Stairs Gulch is a small side canyon in Big Cottonwood Canyon. It is a great trek following a series of small waterfalls cascading down the gulch (hence, stairs). The trail is steep, and pretty rocky, but it was short 3 quarter mile trek up a beautiful canyon.
We are currently experiencing an unseasonably warm December so what the heck, lets get another hike in! I found the Stairs Gulch hike recently, and even knowing it is a high avalanche danger area, we haven't gotten a lot of snow, so after some research to confirm it shouldn’t be dangerous, I decided this was our new adventure. I figured, if it looked sketchy we can turn back and try somewhere else.
To get here, drive 2.8 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon. There is a very small (4-5 vehicle) parking lot, right across from the Storm Mountain picnic area. If it is full, there is a parking lot about 1000 yards higher up with more space. The unmarked trailhead is on the south end. You know you are on the right path if you see the avalanche explosives warning sign.
View across the street from the trailhead.
The beginning of the trail.
Not far up there is this landslide section.
The explosives sign. A little disturbing, but we didn’t let it deter us.
View of the peaks above. I believe this is Storm Mountain.
we started hearing what sounded like a sprinkler, before long we found this random pipe spewing water. Must be some sort of overflow valve.
A couple of small arches. The lower one is bigger than it seemed at first, there are just some rocks behind it.
A little closer.
Gnarly branch and peaks above.
Yep, there is snow up there.
The first little waterfall.
With the mountains above.
It is a nice little cascade though.
Not much further up is this boulder you have to scramble over. it wasn’t too bad though.
The remnants of fall still litter the trail.
I started noticing that the rocks were looking kind of weird, and discovered frost. It was late afternoon, but it would seem, at least this time of year this canyon doesn’t get a whole lot of sun, so.. frost.
Quick section of some small cascades. We had to cross the stream here to continue going up.
View down the canyon.
Weird compact layer.
View up the canyon.
Water flowing over the boulders.
These little white birds were doing some interesting acrobatics, swinging around the branches upside down, sideways, like little monkeys. I’m really surprised I got a shot that came out.
Small pool with small falls.
More cascades and peaks above. The Stairs is definitely living up to it’s name. Just cascade after cascade the whole way up.
Itty bitty little staircase.
Nifty ridged boulder.
well, there is a whole cliff face of it.
They just keep going.
And with the peak above.
A small waterfall.
And some more.
The peak above. There is some snow up there, but not nearly as much as I would expect for December. Also, this picture didn’t quite capture it, but the color of the rocks up there looks very similar to Yellowstone.
Well, we really enjoyed exploring the area, and continued a little higher than agreed upon twice now, so we decided it was time to head back. I was really enjoying all of the little cascades, more than I care to count. No major waterfall though, at least as far as we went.
The north side of the canyon, this time of year and day, the sun it just hitting the very top of it.
View down into Big Cottonwood Canyon.
More of the stream.
One of the lower cascades. Sometimes I like these small waterfalls, they can have more character that you can see then some of the big ones.
Nearing the bottom of the gulch offered a view up Big Cottonwood Canyon.
The dying plant looks like a column of skulls.
And back to the trailhead. When we arrived I recognized the pullout above as something I have wanted to stop by one day, and never have, so we planned to go check that out as well. I mean, it’s right there, why not?
The mound of quartzite.
Almost completely vertical layers. Kind of nifty.
Looking towards Storm Mountain. It looks a little more gnarly than the trail was.
Looking up Big Cottonwood Canyon.
This little mound is just covered in pieces of rock.
Looking down canyon.
Layers of rock. It looks pretty sharp!
And back to the parking lot. There was a trail at the south end too, which I am very curious about. Apparently, there is a whole lot of this canyon I have yet to explore! I am going to have to rectify this soon.
And driving down the canyon. (DBP Album).
Well, we got a bonus quick side adventure to go with our Stairs gulch adventure. The side adventure was climbing up on a rock, and offered some nice views and interesting geology, but not worth rating. It was neat, stop by if you have time. But don’t come up here for that.
Stairs Gulch was short, but steep! Currently the next day and my thighs are barking at me. Only 3/4 of a mile, but you can add more depending how much you want to explore. Yea, no major waterfall, but the stairs and the geology are pretty fascinating. Also, even though the small parking lot was full, we didn’t run into any other people. This is definitely on my list to explore again during the summer and/or fall. 9 squirrels out of 10.
Difficulty, well, again it was quite steep, and somewhat strenuous with a couple creek crossings, and some boulder scrambling, but it really wasn’t too bad, and of course it wasn’t too long. Going with a DR4.
Dogs are not allowed in Big Cottonwood Canyon due to watershed, so leave your little buddy at home for this one.