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Golden Stairway

North Cascades

Location

North Cascades -- Pasayten
View map below

Length

6.3 miles, one-way

Elevation

Gain: 3550 ft.
Highest Point: 6850 ft.

Rating

2.50 out of 5

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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

None
 
 

This is a multi-use trail in a multi-use area. Activities include hiking and riding horses, mountain bikes, motorcycles, along with cattle grazing. The trail follows the West Fork Salmon Creek through a recovering forest burn and climbs the steep meadows of the headwaters to a pass with views to the east and options for ridge hiking to the north or south. In mid-summer the meadows are full of wildflowers.

A mid-week adventure will have much less motorized company than on a weekend and the ridge crest is a reasonable destination. Most hikers will not continue south to Starvation Mountain.

The trailhead at 4150 feet is well signed with sufficient parking for those vehicles that make it that far, but no other amenities. Within the first 0.1 mile from the trailhead, the wide trail descends to cross the West Fork Salmon Creek (muddy approaches with a hiker rock hop) and climbs up to join an abandoned road.

At 0.2 mile, the trail goes through a fence line at a wire gate. Depending upon the season, the gate keeps the grazing cattle in or out of the drainage. Just after the gate is an unmarked junction for a side trail that rejoins the road at 0.3 mile (4250 feet). Take the left branch and stay on the abandoned road. This area completely burned in the 2006 Tripod Fire, killing all the trees. There is very little shade from the summer sun on this sandy trail until the Jim Creek crossing at 0.7 mile (4470 feet). The natural forest restoration is well underway with many short conifer seedlings, alder brush, and fireweed.

Hikers need to be aware of their surroundings since bears like open brushy areas like this. After Jim Creek, the brush is much taller -- nearly 7 feet high -- limiting views to just the trail in many sections.

At 0.9 miles, the trail enters an area of partial burn, where some trees survived. These trees provide shade for hikers and seeds for the reforestation. At 1.2 miles and 4650 feet of elevation, the trail crosses the West Fork Salmon Creek, having gained just 500 feet from the trailhead. Now enter an unburned section of forest that provides shade, and unfortunately mosquitos & biting flies. In summer however, there are flowers along the creek.

Up to the creek crossing, the trail has a shallow gradient, which means the trail tread is in good condition. After the creek crossing, the trail starts climbing and hikers come to the first of many sections of trail where the tread is 6 inches wide at the bottom of a deep "V", due to the erosive effects of wheeled traffic. Hiking these sections is like walking on an inverted balance beam - short trekking poles are helpful.

At 1.6 miles and 4860 feet of elevation is the first of many motorcycle-type switchbacks with large turn radii as the climb steepens. The trail criss-crosses a small stream until 1.9 miles from the trailhead, you arrive at the last mid-summer water. At the end of the switchback at 2.0 miles is the first down-valley view from the trail. At 2.3 miles, the trail gradient shallows, providing a short respite from the climb, albeit at the cost of lots of brush.

At 2.7 miles and 5830 feet of elevation, the trail enters the bottom of a steep meadow, leaving the shade of the forest behind. In summer, hopefully the wind is blowing to offset the sun drenched switchback climb to the pass. The views down-valley get better during the climb and in mid-summer, the flowers are blooming. The shrill cry of the marmot may be heard from the rockslide to the southwest and eagles may be seen soaring above the ridge.

The trail quality degrades due to erosion on the steep trail, with many sections of rolling rocks, troughs, and dust. Just before the pass, the trail has one last spurt of steepness before exiting the meadow and heading into the trees. Be sure to take a moment to pause and look back down the valley.

At the pass -- 3.2 miles from the trailhead and 6400 feet elevation -- is a campsite (though there is no water), with a grand view. Just beyond the pass is the junction with the Pearrygin Creek and North Summit trails. The Golden Stairway trail continues south (left), over a 6690-foot bump and becomes more difficult to follow as it descends to a junction with the Blue Buck Cr trail at 6260 feet. From this point on the Golden Stairway is a major motorcycle trail which climbs over another bump at 6850 feet and descends to 6400 feet before finally climbing to the top of Starvation Mountain at 6772 feet, 3.1 miles from the pass.

From the pass, hikers may prefer the solitude of the abandoned segment of the North Summit Trail as it winds through open forest and meadows on the ridge crest to the north. In places, small cairns are the only trail indication as the route continues to a shoulder of Old Baldy Mountain, 1.5 miles from the pass and 7250 feet high. In early summer, this route passes through many flower garden meadows, providing colorful foreground to the views to the east, south, and southwest. At the shoulder, some hikers may want to leave the trail and scramble up the additional 0.7 mile and 600 feet to reach the top of Old Baldy Mountain.

WTA Pro Tip: This area is prone to thunderstorms, so keep an eye on the weather while on the ridge.

 

Golden Stairway

Map & Directions

Trailhead
Co-ordinates: 48.5673, -119.9042 Open map in new window

Trailhead

North Cascades -- Pasayten

Golden Stairway (#354)

Colville National Forest, Tonasket Ranger District

See weather forecast

Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)

100 Hikes in the North Cascades (Spring & Manning - Mountaineer Books

1988)

Green Trails Tiffany Mountain 53

USGS Old Baldy (7.5'

1989)

Getting There

Coming from Omak or Okanogan turn left onto Broadway (W Fork Rd) at the intersection of Main and Broadway in Conconully. Follow the road for 3.1 miles as it winds around Conconully Reservoir and then climbs into the hills. Turn right onto USFS 37 and follow it for 5 miles (paved). Turn left off the pavement onto USFS 400 and follow it for 0.7 mile. Take the left branch onto USFS 420 and stay on the main road for 2.0 miles (if possible).

Be alert for cattle on the road. In 2016, the road becomes very rough at 1.2 miles (Jct with USFS 430 at 3830 ft) and nearly impassable to full-sized vehicles at 1.7 miles (Jct with USFS 418 at 4070 ft).

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

None
 

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Golden Stairway

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