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Colorado is blessed to have so much amazing and accessible open space. To experience a hike back East like the one I did today at Colorado’s Staunton State Park, it would take hours of driving, packing and planning. Instead I woke up early on a Saturday morning in Denver. At 7 am I googled “Good hikes near Denver”. By 8:30 I was standing on the trailhead. Nice.
The park is a short drive west of metro Denver near the town of Conifer, an cute burg nestled in Aspen Park in the foothills of the Rockies. If you are in Denver and can’t get an extended trip into the Mountains (but then why would you BE in Denver), it is a great place to feel like you have escaped.
Here is a little history from their website:
Colorado’s newest state park opened to the public on May 18, 2013. The park is located approximately 40 miles southwest of downtown Denver, north of US Highway 285 and about six miles west of Conifer. The Park sits divided between Park and Jefferson counties, in Pine, Colorado.
The first 1,720-acre parcel of land was donated to Colorado State Parks in 1986 by Frances Hornbrook Staunton. Subsequent parcels of land were added over the years to make up the now 3,828 acre park. Read more about the story of Staunton State Park at our history page.
You can download a trail map here. A lot of folks hike to the scenic Elk Falls Overlook, which features a scenic 100 foot waterfall. The entire hike out and back is almost 11 miles. Being both ill-equipped (traveling without boots or pack) and seeking a little more solitude on a busy Saturday, I made a 7 mile loop using the Staunton Ranch Trail out and the Marmot Passage Trail back. It was a beautiful walk through meadows, woods and some old ranch trails. I was grateful to have used the Marmot Trail for my return because the trail was a little steep, but the return was almost entirely a decent.
This is also a great hike for kids on an even trail with open vistas along the way. Enjoy!
Battlefield hikes are always some of my favorite. The open vista walks are a constant source of scenery (as opposed to the normal “wait-for-it” hike to the peak or overlook), and as a birder, the meadow habitats attract a plethora of songbirds, raptors and other wildlife. A recent visit to Manassas National Battlefield only reinforced this appreciation.
Walking the now quiet site of two distinct and pivotal civic war battles, it is hard to imagine you are walking through the scene of such fierce fighting or that you are today only a few miles from the bustle of the Nation’s Capital. As a generally flat landscape with trails across open meadows, through woods and along Bull Run, it is a great walk for kids and dogs that enjoy the opportunity some open space to run.
You can build a hike using many of the trails that cross the various fields, but the First Manassas Trail offers a tidy 5.4 mile loop which takes in the most iconic sites such as the Stone House and Stone Bridge.
A recent walk through the Millington Wildlife Management Area in eastern Kent County, Maryland reminded me of a theme of Paul Gruchow’s book “The Necessity of Empty Places” which is that there needs to be in the world, if only for inspiration, places set aside that are not designed to be occupied my man.
The 4000 preserved acres in this northeastern corner of Maryland’s Easter Shore unintentionally fits that purpose. While a wonderful mix of preserved hardwood forests, pine groves, wetlands and managed fallow farm fields, the acreage is not completely contiguous, trails are poorly marked and mapped, and invitations of public access are nearly non-existent. In fact, armed with the website overview and a printed web-based map, following trails and finding the access points can be a challenging exercise.
Of course, this also means that your odds of running into another hiker are rare and your opportunities to stumble upon wildlife are very good. On my recent walk I enjoyed seeing deer, turkey, rabbits, and a plethora of birds. I was able to enjoy several short walks through woods and meadows, although not one seemed to match the map I had printed that morning.
Where I live 20 minutes down the road it is still considered quite rural. But as I hear plans of new housing developments, convenience stores and other nearby “improvements” upon the land, it is nice to know that there will always be 4000 poorly marked, hardly used and permanently “empty” acres.
If you are not much into the haunted hayride scene but think it would be fun to inject a little creepy into a Halloween hike, consider a visit to the section of the Appalachian Trail that passes through Burkittsville, Maryland – the setting for the movie The Blair Witch Project. While I am not aware of any organized activities in the area, a few local folks have nonetheless taken the time to maintain year-round a few of the outdoor scenes from that movie in the woods around this section of trail, including those piles of rocks that the characters discovered outside their tent, and a few creepy stick figures in the trees. They are set back from the trail which makes them all the more startling and “realistic” when you do notice them – not too far from the Gathland State Park parking lot on the Southbound section of the trail.
For a little pre-hike prep, stick your head in the open, unoccupied tomb of George Alfred Townsend (nicknamed “Gath”) – at the parking lot near the trail head. And when you are up there, remember not to let your friends carry the map.