This short but somewhat strenuous hike takes hikers to a long series of picturesque waterfalls cascading down lower Stairs Gulch in beautiful Big Cottonwood Canyon. This trail has some steep, rocky sections that may be difficult for some. Overall, the hike is short, making it a good hike to build your strength and skills for longer, more strenuous trails. This hike is family-friendly, but keep an eye on children near the swift water and steep slopes.
The Stairs Gulch hike begins on the south side of the highway, 2.8 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon. The trailhead is not signed, but it is easy to find. Watch for signage for the Storm Mountain picnic area as you travel up canyon. The small parking area for Stairs Gulch is located across the street from the entrance to Storm Mountain picnic area, about 100 feet up the canyon (40.623824, -111.743208).
- Take Exit 6 on I-215 for 6200 S/Wasatch Blvd.
- Drive south on Wasatch Blvd. for 1.7 miles.
- Turn left onto Big Cottonwood Canyon Road.
- Continue up the canyon 2.8 miles to the parking area on the right, just past the entrance to the Storm Mountain picnic area (40.623824, -111.743208).
Additional parking is available about 100 yards further up the canyon if the main area is full (40.624909, -111.742911).
Begin hiking up the well-worn path at the south end of the small parking area. The trail is not signed, but you will soon pass a sign warning of possible live avalanche explosives in the area. Take special note of the information on this sign. Stairs Gulch is notorious for avalanche danger during the winter and spring. Read more about these dangers in the special considerations section below.
The first part of the hike climbs through a dense forest, offering occasional views of the peaks above. After about 0.3 miles, the trail arrives at the creek. The trail becomes a little more difficult to follow as it crosses the stream twice before continuing further up the canyon. Use caution crossing the river, especially during periods of high water.
The total distance for this hike is variable. Simply continue up canyon as far as desired. There are dozens of beautiful waterfalls along the way. The trail ends around the 6,400’ mark near the top of a steep section of waterfalls. Ambitious hikers can continue up Stairs Gulch and return at any time along the same path. Above the main waterfalls, the landscape changes from season to season as a result of avalanches. Hikers should be cautious and aware of their own limitations. Round trip hiking distance to the top of the main waterfalls is 1.5 miles with about 625 feet of elevation gain.
Rules and Regulations
- No pets allowed.
- Pack out all trash.
Stairs Gulch is notorious for extreme avalanche danger during the winter and even into spring. Hikers visiting the area in the late spring and early summer may see deep deposits of snow and avalanche debris. Hiking on this snow pack can be hazardous, and fatal avalanches have occurred here late into spring. Use extreme caution if snow is still present, and check conditions with the Utah Avalanche Center before entering the area.
If hikers find any avalanche explosives along the trail, keep a safe distance. Mark the location 10 feet away with rocks or bright cloth and report the location to the U.S. Forest Service at 801-943-1794, or any of the other contact numbers on the warning sign at the bottom of the trail.