Every state has a system of parks that most visitors don’t know anything about, but it’s a treasure to the locals.
Colorado is no different. Although the state has four national parks (Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of the Gunnison), there are ten times as many state parks. The newest one of these is Staunton, about 45 minutes west of Denver on U.S. highway 285, and just opened in May 2013.
A local’s secret – Staunton State Park
Up until now, the park has been a well-kept secret. Even most residents still don’t know about it. But just as police dogs can sniff out a suspect’s scent, activity seekers soon discovered Staunton and its extensive network of trails, homestead ruins (including what’s left of a dilapidated sawmill), fishing ponds and rock climbing cliffs.
Those of us who go hiking often complain that with Colorado’s growing population comes the inevitable crowds, especially on the trails. The weekends are naturally the worst times to go, when most are off work.
Even with increased numbers of new residents, long-timers like us appreciate a place like Staunton State Park. Although I’ve seen the sign for it when driving on US 285, we probably never would have gone there if it hadn’t been for our good friends suggesting going on a hike.
Ranch land to parkland
Frances Staunton and her family once owned this scenic mountain area, extending the original acreage from 160 to 1,720. After her passing, the state acquired more of the surrounding property, including ranches from a state senator and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. The park now has nearly 4,000 total acres to develop in time, which would make Staunton one of the largest in Colorado.
When you arrive at the main parking lots, you can either go a half-mile down to a fishing area, the Davis Ponds, or head up the main Staunton Ranch Trail. This will take you to any of the other routes within the park, including the perimeter-skirting Mason Creek Trail to the east, the Bugling Elk and Border Line Trails to the north and the West Meadow Trail to the west.
The Staunton Ranch Trail gently winds and rolls its way up from high alpine meadows and scrub to granite peaks. Our group stayed on this route, along with a considerable number fellow hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers. There was even a party of horseback riders, very fitting for this park.
A difficult but worthwhile climb
We then made our way up to the ruins of the main sawmill. This massive structure was in peak operations during the 1930s and lasted until the 1970s, when fires and disuse destroyed it. It’s surprising to see how much debris remains of the building.
Yards of weathered and torn wooden planks and large rusted sheets of corrugated steel spread out over a substantial parcel of fenced-in land. During the 1930s, a half-dozen men stayed year-round in a cabin, lumbering and working the sawmill. That building stands intact today, albeit with some concrete reinforcement.
To get there, it’s a bit of an ascent, with an over 500-foot elevation gain. Everyone in our party is in pretty good shape, but this climb made us wonder if we made the right decision.
But seeing these primitive sites at the top to get a glimpse of how ranch hands worked on the property was worth it. So is a trip out to Staunton State Park.