by Blake Herzog
The Granite Gardens Trails, on the northern edge of the Granite Dells, is a compact loop of trails through a park of the same name that has everything that’s fantastic about hiking here: trees, gravity-proof boulders, a creek, views and challenging slopes and surfaces that ensure a powerful workout — with a steep staircase and hidden room thrown in!
This spot is popular with all sorts of hikers, but especially families looking for ways to give active kids a rocky playground, complete with tunnels and the challenge of finding that hidden room.
Much of the surface is slickrock granite, which makes it a great spot for anyone working to improve their skills on this ubiquitous feature of hiking in the Dells and most of the region’s mountains.
The three trails combined cover only 1.15 miles, but there are plenty of ups and downs to power through.
The access trail takes you over and along Granite Creek and its riparian lushness on a cute footbridge, winding pleasantly through the forest. After about a tenth of a mile you reach the first of two access points for the Stairway Loop, the longest of the three at 0.8 of a mile, including a short sub-loop around the park’s crowning landmark, Castle Rock.
It does include the 30-foot stairway, leading to and from the best vistas of the park, across the Dells and over a small lake and dam. It’s great for a one-way climb or some serious stair sprints if that’s what you’re in the mood for.
Just beyond are the Rock Stacker Trail, where you can gaze at numerous improbably balanced or arranged boulders on the near horizon, and Grotto Trail, which includes a short but tight squeeze through a tunnel, awesome for kids, a little onerous for adults carrying gear, and memorable for everyone.