Winding Stairs Trail in the Fall

  • November 20, 2013

A friend and client of mine knew I was looking for some fall colors to photograph and he had a great recommendation: Winding Stairs Trail. I had never heard of this trail even though I had been through Albert Pike Recreational Area a few times before. The trail head is easy to find as it’s only 2 miles from the entrance into the park.

Here is my GPS track of my hike. Check the GPS info here: http://cloud.gaiagps.com/datasummary/track/50bc351e965b188e94afed40b1a32789/

winding stairs

The trail I’d say is “moderate” and the level of difficulty depends on how far you plan on trekking in. There are a couple of river crossings and the level of water makes a BIG difference. When I went, the 20% chance of rain turned into all day rain! Thank goodness for water resistant gear!

Shortly after starting the hike you come across Blaylock Creek. I think my first photo of the trip is my favorite! The view was spectacular with fall color showing up along the creek and some nice rocks and cascades along the way. The low clouds and fog helped create an amazing atmosphere!

This creek used to have a wooden bridge that helped you across but it was washed out years ago. I’m not sure if the flood that tragically killed so many was the same flood that took out the bridge. Luckily, I was able to cross without getting water over my waterproof hiking shoes.

Next you hike up and down a mountain and have a nice overlook of the Little Missouri River. The next couple of shots are from a short detour I took off course to take in the beauty.

About a quarter mile further and you see another stretch of the river with some nice, large rocks to give some beautiful cascades.

I continue hiking and the path leads you up a hillside overlooking the river for awhile before bending away for a bit. Along the way I saw this incredible fungus. Click to see it full size! I love the cool hairy stuff on bottom!

A little further along and you come to a point where you must cross the river to continue along the trail. The problem is that it isn’t clearly marked! Basically, you stop seeing the white trail blazes and know something’s wrong. If you pass the crossing point though, you’re rewarded by seeing this beautiful small creek and waterfall feeding into the river. It was one of those places impossible to fully capture the beauty in photographs. So, go visit this spot sometime to get a full appreciation!

So, next I had to cross the Little Missouri River to stay on course. Many people just turn around at this point because it isn’t an easy crossing, but the true beauty of this hike lies on the other side! Nope, I wasn’t going to give up! I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants, and began slowly and carefully walking through the river.

The water is so crystal clear that is was deceptively deep! I ended up with water over my knee caps before I made it across and that water was COLD!!! Note to self: bring water shoes next time.

After crossing and getting back on the trail (and warming my feet up!) you soon end up in this beautiful area! The rocks, trees, mountains, and cascades are just awesome! Even the color of the water (or underlying rocks) here is incredible.

This next photo isn’t all that amazing, but I love the colors and textures of the river bed.

Just a little ways further you’ll see a small creek emptying into the river. Curiosity got me so I followed upstream. I was rewarded! To be honest, this was another area that photos just don’t do it justice. The colors, water, and rocks were beautiful!

This next photo isn’t all that pretty in my opinion, but check the cool swirling leaves toward the right of the image.

Ok, confession time. I was doing quite well on this hike and just finished photographing the cool stream so I turned to head back. This was as far as I cared to go on this trip as I had seen the best parts. Right as I turned to walk back I must have hit a pile of wet leaves and what ensued was an absolutely spectacular fall! It was one of those with arms and legs flailing through the air and I came crashing down on my left side into the creek, soaking myself! I actually thought I might have broken a bone in my hand but now I’m thinking it’s just badly bruised. Over the next few days it turned a pretty purple color from the thumb to the wrist.

On the way back I spotted some more fungi that just had to be photographed!

The hike I took ended up being 7.5 miles total but I meandered a bit.

Now for some bonus shots! After the hike I decided to look for a nearby waterfall. Bummer though, as it wasn’t flowing. This particular waterfall needs quite a bit of recent rain for runoff. But, I got a couple of cool pics at the spot. This first one was cool to me because I love moss and I was amazed at this tree growing out of a vertical cliff and displaying some great colors!

Next up was just a pretty tree with yellow colors and a creek flowing behind it.

To make the most of my trip, I decided to check out Little Missouri Falls. Meh, not much to see. even though much of the Little Missouri River had lots of color, there was NONE to be found at Little Missouri Falls. Amazing how much the color can change over such a short distance! I still took a couple of shots while I was there though:

I hope you enjoyed this blog post! Leave a comment below! 😀

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