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Winding Stairs Loop

Intermediate
  4.4 ( 14 ) Favorite

Trail

5.9 mile 9.6 kilometer loop
76% Runnable
Intermediate

Elevation

Ascent: 1,564' 477 m
Descent: -1,570' -479 m
High: 8,760' 2,670 m
Low: 7,228' 2,203 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 10% (6°)
Max Grade: 42% (23°)

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Map Key

A solid ascent along the ridge northwest of the upper reservoir and descending the old Winding Staircase-beautiful views

Scott Todd

Features River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers

Overview

Looking to take a less traveled path? Cut right just after you pass Lower Reservoir and the boulder field (on right). The Ice Cave Creek Trail singletrack is easy to overlook but can link you to a fabulous run! After navigating a steep and bouldery slope, connect to Swank Trail and go left (west) up a beautiful valley. Then follow the ridge on Winding Stairs Trail all the way around the Upper Reservoir catchment. Some segments are a bit of work, but the ridge offers beautiful views. There are two other connector options to drop back to the reservoir without doing the full loop. The loop also offers two amazing boulder outcroppings that are worth exploring.

Need to Know

There is a boulder outcropping on the northwest of the loop that can confuse people. There is a way through that is not dangerous. Do not go to the right (north) of the ridge, stay on top (through the boulders) or bypass left (south).
The descent on Winding Stairs Connector is eroded with a lot of loose small gravel; expect some sliding. If running in reverse (up Winding Stairs Connector ) then read the note in the main description - two junctions are easy to miss.

Description

After climbing Balanced Rock Rd. to the lower reservoir, about mile 0.6 from parking lot, there is a boulder field to the right (north). Just as the trail passes that point and leaves the lower reservoir, cut right up the slope and follow the trail as it does switchbacks up toward the ridge. The climb is moderate and around mile 1 (from parking lot) you'll be at an open view that overlooks the lower reservoir and Palmer Lake. Ice Cave Creek Trail weaves north through boulders and has a few places where you need to watch your feet to avoid a fall. After crossing the creek at mile 1.4, the trail opens up and rolls through a valley parallel to the creek until you reach the T-junction with Swank Trail .

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 run 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 run again with aspen groves, following a stream.

If you are running 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 running 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 run!

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Check-Ins

Jul 11, 2019
Eric Stanfield
The description of how to find the loop and avoid dropping on to the descending connector is garbage. Ended up turning around at the connector. 7.1mi — 1h 29m
Mar 14, 2018
Erika Tokarz
7.2mi — 2h 09m

Trail Ratings

  4.4 from 14 votes

#744

Overall
  4.4 from 14 votes
5 Star
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Featured Run Rankings

#152

in Colorado

#744

Overall
27 Views Last Month
4,350 Since Jun 30, 2017
Intermediate

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Photos

North side of the first reservoir covered in snow.
Nov 18, 2017 near Palmer…, CO
On the Ice Creek Cave trail looking over the lower reservoir.
Jun 10, 2017 near Palmer…, CO
Lower Reservoir looking east.
May 31, 2016 near Palmer…, CO
Rock outcropping view
Jan 1, 2018 near Palmer…, CO
Chautauqua Trail climbing the northern ridge.
Jul 22, 2017 near Palmer…, CO
The Ice Cave Creek Trail traverses dense forests atop a granite landscape.
Jul 1, 2017 near Palmer…, CO

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