Exploring Staunton State Park – Mason Creek to Bear Paw Trail

Those of you who have read a few of my posts are probably starting to notice a theme that the hikes that I choose tend to have some sort of a view as a payoff for your hard work. The trail I decided on this week was another one that I chose for exactly this reason. There were a total of 3 overlooks along the way that each offered amazing views. This was another heavily trafficked trail, so I knew to get there as early as I could.

I arrived at Staunton State Park and paid the state park daily fee, appreciative that they had an option to pay with a card for those that may not carry cash. I navigated my way to the Mason Creek trailhead a short distance from the entrance of the park and made it to the parking lot at around 6:45, greeted by only three other cars. I held out hope that this “heavily trafficked” trail would turn out to be less so today. When I started, it was immediately obvious that I was in a state park, with the trail in immaculately maintained condition.

View of the beginning of the Mason Creek Trail with sunshine flowing through the trees
Sun peeking over the mountain top as it rises in the morning
View of the meadow and a sign describing the bridge just crossed

The trail starts out in a meadow setting before quickly turning to thicker forest, with Mason Creek along your right side. It was chilly again this morning and I tried to find the sun where I could. There were a couple areas off the trail and along the creek with benches constructed, which would be nice to read, write, or simply just meditate with the sound of the flowing water constantly next to you. There were also a couple of designated rock climbing areas right along the trail. Maybe one day I’ll come back and give that a try!

View of the heavily wooded trail
View of one of the seating areas along the creek
Sign detailing where to turn off for the Dines Cliff Climbing Access
Beautiful rock landscape along the trail
Trail leading to the Raven Climbing area just off the trail
Wooded and rocky trailing leading up
A stream crossing along the Mason Creek Trail
Rough hiking terrain on the Mason Creek Trail

I had a few different wildlife encounters during this stretch of the hike. First, I was startled by a deer that I could hear running alongside me, but he was hard to find.

Deer peering through the trees back at me
Closer view of the deer staring back at me through the trees
Oh hello there!

Next, I ran into a marmot who had his eye on me and definitely didn’t want me getting too close. I snapped a few shots from a distance before continuing on, with the little guy scampering off somewhere too.

Marmot sitting on a rock along the trail

I ran into another couple of deer right on the trail, and I wasn’t sure if the first one was going to let me pass or not! It was amazing getting so up close to them, and the second one even gave me a little leap as he hurried on to find a quieter place to graze.

Deer waiting alongside the trail for me
GIF of deer hopping away from me

It wasn’t until you got a few peeks at the surrounding cliff sides that you could tell you were making some progress, although my heavy breathing and heart rate might beg to differ. I reached the detour on the Mason Creek trail that forces you onto the Bear Paw trail, but honestly, this is the hike I wanted to do anyways, as this took me to the various outlooks.

Rocky landscape along the Mason Creek Trail, looking up at the sun beating down.
Detour off Mason Creek Trail to Bear Paw Trail

The first one that I reached was the Catamount Outlook, and the views certainly didn’t disappoint! You had a wide view of the surrounding low lying areas, and the taller peaks further in the distance. It was a great place to sit and reflect, but after a couple other groups of people came through, I realized that the crowds were hot on my heels and this wouldn’t be a peaceful place to rest for long. It was time to continue to the next outlook, the Pike’s Peak Outlook.

Viewing the surrounding landscape from the Catamount Outlook
Viewing the surrounding mountains from the Catamount Outlook
Selfie at the Catamount Outlook
Have to get at least one selfie to prove I actually did it!

On the way to the next outlook, you’re faced with a choice – you can either go the “technical terrain” route, or take the “bypass”. I’m not one to usually choose the route that takes me closer to the edge of the cliff, but I had to find out what “technical terrain” meant. Was I going to have to rock climb to get there? I could always turn around, so I made my choice to see what this route held in store for me.

Fork in the road where you must choose your path

Honestly, I wouldn’t classify it as technical terrain per se, but I think the sign and the two routes are really there to warn bikers not to go left. Hiking, though, it wasn’t any more difficult than the rest of the trail, just a little closer to the edge and a little more rocky. Since the detour won’t allow you to do the full loop right now, I’d recommend taking one route on the way there, and the other route on the way back like I did. Neither is more challenging than the other, but it offers two different views so the trip back isn’t the exact same.

Example of the technical terrain looking towards the mountains
“Technical Terrain”

The Pike’s Peak Outlook comes into view much the same as the Catamount, emerging on your left side just off the trail. The views from this outlook were just as spectacular, and I took the opportunity to snap a few more pictures of the beautiful landscape in front of me.

View of the surrounding area from the Pike's Peak Outlook
Looking through the trees at the mountains in the distance from the Pike's Peak Outlook
View from the Pike's Peak Outlook

There was one more outlook remaining, the Eagle Cliffs Outlook, and it was a bit more of a trek. The trail was in insanely good shape throughout the entire hike, and it made it very enjoyable. Not having to constantly look down for fear of tripping or twisting an ankle on a rock allows you to look around at the scenery around you for a change.

Forest of pine trees with the sun filtering through

I reached the Eagle Cliffs Outlook, and it was honestly a lot more daunting than the other two. It was a bit of a scramble up to the outlook, and my legs were already feeling tired. I decided that I was okay passing on scrambling up all the way to the top on this one, though I’m sure the views are outstanding as well.

View from the bottom of the Eagle Cliffs Outlook

I was 4.7 miles into my journey at this point, and I knew that I had pretty much the same hike ahead of me going back, though at least this direction it was almost all downhill. It was time for me to turn around and start heading back. As soon as I reversed course, I was hit in the face with the heavy traffic that I was warned about, but honestly, with the trail as nice and as wide as it was, it made passing easy and I never minded the people. You may have to pay to get into the state park, but the benefits were obvious all day long.

View heading down a rocky stretch of the Mason Creek Trail, with Mason Creek on my side
Lovely mountain meadow surrounded by pines and aspens

The return trip was fairly uneventful, with group after group of people almost certainly scaring off any more wildlife that might’ve been close to the trail. I enjoyed the wildflowers along the trail and the sounds of the birds chirping, while getting in a good workout. I would highly recommend this trail not only because of the wildlife encounters early in the morning, but also the well-maintained trail and the easily accessed scenic overlooks. Another successful Sunday!

Becoming Mr. and Mrs. Keller: Part 2

Friday, September 15th

Friday morning we woke up after an amazing night with our friends, and it was time for our welcome picnic. Carly, my mom, Aunt Robin, Matt, Heather and I set up an assembly line in the kitchen to make the sandwiches for everyone. It didn’t take long before I didn’t have a job, because I couldn’t get anything to work. I was particularly bad at trying to get the cheese slices apart (don’t ask). While last minute preparations were being made, I took a drive over to the picnic spot we had picked out. It looked perfect on Google Maps, but we figured we better go check it out quick before everyone else showed up.

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Some friends I met along the way

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The spot was absolutely breathtaking and everything that we had hoped for!

We had hoped that this would be a fun activity for everyone that was in town, but with the wind coming off the lake, it was a little chilly, especially for the grandparents. We decided to take the hike to the falls before we ate lunch, just to give ourselves a little warm up. It wasn’t a particularly difficult hike, and I would recommend it for most people because of the pay off once you reach the falls! giphy (4).gif

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Taking pictures by Adams Falls! The Aspens changing color were incredible

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The views were surreal!

20170915_13043220170915_130352With the wind blocked by the trees and the sun shining, it was a beautiful day outside, and it made for a very enjoyable hike. Once we trekked back down to the lake, we hung out around the picnic area a little while longer as we ate our sandwiches, but I think everyone was ready to get somewhere warmer before too long.

After the picnic, it was time for the rehearsal dinner. We practiced the ceremony with everyone that was involved and decided last minute details of how it was going to go. We wanted to keep the whole thing short and sweet, and my brother, Matt, was thoroughly prepared for the task. I felt confident that he would keep us on track and everything would go smoothly the next day.

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Practicing the ceremony!!

We ordered barbecue from a local catering company in Grand Lake, and it was some of the best barbecue we have had, especially in Colorado. Almost everyone that was coming to the wedding was in town at that point, and it was awesome having all of the two families together. Steve started us a bonfire on the beach for the younger folks, while the grandparents and the rest of my family hung out around the gas fireplace.

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We might’ve all smelled like campfire at the end of the night, but it was so much fun having all of our closest friends in one place with us. We knew from the beginning of the night that we didn’t really have any good ideas of what to do when it was time to put the fire out, but when the time came, we had to do something. The best that we came up with was grabbing the metal rake that was there and spreading coals out. Then, by some miracle, it started pouring rain right as we were spreading the coals out, and solved our problem! We decided that due to the campfire smoke smell, it was probably in our best interest to stay around the gas fire the next night in our wedding clothes.

Wedding Day!!

I woke up to some small flurries falling outside, and I’m not sure if that’s good luck on a wedding day or not, but it certainly wasn’t good luck for our round of golf that morning. While the girls were getting the venue ready with flowers and rearranging the bar, the guys went golfing at Grand Lake Golf Course.

IMG_8314.JPGI’m glad that I had thought to bring my flannel lined pants, otherwise I’m not sure I would’ve made it through the round. The few precious moments where we got some sunshine were the most incredible feelings ever. We would all stop to soak in what little sun we could.

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I don’t even know what I shot that day, because it really didn’t matter to me, and the course was incredible. We grabbed a sandwich at Cy’s Deli in Grand Lake before they dropped me back off at the venue to get ready.