#1 Staunton State Park

Wild and quiet, Staunton State Park is Colorado’s newest treasure.

The 3,828-acre park opened in 2013. It’s a funny little park pushed up against Staunton Cliffs and is bordered by Elk Falls to the north, U.S. 285 to the south, Conifer Mountain to the east and Pine to the west. Driving by you wouldn’t think there’d be a state park there but in the summer months, people flock to its pine forest and aspen meadows.

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Staunton Trails Map

Francis Hornbrook Staunton donated the original 1,680-acre parcel to Colorado State Parks in 1986. Additional patchwork acquisitions have created a 3,700-square-mile wilderness 45 minutes from Denver.

The trail system is growing and you can take a nice day hike or put your back into it and hike some pretty treacherous pathways up to Lion’s Head and Elk Falls. I hear the falls are spectacular but I’m in no shape to walk from the entrance all the way up to Elk Falls but it’s a goal to shoot for.

I bought my Colorado State Parks annual pass for $70 today as a birthday present to myself and started my trek through all 42 state parks starting with Staunton.

The parking lot was empty except for one man walking his dog, a cyclist trying to navigate the mud and snow and a runner traipsing across the frozen trails.

I didn’t see many birds or any wildlife today.

The sky was a terrific blue conducive to making pretty pictures. I shot some vistas and a couple pictures of a cabin whose identity I don’t know. I was hoping to make it to Francis’s cabin but parts of my walk were through pretty deep snow and I worried if I could make it through. I know I came within 500 yards of it, though, I recognize the meadow it sits in but perhaps another time.

I visited the pristine Staunton State Park in 2010 as part of research for an article for the High Timber Times, a newspaper I worked for a few years ago. I was guided by a park ranger to Francis’ cabin and got to look around. Here’s what I saw on that day:

“The Staunton cabin, located in Middle Camp, remains standing. Inside, an old mattress with coil springs stands upright next to a broken window. A fox has made a home on an old bed in the upstairs sleeping loft. There are uneven floorboards on the front porch, but the screen door is visitor-friendly.”

A Lady in Waiting

Here’s more information on the park’s different areas and activities.

The park is divided into six areas: Lower Camp, Middle Camp, Rocks Camp, the Old Mill Site, East Preserve and West Preserve.

• Lower Camp is where visitors enter the park, and the area is accessible and will be family-friendly. This first phase of the park will offer hiking, camping, picnic areas, fishing, outdoor lectures series, wildlife viewing and a children’s play area.

• Middle Camp presents an opportunity to commemorate the gift that Staunton gave to Colorado, according to the LandWorks Design proposal. At the heart of this area is the historic Staunton cabin. Future park amenities will include additional hiking trails, group cabins, sleeper cabins, activity areas, group camping areas and picnic areas.

• Rocks Camp will allow access to rock formations and will serve as a base camp and check-in point for climbers and the adventurous. The property backs up to Pike National Forest and has secluded cabins and winter activities that transform the park into a year-round experience. Rocks Camp area is as far as cars will be able to go.

• At the Old Mill Site, the remnants of an old mill stand guard over mountain memories. The area will suit the more adventurous hikers, expert climbers, cyclists and horsemen. The mill is scheduled for renovation.

• The East Preserve has cliffs, forests and aspen groves. In this area, Mason Creek runs through and allows for wildlife migration. The area will have multi-use trails.

• The West Preserve promises to be the most popular destination in Staunton Park, with Lion’s Head looming overhead and hidden Elk Falls drawing many visitors, according to LandWorks Design. Raptors live on the mountainside, including peregrine falcons, prairie falcons and a golden eagle.

Since Staunton is just one mountain-top away from me, I intend to spend more time getting to know the trails and the park. Part of me would like to write a book about the history of the Staunton family and the park’s path into being. I know how to access the archives of the Denver Public Library. I’ve done it before during a class at school and it’s a tool a lot of writers use when researching local history. It’s how research was done BEFORE the internet.

The park is a real treat and I’m looking forward to photographing its treasures. I know I won’t be able to dedicate this much effort to all the Colorado State Parks I visit. I remind myself this is for fun, not for an article, on deadline.

This is all about fun and adventure.

Staunton State Park website

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