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!

Chicago Lakes Trail – Mt. Evans Wilderness

There are certain hikes that I’ve done over the past couple of years that I’ll remember for a lifetime, and this turned into one of them. It may be because of a particularly impressive view the inspires awe, or potentially an encounter with wildlife that makes me appreciate the beauty around me. This hike would end up having more than one element of a truly unforgettable experience.

I decided on the Chicago Lakes Trail for Sunday’s hike, despite the fact that it was a heavily trafficked trail (something I tend to try to avoid), mostly because I really wanted to do a hike with a mountain lake payoff. Since I knew I needed to beat the crowds, I left the house around 5:30 and arrived at the trailhead at almost exactly 6:30, greeted by quite a few cars in the parking lot – certainly more than I expected arriving that early. There were a few people casting out their lures, but overall, Echo lake was serene and peaceful.

Looking over Echo Lake in the morning towards Mt Evans in Colorado

Still slightly groggy from the early morning and the drive up, I was confident in the trek ahead of me, and my adventure began. The trail was very nice and well defined, following the lake for the first stretch, with signs pointing me in the right direction. It was chilly – about 45 – and I was grateful for the trees surrounding me that offered a little bit of solace from the wind.

Sign marking the trail ahead
Beginning of the Chicago Lakes Trail, where it splits from the Echo Lake Trail
Sunrise over the Rocky Mountains from the trail

The beautiful mountain trail that I was so peacefully enjoying quickly turned into a terrifying ordeal for me, as someone who is absurdly scared of heights, when I was confronted with a narrow, rocky, uneven trail, with a steep drop off on one side.

Steep cliff at the beginning of the Chicago Lakes Trail

I had a lot of time on my hike to think about how to present this part of my hike. I thought about acting like I was perfectly confident and conquered my fears. I thought about acting like I was nervous, but continued to press forward despite my trepidation. The truth is, I turned around and headed back towards my car the first time I got to this part. I decided this wasn’t something I was prepared for, nor something I could do mentally.

As I headed back to the trailhead, I passed a few groups of people that looked like they should be more scared than they were, and it honestly gave me a little bit of confidence. I turned around to actually conquer my fears, only to reach the same exact point and decide a second time that this maybe wasn’t worth it.

It wasn’t until I was heading back a second time and passed a family with a small child that I decided maybe I was a little more scared than I should be. So I turned around once again and started out a third time. As they say, the third time was a charm. I think I was just a little bit more awake and my legs were just a little bit more warmed up, allowing me to navigate through. The sketchy terrain continued for maybe a mile, and there was nowhere to hide as the mountain forced you forward. I kept my head down, looking down at my feet and every step I took, and I eventually made it through. I decided to tell the full story to hopefully inspire someone else to push themselves past their boundaries and conquer their fears. It certainly was a good feeling getting through there though and descending further into the trees, where I felt much more comfortable. I had added probably a mile to my hike that I would come to regret fairly quickly, though.

Looking back at the tricky terrain just crossed, with mountains in the distance.

It’s not often that hikes start off going downhill, but it was nice coming down from the heights into a valley of sorts. There was a small stream to cross and the wind was almost nonexistent, allowing me to finally relax for the first time in a while.

Rocky terrain at the beginning of the Chicago Lakes Trail
Heavily wooded portion at the beginning of the trail

The hike went quickly going downhill and it was no time before I was turning the corner to start heading back up to the first lake. This part was a workout, with a seemingly never ending steady incline. The trail was wide and allowed faster people to pass easily, but this definitely got the heart pumping for me.

View of the steady incline going up to the first lake

In all honesty, reaching this lake was the goal for my hike when I left this house this morning, but there was at least a small part of me that thought maybe I could keep going. Upon reaching the lake, though, I have to say that I was at least a little bit underwhelmed. I think it was the fact that the lake was manmade via a dam, when I envisioned a natural mountain lake. It was still beautiful, don’t get me wrong, and I could see myself returning here for a picnic. You can walk all the way around the lake and find a place all to yourself to relax.

View over the first lake that you reach on the trail
Another view of the mountain lake and surrounding Cliffside's

This wasn’t what I was hoping for, though, and especially after pushing myself through the beginning, I wanted to make this hike count. I knew from my map that it was going to add a lot of mileage to my journey, and my stutter at the beginning had already added enough, but I decided to see what I could do.

Looking back over the first lake towards the dam

As you move past the first lake, you’re greeted with two cabins, and I honestly couldn’t be more jealous of the people that own them. Although a ton of foot traffic passes by their quiet cabins every day, they seemed friendly to the hikers and even had a labyrinth set up to break up the hike.

Labyrinth Instructions along the hike
Looking at the very unique labyrinth set up

I moved passed the two cabins and the incline started yet again. I wasn’t sure how long I could endure this, but as I’ve said before, sometimes I don’t know when to stop when I’m by myself – especially when I know there’s something more to see if I just keep going a little further.

Looking up the trail at the surrounding cliffs

The views were spectacular as I climbed higher and higher, alternating between wooded forest with stream crossings, and open meadows that offered wide panoramas of the surrounding mountains.

Steam crossing on the Chicago Lakes Trail
Sign depicting your entrance into the Mt. Evans wilderness area
Panoramic view of the trail and the surrounding mountains
View of the. meadow and surrounding mountains
Panoramic view of Mt. Evans and surrounding peaks

I couldn’t believe that I had pushed myself so far, but I finally reached the second lake after what seemed like an eternity of steady incline, and I was glad that I did. This was the payoff that I was looking for! There was the natural mountain lake that I set out to find, fed by the still melting snow, that gave way to the sheer cliffs of the peaks all around. I felt such a sense of awe at the scene around me that I found a large rock upon which I could sit to take it all in for a while. It was really cold at this point, probably in the low 40s with a strong wind and no protection around, but I sat on that rock for about 20 minutes taking in the scene. It was truly incredible.

View of the meadow in front of the second lake on the trail
Selfie in front of the lake and the mountains
Panoramic view of the second lake, Mt. Evans, and surrounding cliffs
Another shot of the taller mountains surrounding me

There was at least a little part of me again that wanted to keep going to the next lake, but my ankles and knees were hurting already and I hadn’t even started the trek back yet. I knew it was time to turn around and hope that I could actually make it. I hadn’t done a hike this long in a really long time and was again kicking myself for adding an extra mile.

I’m glad that I headed back when I did though, because I timed it perfectly for running into a couple of moose right off the trail! This is what I hope for every time I go out, and they were right there, so close to us. I felt so lucky to have this encounter.

Two moose grazing in a mountain meadow with cliffs behind
Lots of moose footage in the video below!!

It was hard to pull myself away, but after watching them for probably 10-15 minutes, they started to walk away and so did I, continuing on down the trail.

Giant boulder next to the hiking trail

It seemed so long ago already, but when I reached the part that was the descent at the beginning, suddenly I was faced with a steep final climb back to the trailhead. This time, though, there was a steady stream of traffic coming the other way, and the two way traffic on such a narrow trail made the steep cliffs even worse. My legs were wobbly now too, which also didn’t help.

Rocky incline back to the trailhead and parking lot

Somehow I eventually made it back to the trailhead, and honestly felt better than I would’ve expected after such a long hike. Maybe I should’ve kept going to the last lake! Next time..

This was another classic example of me thinking that the parking lot was full when I arrived, but was then greeted by more people than I could’ve ever imagined. Echo Lake is apparently pretty popular for picnics and fishing, and there were cars all up and down the road when I got back. I was thankful for being able to enjoy the calm of the lake when I was heading up, and was happy to get out of there quickly on my way out, to let someone else have my spot.

Shot of the parking completely full, including along the road

Anytime I see moose, the trail is going to rate at the top of my list, but I truly think this was one of the best trails I’ve been on in Colorado. I would highly recommend it, but just make sure you go to the second lake at least!

Trekking the Tanglewood Trail

This is another post that’s overdue, as this adventure was on September 14.

As can be said about so many other of my adventures, I had grand intentions when I set out this morning. This is especially true of my solo hikes, and this was one such hike. For some reason, going it alone gives me extra determination to really explore my boundaries and capabilities. I set out to climb the 13er, Rosalie Peak, which tops out at 13,575 feet, though my goal was more modest, as I just wanted to get above 13,000 feet at a minimum.

The trail I would take is the Tanglewood trail, with the trailhead sitting near the Mount Evans wilderness area, just northwest of Bailey. I arrived at 8:30am, which was plenty early with the generous parking available and very few visitors today. The road in was a little bumpy, which may explain the lack of people a bit, but this was still unusual for almost any trailhead this near to Denver. A review I read called this something like “one of the most secluded hikes I’ve ever been in on Colorado”. It already was shaping up that way.

The hike through the trees was a very steady incline, which was a fun challenge at first, but after a few miles of no flat spots to catch your breath, it becomes exhausting. I didn’t even notice how tired I was, though, because of the incredible beauty of the forest on this trail. There was everything you could ask for! Flowing creeks, beautiful wildflowers, towering pines, and even a woodpecker!

It was quite a journey before I finally emerged from the trees to a breathtaking view of the front range.

The journey to the top of Rosalie Peak was just beginning though, and I was starting to question if I was going to make it all the way. I was about 2 miles in, but had climbed over 1000 feet already. My legs were tired and I had another 3 miles and 2000 feet to go to meet my minimum. This was one of those times where I get crazy ideas by myself and just keep pushing. Onward it was.

Even though the trek was grueling at this point, the views kept getting better and better, and I just had to see what was at the top..

On my left as I came up the trail to the saddle was what I believe to be Rosalie Peak, but there were no trail markers or discernible trails going up. Maybe there was a trail and my mind just didn’t want me to see it so I would turn around. At this point I had hiked approximately 4 miles, gained 2,600 feet of elevation, though I was a few feet shy of only 12,000. I was well short of my goal of 13,000 feet, but I achieved the goal of finding my limit.

I placed a celebratory rock on the marker at the top of the saddle and turned to head back home, completely satisfied with my journey. Maybe next year I’ll find that trail up Rosalie Peak and keep pressing on to see what’s up there..

All in all, it was one of the best adventures I’ve had in Colorado, as well as being one of the more beautiful and challenging hikes. There was a hiccup on my alltrails track near the beginning of the recording, but you can see from my watch data that it was 9 miles and nearly 2,600 feet of elevation gain. Not bad!