Stagecoach State Park trails are a relatively simple system based around a reservoir but don’t mistake simple for ordinary. Hiking around the Stagecoach Reservoir delivers jaw-dropping views of the upper Yampa River Valley including a few noteworthy points of interest.
Keep reading to learn more about hiking in Stagecoach State Park.
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About Stagecoach State Park
Stagecoach State Park is in northwestern Colorado, near Oak Creek and Steamboat Springs in Routt County. Grasses and low shrubs are the primary vegetation in this wondrously lush landscape, with forests nearby. The lack of trees in the park means incredible views of the valley and nearby mountains.
Yet another Colorado State Park that centers around a reservoir, Stagecoach was established in 1989 after a concrete dam was constructed across the Yampa River. The resulting artificial lake stores water needed by the nearby residents. The dam also contains a hydroelectric power plant named after area water pioneer John D. Fetcher. On average, the plant generates enough energy to power 100 homes for a year.
By the numbers, the park covers 1,641-acres (664 ha), with the three-mile-long (4.8 km) reservoir covering about 820 of those acres (331 ha).
People have been drawn to the abundant resources in this valley for centuries, starting with Native American tribes. The Ute Indians may have occupied the land for more than 10,000 years before European explorers came along in 1776. Fur trappers started arriving in northwestern Colorado around 1820. The fur trade eventually declined, but area populations increased after the discovery of gold in Denver in 1859 and at nearby Hahn’s Peak in 1861. With the forced removal of the Ute tribes in 1881, the land was available for new settlers to establish ranches. In the early 1900s, transportation to the high country became more manageable, and the coal mining industry rose. Just six miles (9.6 km) from today’s Stagecoach State Park, Oak Creek started as a coal mining town in 1907.
The name Stagecoach comes from an actual stagecoach line that operated between the current town of Wolcott, Colorado, and Steamboat Springs from 1888 to 1909. The route traveled along part of present-day County Road 14, the road to the park’s main entrance. At the time, the 74-mile (119-km) long trip included an overnight stop and cost passengers $6.50. The stagecoach line became obsolete once a passenger railroad line opened, but the name stuck.
Today, tourism is a significant business that caters to skiers, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts; Stagecoach State Park is one of the many options for visitors.
Hiking in Stagecoach State Park
Unlike some other state parks, there is no continuous trail around the reservoir. To be sure, it is possible to make a loop around the whole park by utilizing County Road 18 and small portions of County Roads 16 and 14. However, I would only attempt it on a bike because of the distance (at least 10 miles, 16.1 km) and the need to walk on the roads. On the other hand, there are ample paths to get fantastic views of the water and the surrounding mountains without circumnavigating the lake. Highlights include the Flat Tops mountains toward the southwest and the dramatic cliff face of Blacktail Mountain just to the north.
The park has about 8 miles (12.9 km) of trails, defined mainly by the shoreline of Stagecoach Reservoir, as shown in the trail map below. While many of the routes can be described as “walks around a lake,” Stagecoach has a few surprises for the focused hiker. The first is the Pinnacle Peak Trail.
Pinnacle Loop and Pinnacle Peak Trails
These trails aren’t long, less than a mile (1.6 km), but the route is a must-do for anyone visiting the park. Near the Pinnacle campground, the Pinnacle Loop circles a tall mound that juts into the lake. The Pinnacle Peak Trail branches off this circle and climbs 65-90 feet to the top, adding a “wow factor” to the already impressive views across the water. It’s also an excellent spot for meditation or some quiet time.
This short trail is self-contained. For different routes, read on, and check the trail map below.
Elk Run Trail
The 5.1-mile (8.2 km) Elk Run Trail, the longest in the park, closely follows the lake’s south shoreline. Start with this trail at either end or in the middle at Morrison Cove. I’ll recommend beginning at the Dam Access parking lot on the east end for at least two reasons: 1) the first part of the route crosses the top of the 145-foot tall Stagecoach Dam, and 2) the presence of a restroom building. The parking area is on Routt County Road 18, about 1.75 miles (2.8 km) from the park entrance.
Approaching Stagecoach Dam
Although “Dam Access” gives it away, it’s still a pleasant surprise to walk on the paved trail over the dam crest (360 feet, 110 meters long). This vantage point is an excellent viewing opportunity. The volume of the impounded water is vast, and the marina area is now over a mile (1.6 km) away, as the crow flies. With the reservoir on one side of the trail and the Yampa River far below on the other, take a minute to consider the dam itself. There’s a mind-boggling 9,360 pounds of pressure per square foot of concrete.
Next, look for the jet flow pipe on the front of the dam. Water bursting from the line introduces oxygen into the dam “tailwaters,” improving the environment for the fish population here.
After taking in the dam, continue forward on the trail. It’s flattish but rises and falls as it moves around the coves defining the lakeshore, especially on this eastern portion. The going is smoother near the Morrison Cove area and toward the other end at the Oak Shallows parking area. Note: Morrison Cove has restrooms, but Oak Shallows does not.
At 5 miles (8.05 km) long one way, there is plenty of time on the Elk Run Trail to take in the activity on the lake. On an early summer day, speedboats zipped from one end to the other, families enjoyed larger, slower boats, and stand-up paddleboarders cruised near the shore.
The “Lost Resort”
Past Morrison Cove, look to the peaks on the other side of the houses for another surprise. This is the site of the former Stagecoach Ski Resort, which operated for only two seasons from 1972-74 before closing down. It’s identifiable by the old ski runs that still carve a path down the mountain. Unfortunately, a recent plan to revive and develop the ski area fell through, so for now, it remains a “lost resort.”
Other Stagecoach State Park Trails
The other trails in the park are described below.
Overlook Trail and Lakeside Trail
The Overlook and Lakeside Trails cover the park’s north side, starting just inside the main park entrance. The Overlook Trail (0.75 miles, 1.45 km) meanders between County Road 14 and the campground areas, first heading uphill to a viewpoint, then heading downhill to reach County Road 18 within the park. The trail hugs closer to the water on the other side of the road, and the name changes to Lakeview. This path continues for about 0.9 miles (1.4 km) to the end at the Aspen View parking lot.
The park has three other short trails. The Public Lands Access Trail (PLAT) branches from the Elk Run Trail and climbs for one mile (1.6 km) outside the park to a high point for yet another valley overlook. The route closes from January 1 to March 31 for wildlife preservation.
The Tailwater Trail (0.25 mile, 0.4 km) connects a parking area to the Yampa River and is helpful for anglers. Drive past the dam access on County Road 18 for about half a mile (0.8 km) to get there.
Finally, the Wetlands Waterfowl Viewing Trail (0.25 mile, 0.4 km) is a trail for bird lovers next to the Yampa River. For access, park at Willow Crossing at the far east end of the park (near the intersection of County Roads 16 and 14).
Stagecoach State Park Trail Map
I created this map on AllTrails to highlight the hiking routes in Stagecoach State Park.
Don’t see the map or want to see the original? Click here to go to the map page on AllTrails.
More to do in Stagecoach State Park
The large reservoir is a draw for all kinds of water-based recreation. Fishing may be the frontrunner, and trout fishing in the Yampa tailwater area in front of the dam is reported to be exceptional. The main reservoir is known for its rainbow trout and northern pike populations.
Other recreational water activities include boating (May-September), jet-skiing, water-skiing, and paddleboarding. There is also a swim beach with a sand volleyball court near the campgrounds.
Part of the park is open for hunting during legal hunting season. This excludes the wetlands waterfowl viewing area.
Come for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or ice fishing in the winter. For more on park activities, visit the park’s official activity page or contact Steamboat Springs Boat Rentals, which operates the marina.
Food and Drink
I recommend bringing your own food for a post-hike picnic at the Keystone Point picnic area close to the park office.
At the very least, carrying adequate water is a must–the unshaded park can heat up quickly, even in the early summer.
In a pinch, there is a small store with food and snacks at the marina, which also carries fishing supplies and other necessities.
Stock up on supplies in Steamboat Springs or at the locally-owned Select Super Market in Oak Creek, only 6 miles (9.6 km) away via County Road 14 and Highway 131. Oak Creek also has a few well-rated cafes, bars, and restaurants.
Camping and Accommodations
Stagecoach State Park has four campgrounds ranging from primitive to 50 amp electric hookups. The campgrounds are clustered near the main park entrance. Check the campground map if you’d like a campsite with a water view. Remember that camping in Colorado state parks generally requires a reservation. Camping is available year-round, but there are no water facilities from October 31 through May 15.
For non-campers, nearby Oak Creek has motel accommodations at The Lodges of Oak Creek. Many more options are available in Steamboat Springs, which has a good mix of independent and chain hotels. Its also known for its resorts and vacation rentals.
Daily Vehicle Pass: $9
Individual Daily Pass: $4
Annual Affixed Pass (one vehicle): $83
Additional affixed pass $40
Family Annual Pass (multiple vehicles): $123
Aspen Leaf Annual Pass (64+) (one vehicle) : $73
Aspen Leaf Multiple Pass (64+) (multiple vehicles): $36
Stagecoach State Park is one of the state parks that requires an entrance fee (Individual Daily Pass, $4) if entering on foot (or bike)–unless you can show a receipt from a yearly vehicle pass.
Stagecoach State Park is about a 25-minute drive from downtown Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The official address for Stagecoach State Park is 25500 County Road 14, Oak Creek, CO, 80467. Look for the 1903 historic homestead cabin with an unusual diamond window on your way in.
Steamboat Springs itself is about a 3-3.5 hour drive of 160 miles (257 km) from Denver that travels through the Rocky Mountains.
To get to the park from Steamboat Springs, head east on Highway 40 and turn right at the intersection with Colorado highway 131 S. After about 6.5 miles (10.5 km), turn left onto County Road 14. Enter Stagecoach State Park on the left after about 5.3 miles (8.5 km).
The Colorado State Parks Passport
Be sure to get a stamp in the Colorado State Parks Passport book at the park office in Stagecoach State Park. The passport program provides visitors with a different stamp logo at each park stop. Of course, the symbol for Stagecoach State Park features a stagecoach.
Final Thoughts on Stagecoach State Park Trails
Stagecoach State Park Trails let you walk the shores of the lake, check out the Yampa dam, and gaze at a lost ski resort. Or get a different perspective from the top of the Pinnacle Peak or Overlook Trail. With the reservoir always in view, walking through this stunning mountain valley is a rewarding undertaking.
Have you been to Stagecoach State Park Trails? Leave a comment below!