Elevation: 4782 - 5741 feet
Cellphone: 1-4 bars
Usage: Hiking - No Dogs
Time: 2 hrs.
Trailhead: Gold Star Canyon
View Ottos Staircase in a larger map
Otto's Staircase is one of the three trails that can be hiked from the Gold Star Canyon trailhead. The other two hikes are the Gold Star Canyon North Loop and the Precambrian Bench Trails. Otto's Staircase is the name given to a series of steps hewn into the slick-rock at about the 5700 foot level of the canyon. The staircase makes it a little easier to scale the cliff to gain access to Monument Mesa. Once on top it is just a short distance to Otto's Bathtub. This particular hike terminates at the top of the staircase.
The trailhead for Gold Star Canyon is an opening in the buffalo fence at a small turnout along South Broadway. There aren't any kiosks or official signs to mark the trailhead but it is at the mouth of Gold Star Canyon.
The trail begins after passing through the fence and heading west toward the 500 foot high wall of black Precambrian granite that is blocking the view of the upper area of the canyon. Once the climbing begins it is about a quarter mile before it begins to level off.
About a half mile from the trailhead the trail comes to a 'T' junction. Following the left fork leads into Gold Star Canyon. The trail through this section of the canyon is very pleasant to hike. Bighorn sheep can sometimes be seen basking in the sun along the upper slopes on the right side of the trail in the winter months.
About 8 tenths of a mile from the trailhead is another fork in the trail. There is a small pile of juniper branches off to the side that I usually keep an eye out for. Taking the right fork is the easiest path to the staircase.
A little less than a mile into the hike veer right towards the side of the canyon. From this point the trail begins climbing some loose talus and scree. There are a few cairns in this area but here it is the case that 'all roads lead to Rome' as long as you are heading up.
The scree eventually runs out and the trail traverses a section of slick-rock. The easiest path after crossing the slick-rock is to stay just to the left of the patches of mountain mahogany. The staircase is mostly hidden just behind a juniper and other bushes.
There is a pile of rocks that give a nice boost to the first few steps that are nothing more than shallow notches gouged into the rock. Someone has attached short length of rope to the stake just below the first step.
Several of the steps require a pretty good stretch to get from one to the other. That's not that big a deal going up the staircase but it is certainly noticeable coming back down. It goes without saying but I will say it anyway. Don't climb up what you can't climb down! If you decide to scramble up the next cliff to the top of the mesa you will have to hike about 12 miles or so to get down the Liberty Cap trail and back to the beginning of the hike.
This is the third time I have hiked this trail in the past year. For some reason it seemed a lot harder today. I imagine the heat had a lot to do with it but we were also planning to take the grandkids on the Mica Mine trail so we may have been hurrying a bit.
I went through about 50 ounces of water and 20 ounces of Gatorade on this 2 hour outing. Just for good measures I was carrying about 3 times that much just in case. If I was to guess at a skill level for this hike I would have to put it somewhere between intermediate and advanced. In mountaineering terms I would say a class 3+. It probably wouldn't be fatal to fall unless you were to land on the pipe and that probably wouldn't happen unless you are trying to descend the staircase standing upright. When all is said and done you will just have to use your own judgement. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.