Stairs Mountain Backpack

Stairs Mountain Backpack

Stairs Mountain is a peak in the Presidential Range – Dry River Wilderness Area south of Mt Isolation and off the Davis Path. It’s the site of a magnificent cliff with far-reaching views of the southeastern White Mountains and several major peaks including Mt Carrigain. From a distance, the cliff looks like a staircase, hence the name Stairs Mountain or Giant Stairs.

There’s also a campsite on Stairs Mountain with space for a few tents, just footsteps from the cliff. It’s dry, however, so you have to haul your own water up with you. I recently camped out there on a gorgeous spring day, humping 6 liters up 800 feet from the only nearby stream at 2600′ on the Stairs col trail.

This was just a one-nighter of a trip, combining several objectives. I’m almost done hiking the 650 odd trails (1450 miles) in the AMC White Mountain Guide for a second time and had a few trails to finish on the way out to Stairs Mountain. I also planned to climb a nearby trailless peak named East Stairs, which is on the New Hampshire 200 Highest List, the following day. It’s a fairly substantial hike to the start of that bushwhack from a road, so it made sense to break my trip up into two days. My friend Ken hiked in the next morning for the bushwhack and gave me a ride back to my car afterward. I’ll spare you the details of the bushwhack, suffice to say that it was bloody. Definitely Type II fun.

Stairs Mountain Backpack

There are several different ways to get to Stairs Mountain on the White Mountain Trail system. On this trip, I hiked in from Bartlett, NH on the Mt Langdon Trail, the Mt Parker Trail, the South Resolution Spur, and the Davis Path, with a detour down the Stairs Col Trail to get water. That’s a substantial route for one day with close to 4,000 feet of elevation gain. It paid off handsomely though since Mt Parker and South Resolution also have jaw-dropping views.

The forest was a sea of bright green
The forest was a sea of bright green.

I parked my car at the Mt Langdon Trail trailhead in Bartlett and climbed Oak Ridge which is the first big hill of the day. The leaves on the trees were finally starting to pop out and the forest was a sea of bright green. We’ve had a long, drawn-out spring this year in the Whites, with an odd mix of hot and cold weather. So those new leaves were a sign of the warmer and longer days of summer to come.

I crossed the Wilderness Boundary and began the climb up to Mt Parker, which is on the 52-with-a-View list. The weather was clear with perfect visibility and an azure sky. Parker is a long hike from the road and about the limit in terms of distance and elevation gain for most day hikers. When I reached the summit, I had the peak to my own and ate lunch while gawking Mt Washington and its southern ridges.

Mt Washington and its southern Ridges from Mt Parker
Mt Washington and its southern Ridges from Mt Parker

My next destination after Parker was the little-known South Resolution Spur trail, which is an overgrown side trail leading to an open ledge with still more views. People who are hiking all the trails in the White Mountain guide know about it, but few others do. I’d been waiting patiently all winter for the snow between Parker and the Spur trail to melt, since it’s virtually inaccessible when deep snow covers the trail. This section of trail is seldom hiked.

I hiked out the spur trail which is only 0.2 miles long and clambered up onto the ledge. If you squint, you can see the Nancy Brook Cascades on the other side of Crawford Notch from the ledge. I sat there a long time and ate another sandwich. I don’t get out there very often and wanted to soak in the solitude.

View of Crawford Notch from South Resolution Ledges
View of Crawford Notch from South Resolution Ledges.

I got back on the trail and continued to Mt Resolution, which also has a treeless summit. The summit ledges are often wet and slippery and in winter they’re covered with ice. But they were dry this time around as I cross over the peak, dropping down to the Davis Path below.

From Mt resolution, the cliff on Stairs Mountain (upper right) came into view
From Mt Resolution, the cliff on Stairs Mountain (upper right) came into view.

I’d run out of water by then (I’d carried 3 liters because I know the route is dry) and needed to resupply. This required a slight detour down the Stairs Col Trail to a reliable stream. I became a little worried when it was dry at 2800′ but continued downhill to 2600′ when I heard the flow through the trees. If needed, I could have dropped all the way down to 1400′ and stayed at the old Rocky Branch Shelter on the Rocky Branch River.

I filled up the extra reservoirs I’d brought to haul water and started the grinding climb up the Stairs Col trail to Stairs Col and then up the Davis Path to Stairs Mountain and the campsite. My legs were pretty tired already, so I was moving slow, but steadily with the added 12 pounds of water.

The Davis Path climbs to Stairs Mountain (really that is a hiking trail)
The Davis Path climbs to Stairs Mountain (really that is a hiking trail)

I was the first person to arrive at the campsite and got the best tent site, near the cliff-face but with some tree cover to block the wind. I set up my gear and then sat out on the cliff until dinner, admiring the view. I sat there a long time gazing out into the great beyond without thinking much of anything except awe.

Peter and Layla arrived in the evening to share the campsite with me. They were starting a multi-day circuit up to Mt Washington and were fun to talk to. They’re both from Montpelier, Vermont, where the trails were still closed for mud season to limit trail erosion. I barely made it to sunset though and went to sleep as the sun was setting.

The Cliff at Stairs Mountain
The Cliff at Stairs Mountain

After a leisurely breakfast, I ambled back down to the Stairs Col Trail to meet Ken at 2800′, which I thought would be a good place to start our bushwhack. He’d hiked in from the Rocky Branch Trailhead at the end of Jericho Rd and then climbed the Stairs Col Trail to meet me. “I’d forgotten what a steep trail this is.” were his first words when I saw him.

Dusk on Stairs Mountain
Dusk on Stairs Mountain

But the story of our bushwhack out to East Stairs is a tale for another time.

Route to Stairs Mountain Campsite (One-way)

  • Mt Langdon Trail – 2.5 miles
  • Mt Parker Trail – 4.3 miles
  • South Resolution Spur Trail – 0.2 miles
  • Davis Path: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4000′
  • Water: Stairs Col Trail (2600′)

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide, a distance of approximately 2500 miles, completing a second round in 2021. Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire.
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6 comments

  1. If anyone doesn’t comprehend the term often found in White Mountain guidebooks: “The trails are rocky”, just refer them to the third last picture. When I was up there a few years ago after spending a lifetime hiking out West, my first thought was, “You gotta be kidding!”

  2. Is that tent site hammockable?

  3. I’ve had my eye on the Davis Path for a while now, probably coming up from the southwest (not Bartlett) past Mt Crawford and Crawford Dome to Stairs Mtn and possibly on to Mt Davis.

    But we do not like Type II Fun, and hauling a lot of water up those slopes has us hesitating. Hesitating hard.

    My understanding is that there is a reliable water source near where the Resolution Shelter used to be. That would mean you could climb the 2,000 ft from US 302 with just enough water for the climb, then fill up at the stream (around 3,000 ft elevation) and have enough water for the time you spend on the ridge.

    But we are in a dry year, so maybe we should pass on it this year.

    What’s your thought, Philip? Is Stairs Mtn / Mt. Davis doable without hauling 12 lbs of water up steep slopes? Or should we just forget it and pick other routes?

    • The two other people who camped at the site when I was there pulled their water at the Resolution Shelter. They said it was flowing poorly. I considered hiking down the hill (yes down…) to refill there but decided not to because all the springs that feed it along the Davis Path were dry. The water off the Stairs col trail is great. There is sometimes a low flow water source along the Davis Path above the Stairs col trail (toward Isolation) but I’ve found its flow unreliable and don’t count on it. I can’t find a waypoint for you and GaiaGPS is pretty bad when it comes to displaying hydrology in the whites. You may also not need 12 pounds/6 liters.

      • Thank you, Philip.

        I’ve only just started using CalTopo (at home and for printing) and GaisGPS (while hiking).

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