I’m always on the lookout for new trails to ride and have employed many methods to find them. Having lived in one place for a while now, I’m pretty sure I’ve found most of the legal trails within an easy day trip of home, and I don’t look much more in my immediate neighborhood.
Then, one day in May, a new trail just popped up and announced itself. Colorado opened its newest state park, with 15 miles of bike-legal singletrack. Colorado’s last state park at Cheyenne Mountain has proved to be an excellent mountain biking venue, and the Park Service has made great strides in accommodating mountain bikes, so I was psyched to check the place out.
Just 38 miles from downtown Denver and only 22 miles from C-470, Staunton State Park is easily accessible for the big city dwellers. Our journey on the backroads from Colorado Springs clocked in right at two hours and took us right by Buffalo Creek. Indeed, the scenery in Staunton is very Buffalo Creek-like, minus the burned areas.
However, the similarity mostly ends with the scenery. The 15 miles of singletrack open to bikes within the park are mostly machine-cut, which means fairly wide and homogeneously smooth trails. The Staunton Ranch Trail is really mostly an old service road.
There are interesting technical bits in the park, but they make up a small minority of the available terrain. Challenge within the park comes mostly in the form of elevation change. Riding all the trails in the park requires covering a total distance of 16 miles with nearly 3,000 vertical feet of climbing.
The trail network is composed of a large inner loop connected to a smaller outer loop with a short out-and-back stem on the end of the outer loop. The trail system may be ridden in either direction, but both loops are best done clockwise. The 3.3-mile Staunton Ranch Trail/road makes a nice warmup. At the 3.3 mile mark, you can turn right to proceed on the inner loop, or transition to the outer loop by continuing a short distance further and taking a left onto the 2.5-mile Marmot Passage Trail. This is where you will find the narrowest singletrack, the first brutal climb, fantastic views of the surrounding mountains, and a couple wonderfully-amusing tech spots. After descending to the lake, you will need to decide whether or not to continue onto the 1-mile out-and-back on the Lion’s Back Trail to a great overlook. Be advised, the grade is tough, and you may need to preserve some energy to complete the loop.
To continue the outer loop, follow the 1.1-mile Bugling Elk Trail to return to the junction with the inner loop. A left turn onto the 2.5-mile Border Line Trail will bring you to the longest, toughest climb in the park. The new trails are still quite soft in places, making for some very difficult switchbacks. Very few will be able to complete this climb nonstop. Once on top, it’s well worth taking the 100yd out-and-back to the overlook: the big climbs are done, and it’s a great place to chill with an energy bar and prepare for the rest of the ride.
The descent on the rest of the Border Line Trail provides a nice bit of variety with a few entertaining spots and even a couple air opportunities. The Border Line Trail concludes at a junction with a hiker-only trail at the site of an old mill. Proceeding on the bike-legal option at this point takes you to the 4.5-mile Mason Creek Trail, which will complete the ride. The Mason Creek Trail also provides some nice variety with a tough, but rideable, climb to start, followed by a traverse across a gorgeous aspen meadow. A little more climbing will take you to what will be the best part of the ride for many. The bulk of the Mason Creek Trail is a long, sweeping, flowing downhill, punctuated with a few air opportunities and some short, but tricky, narrow creek crossings.
Overall, this trail system has its moments, but there’s a lot of slogging around on very wide, uninteresting singletrack to get to them. I definitely wouldn’t characterize this as a “fun” ride, but it does have excellent potential as a training ride. However, you’re not going to get much in that regard on a weekend, as this place is very popular with hikers–you will get plenty of practice executing your multi-use trail etiquette. As a mountain biker, it’s obvious that, while cyclists were always planned to be a part of the park, what would appeal to them wasn’t. Most of the park displays a curious combination of high physical demand and low technical challenge, and will only draw a high appeal for physical hammerheads who don’t care for the rocks the rest of the area is known for.
Kudos to Colorado State Parks for including bikes in its newest jewel! However, if the Park Service really wants to welcome mountain bikes, they could make more trails that are interesting for bikers.
When Cheyenne Mountain State Park opened, it included singletrack trails that were purpose-built for technical riders, but still suitable for hikers. The majority of the trails were similarly wide and lacking character, but a few segments beckoned to advanced riders. At first, I rode there once and didn’t bother to go back for some time since the ratio of interesting trails was so low. However, I did return a few years later to find that some of the trails I had previously eschewed as not worth my time had developed some character in the intervening years, and it is now one of my local favorites.
Looking back on the trails at Staunton, I can see that, after some time of wearing down and weathering in, they may develop some character as well. I also expect that, as the newness wears off, the crowds will diminish and allow for a more consistent biking experience.
Like all Colorado State Parks, Staunton requires a $7 daily pass or possession of an annual parks pass ($70). I have the annual pass, given the frequency with which I ride Cheyenne Mountain and Lake Pueblo State Parks. However, I would not have felt like it was worth my money if I didn’t already have the statewide access. I certainly won’t drive right by Buffalo Creek again to get there, and even Denver residents have quicker access to many more suitable biking venues such as Dakota Ridge, Lair o’ the Bear, Bergen Peak, and Apex Park.
Bottom Line: Staunton State Park has potential, but shouldn’t be high on your wish list unless you’ve already ridden most everything else in the area.
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