike on it. A little bit farther up the road, a few rocks did begin to appear on the trail, but the trail still seemed quite smooth for a mountain biking trail, especially compared with the Apex trail near Golden. For people who are thinking about getting started with mountain biking, or with little experience looking for something not too intimidating, I would definitely recommend Staunton State Park.
These trails also have a very moderate grade, making the hiking not too strenuous. However, the few mountain bikers I saw traveling uphill on this trail appeared to be going rather slow. So, it was probably steep enough to produce strain on a biker, but not a hiker.
I decided to check out one of the hiking-only trails. A vast majority of the park is open to mountain bikes, with trails that look like the pictures above, but there are a few places where only hikers are allowed. The one hiking-only trail I took actually had a fairly strenuous section, with switchbacks and steep grades. This strenuous section only lasted about 3/4 of a mile, making the hike overall significantly less strenuous than what would be labeled “strenuous” at a place like Rocky Mountain National Park, but it was not trivial by any stretch of the imagination, and would seriously challenge anyone that is not in shape.
Even these trails open to hikers only were quite wide and well-marked. They reminded me of what I would refer to as “luxury hiking” back in the Midwest. Well, without the restrooms and benches along the way. But, the trail seemed to be laid out in a manner with greater comfort in mind than in many of the other places I have hiked in Colorado.
At the top of the ridge, I could not help but reflect on this view, as well as the views I had encountered at the top of the 14ers (14,000 ft. + mountains) that I had climbed last month. The more I encounter views like this, and compare them with views like the one at the top of this page (photo taken near the park entrance), the more I begin to think that the best mountain views are taken somewhere between the base and the peak- basically somewhere in the middle. This is kind of why the view of the Front Range mountains from the hill between Boulder and Louisville is so scenic. At the top of the mountain, some of the features are a bit tougher to make out. I guess it took me a while to come to this conclusion.
I did not get to view one of the park’s defining feature, Elk Falls. The map I was handed at the park’s entrance indicated to me that the trail to these falls was not opened yet. I guess this park is still a work in progress despite the fact that it is already open to the public. I could have followed a series of trails to the Elk Falls Overlook, but I figured that with this park’s proximity to Denver (home), I would have plenty of chances to get back here after the trail to the falls directly opens.
I did, however, get plenty of views of the park’s other defining feature, the rock formations. These rock formations appear to make it a great place for rock climbing. In fact, the park even put together a climbing guide, and specifically labelled the trail that leads to the climbing area “Climbing Access”. So, it appears to me that this would be a great place for rock climbers, but I would not know for sure. I have never been rock climbing. As a matter of fact, I am a bit unsure of whether or not I want to add this activity to my repertoire. On one hand, people I know who climb appear to love it. And, it would add an upper-body intensive activity to supplement my current activities, which are mainly lower-body intensive (mainly biking, hiking, and skiing). However, rock climbing appears dangerous to me. I am somewhat hesitant to take on a dangerous activity like this when I am perfectly happy with the less dangerous activities I currently do. It’s just one of those decisions I will likely put off for a while and then make based on something arbitrary, like someone’s fairly ridiculous line of reasoning at a bar one night.
Overall, Staunton State Park appears like a good place to go for mountain biking and climbing, that still offers some fairly good hikes. I look forward to checking this place out next year, hopefully with the Elk Falls Trail open, and seeing everything it has to offer. However, I am thinking that for someone whose primary interest is hiking, the options for hiking that does not resemble walking down the road may run out pretty quickly.