Stair Canyon

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 7.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4207 - 4391 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 4 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Three Forks
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic canyon




Stair Canyon is located in the North Wash area between Hanksville and Hite, Utah. The trail begins at the same spot as the Butler Canyon trail where it follows the wash of Stair Canyon as it winds its way upstream. With only one or two small obstacles the hiking itself is easy for the most part. For this post we turned around just under the 4 mile point but it appeared that we could have gone even further had time permitted.


Just like for Butler Canyon getting to the trailhead is a simple matter of following Highway 95 for 31 miles from Hanksville, Utah and parking across the road from mile marker 31.


From the parking area the route heads straight across the mouth of Butler Canyon to the wash.


From there the easy hiking wash provides the best route to the mouth of Stair Canyon.


The wash at the mouth of Stair Canyon is a little brushy so we opted to stay close to the canyon wall where the slickrock made a nicer trail.


Stair Canyon has much less water than Butler Canyon. There are only a couple of spots where the water comes to the surface. The water in Stair Canyon also leaves a black stain and smells like brine. It doesn't look to be a good source for potable water even if you filter it first. I can only think of 2 times in the last 20-30 years that I have filtered water to drink and both times were out of desperation. Not knowing things like the arsenic or selenium levels makes it seem like an unnecessary risk. Even a lot of the mountain streams have high levels of lead and other heavy metals from mining operations.


Around the 1.2 mile point the canyon comes to a fork where the left branch looks like the best option on a topo map.


The hiking remains easy along the left fork of the canyon with lots of little twists and turns. In a few places it looks like the way will be blocked but once you get closer a way appears to keep going.


Somewhere around the 2 mile point the wash narrows and becomes very brushy. If you continue for another 100 feet or so there is a spot where other hikers have been climbing out of the wash to get up on the bench above it. We opted to scramble up a 4 or 5 foot section of slickrock before reaching that point and it seemed like a much easier route even on the return trip.


After hiking along the bench for awhile the trail eventually drops back down into the wash and continues meandering its way up the canyon. A couple of short spillovers come up that are easy enough to skirt on one side or the other.


We kept looking ahead and thinking that we would turn around when we got to the next bend up ahead but we would get there only to be enticed by the next bend in the canyon. Near the 3.8 mile point we reached a bend where the wash was clogged with enough boulders that we reluctantly turned around. The boulders looked easy enough to hike through but unless we return some day and keep going we will never know.


We're guessing that the canyon might get its name from a spot where terraced benches form a natural looking staircase up the side of the canyon.


For what we hiked the elevation gain came out to just under 200 feet which was barely noticeable. In our opinion Stair Canyon is a much easier hike than either Butler Canyon or Marinus Canyon. The wash seemed to have fewer rocks and any obstacles that came up were relatively easy to get around. It would have been nice to see just how far we could go because you never know whether or not if the best part isn't just around the next bend. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.