Monday, June 23, 2014

Staunton State Park: Staunton Ranch ... Scout Line Loop

Distance: 7 miles round trip
Elevation: 8,370 ft - 9, 262 ft
Elevation Gain: 892 ft (net) 1,162 ft (cumulative)
Dogs: On leash ... State Park
Bathroom at Trailhead: Yes
Date Hiked: 1 June 2014

The imposing pink cliffs of Staunton State Park near Pine Colorado (~40 miles up highway 285 from Denver).
Only a year old at the time of this posting, Stauton State Park near Pine Colorado, is a lovely addition to the Colorado State Park system, and its proximity to Denver means it can't help but grow in popularity. I found the park quite enchanting with its variety of terrain and tantalizing views of towering granite cliffs, rolling green hills, and distant mountains. The only downside of the area is that there is really only one access to the trails so getting to the furthermost reaches of the park really requires some serious walking or a mountain bike.  On this inaugural trip, we cruised up the easy Staunton Ranch Trail from the group picnic grounds to the Scout Line Trail, which climbs steeply up an escarpment. We then took the short Marmot Passage Trail back to the Staunton Ranch Trail for a 7-mile lollypop loop.

The overflow parking lot
Starting out on the Staunton Ranch Trail
Open meadow with Aspens and Douglas Fir
The day we visited was very crowded and we ended up parking in an overflow lot near the group picnic grounds. Fortunately, a ranger was standing in the road pointing the way. Otherwise I am not sure we would have known to park in the large dirt area. It was a short 100 yard walk to the picnic grounds and bathrooms, and the entrance to the Staunton Ranch Trail lay half-way between the dirt lot and the picnic area and was well marked with a sign.

Trails are well marked with names and distances.
On the Scout Line trail we quickly left the crowds behind.
The Scout Line Trail switchbacks up an escarpment.
The Staunton Ranch Trail wanders blissfully through sun dappled glades of Ponderosa Pine and Aspen. You can tell this portion of the park used to be a ranch because the trees are widely spaced and lush green grasses cover the area making for bovine paradise. Because of the ease of this trail, we found it teaming with families and children or small clusters of high schoolers recently released from their pens. Mountain bikers too, cruised quickly up the flat dirt pathway. It was not until we reached the much harder Scout Line Trail (at 1.7 miles and a lazy 334 ft) that we left the crowds behind.

View of the Staunton Rocks from the Scout Line Trail
A rocky segment on the Scout Line Trail
The Scout Line Trail was by far the most interesting part of the route. It climbed sharply up through rocky outcroppings and the trees changed to Lodgepoles and Douglas Fir. The imposing cliffs of jagged Pikes Peak Granite, a metamorphic batholith forged deep with in the Earth, were visible from several angles. The populated hills that border the park seemed less intrusive when viewed from above and the snow capped peaks near Mt. Evans seemed a stones throw away. We saw only two other people on this harder segment and maxed out at 9,262 ft (at 3.2 miles and 976 ft of elevation gain).

Looking southwest from the Scout Line Trail at the many ranches that border the park.
Close up of the mountain range to the west. From this angle I am not sure if this is Rosalie Peak or Mt. Evans.
Heading down the shaded Marmot Passage Trail
At the top of the escarpment, the trees closed in and became a dense stand of Lodgepole Pine. Downed trees littered the slope and still the sunlight barely made it to the forest floor where a bed of decaying pine needles kept all other plants away. The Marmot Passage Trail (junction at 3.5 miles) travels sharply downwards through this forest for only 0.5 miles before dumping out onto the broad and sandy Staunton Ranch Trail (at 4 miles).

On the upper reaches of the Staunton Ranch Trail
The Staunton Rocks from lower down
The upper segment of the Staunton Ranch Trail travels parallel to the imposing cliffs of the Staunton Rocks climbing area. We saw several groups of climbers winding their way upwards, mere gnats clinging precariously to the rocks. The route is a wide dirt road and it did not take long to return to the car.

A final view before we cruised back to the car.
I really enjoyed Staunton State Park and send grateful missives skywards towards the numerous benefactors who left parcels of land for the rest of us to enjoy. This is now part of your Colorado, so get out and enjoy it!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Always enjoy your descriptions, it's like I did the hike (without the hike) . Happy Summer Hiking,