Winding Stairs Loop
ElevationAscent: 1,564' 477 m
Descent: -1,570' -479 m
High: 8,760' 2,670 m
Low: 7,228' 2,203 m
GradeAvg Grade: 10% (6°)
Max Grade: 42% (23°)
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“A solid ascent along the ridge northwest of the upper reservoir and descending the old Winding Staircase-beautiful views”— Scott Todd
The descent on Winding Stairs Connector is eroded with a lot of loose small gravel; expect some sliding. If hiking in reverse (up Winding Stairs Connector ) then read the note in the main description - two junctions are easy to miss.
Head left (west) on Swank Trail and it will curl back southward and cross Ice Cave Creek again before ascending through groves of aspen up to a ridge at mile 2.2. At the ridge is a 4-way intersection. Straight continues on an eroded segment of Swank Trail to descend to the valley north of Upper Reservoir. Left also returns to Balanced Rock Rd. at the Upper Reservoir, but is a much nicer way down. This hike turns right on the "new" Winding Stairs Trail and follows the ridge.
The ridge will curve gradually westward, with great views of Devil's Thumb to the north. At mile 2.6, Inlet Trail offers another way back to the valley (marked by notches in the trees, but easy to miss), just before it begins to climb again. About 0.5 miles of a steady climb will take you to a boulder outcropping, and it is not obvious how to go through that area. Some people bypass the boulders by dropping off the ridge to the left - don't! It is easier and way cooler (but not dangerous) to sneak through the boulders. That outcropping may have a name but I don't know it. About 1/4 mile more climbing will reach the top at 8,760 ft, mile 3.25, with expansive views of the area and several campsites.
Continue about 1/10 of a mile to where the "new" segment of Winding Stairs Trail merges with the original 4WD track. At that junction, take a left down Winding Stairs Connector to return to the valley, merge with Inlet Trail and connect to Balanced Rock Rd. at mile 4.5. The descent on Winding Stairs Connector stinks - eroded, poor traction but it is a quick return and once in the valley it is a beautiful hike again with aspen groves, following a stream.
If you are hiking the reverse direction then it is very easy to miss the connection to Winding Stairs Connector from Inlet Trail - there is about 30 feet of grass with no obvious trail but if you look you'll definitely see it. Also, if hiking in reverse then at the top of Winding Stairs Connector it is super easy to miss the "new" eastbound segment of Winding Stairs Trail. As soon as you reach the top, pay close attention for a singletrack on the right that cuts back eastward.
Enjoy this amazing hike!
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