Salt Lake City's Top Hiking Trails in Cottonwood Canyons

By Yeti Jun 26, 2019
Utah hiking begins when the mountain snow melts. Locals lace up their trail running shoes and hiking boots in preparation of heading to Cottonwood Canyons.
Salt Lake City's Top Hiking Trails in Cottonwood Canyons

Salt Lake City’s Cottonwood Canyons deliver the goods all winter and summer too. As the days grow shorter, now is the time to lace up your trail running shoes and hiking boots. If you plan a visit to this section of Utah during the summer, there are a few trails you shouldn’t miss.

These hikes are organized by Little or Big Cottonwood Canyon because the ski areas are so close together. Each area offers a selection of resort lodging or private home rentals depending on what you prefer. Regardless of which canyon you choose to stay in, the canyons are close enough together that all the trails are within minutes. Because both canyons are located in the protected watershed, no dogs are allowed on the trails. If you want to hike with your pup, check out this post for ideas and tips.

Digging this post? If so, check out Park City's Top Trails and Ogden's Top Trails.  

Little Cottonwood Canyon Trails

With eight trailheads and 42 destinations, choosing a hike in Little Cottonwood Canyon is more an issue of too many choices rather than trying to find the right fit. Below I’ve organized my favorite trails based on the trailhead to make choosing easier.

Catherine's Pass at Alta Ski Area

Within Alta, you could start at any of several trailheads to reach the mostly the same destinations. The difference has to do with parking. For summer of 2019, all hikers must park at the Wildcat base area and walk or take a shuttle from there. Shuttle rides are $5/per person. More info on Alta's parking and shuttles here.

My favorite destination from here is Cecret Lake Interpretive Trail, a short trail to a stunning lake. From the lake, you can continue up the hill to a ridge with great views. I also like to venture down into Albion Basin Summer Road  to see the best of summer’s wildflowers. BRING A CAMERA! As you look at this landscape, remember that all of these trails are ski runs during the winter, covered in many feet of fluffy snow, including the lake!

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There are nine destinations from this trailhead that could keep you busy for weeks. If that isn’t enough, the Snowbird Trailhead offers another eight to routes to choose from and lift access to the top of Hidden Peak.


Snowbird Pass Route

One of the coolest things about hiking at Snowbird…lift access to Hidden Peak! If nothing else, it’s worth the ride up to see the view from the top of the tram. Another option is to ride the tram down after hiking up to the peak. I have a few friends who do this to save their knees from the downhill pound.

Options from the resort include Gad Valley, Hidden Peak, and Peruvian Gulch Trail. There are eight destinations ranging from 3.4 to 9.0 miles distance. From Hidden Peak, either hiking or riding the tram to the top, good options include the Broads Fork Twin Peaks or Mount Baldy. Both offer killer views.

A barrier-free wheelchair-accessible trail also meanders the resort with a nice lunch spot at the end.


White Pine Lake Trail

One of my favorite trailheads in the Wasatch! The White Pine Trailhead leads to three destinations seriously worth hiking, White Pine Lake Trail, Red Pine Lake Trail, and the Pfeifferhorn. It also leads to a few more areas I have yet to explore, such as Maybird Lakes Trail which I’ve heard are stunning.

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The least strenuous of the hikes is to Red Pine Lake Trail, but it will still give you a workout with seven miles of distance and nearly 2,000 feet of elevation change.

White Pine Lake is a breathtakingly beautiful alpine lake sitting at a near 10,000’ of elevation. I especially like it in the early summer when it’s still surrounded by snow. This is also a nice overnight backpacking destination.

The Pfeifferhorn is sometimes called Little Matterhorn Peak. It’s a full-day commitment at 10.8 miles and nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain. The reward is a sense of accomplishment and 360-degree stunning views. It also passes by Red Pine Lake so you get to enjoy both destinations.


Big Cottonwood Canyon Trails

In Big Cottonwood Canyon, your challenge will again be picking a hike, not finding one. From short level walks to full-day excursions, you can select what fits your time and energy levels best. One of my favorite hikes is Mount Raymond Summit Trail (using the Butler Fork Trailhead) if you have most of the day. It has an intimidating knife-edge scramble that looks much worse from the bottom than it is. Once you’re up on it you’ll feel better.

Another highly popular hike is Lake Blanche Trail, which will also take a good chunk of the day but delivers lake and Sundial Peak views, plus there are two more lakes if you hike just a few hundred yards further. Dog Lake and Desolation Lake is a good choice for either mountain bike or hiking. It sits in a bowl with steep sides serving as a backdrop. This is another epic lunch spot.

If you prefer a short outing, opt for Donut Falls Trail, Willow Heights Trail, or Lake Mary Falls. Of there, Willow Lake is my favorite because the hike winds through stands of aspen then and across a meadow. Expect to see some wildlife if you hike early or late in the day. The trailhead is easy to miss, so expect to blow by it and have to turn around. You won’t be the first!

The Brighton Ski Resort and Silver Lake Trail lead to over a dozen destinations, so if you ‘re staying at Solitude Mountain Resort or Brighton, these are a sure bet for a day of hiking that sits right on your doorstep. There is also a TON of parking so no needs to arrive too early.