Words by Melissa Fields
Anyone who’s backcountry skied or ridden in the Central Wasatch knows how amazing it is. Deep, powdery snow; vast tracks of undeveloped glades, bowls and mellow meadows; and spitting-distance proximity to Wasatch Front cities are just a few of the reasons why this 52-mile-long and 41-mile-wide slice of Utah is coveted by those who prefer to venture outside the reach of chairlifts. But getting to this backcountry Shangri-La often requires sharing parking infrastructure with resort skiers and riders, particularly in the busy Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons and in Park City. What’s more, the rules for parking change based on where you decide to leave your vehicle.
As such, below we’ve compiled all the info you need to know—at least about parking--before heading into the backcountry during the 2023-24 winter season.
Get a Sticker
The Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) Sticker program—an effort to pre-inspect vehicle preparedness to keep canyon traffic flowing in snowy conditions—is back and has been improved for the 2023–24 season. Drivers can now visit 48 inspection locations across the Wasatch Front for a FREE tire inspection and sticker. The qualifications are all 4WD/AWD vehicles must have 3PMSF or M + S tires with a tread depth of 5/32 and all 2WD/FWD vehicles must be outfitted with 3PMSF tires and have tire chains in the vehicle. Inspections run from November 1, 2023 to February 28, 2024. Visit cottonwoodcanyons.udot.utah.gov for inspection locations.
Upped Canyon Parking Fines
Salt Lake County has increased fees for parking violations in both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon from $25 per violation to $75 to $150. This change does not expand no parking areas in the canyons but is meant to keep the canyon roads clear for traffic and snow removal. Bottomline: Parking remains allowed, conditions permitting, along Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, S.R. 190, and Little Cottonwood Road, S.R. 210, but all cars parking along the road must be fully within the white line and facing in the same direction as traffic. Parking in a signed No Parking Zone is obviously a violation, and there is no parking in avalanche zones/paths.
Little Cottonwood Canyon
Those looking to park at Alta Ski Area for early-morning backcountry skiing and riding access are required to make parking reservations, bookable at altaearlyparking.com. Early morning parking regulations are in effect daily from December 15 through March 31 and Alta’s 2024 closing weekend. From Monday to Thursday, early morning parking reservations are required from 6 to 8 a.m. and cost $15 per vehicle; parking is free, no reservation required on those days after 8 a.m. On Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and during holiday periods, early morning reservations are required 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. and cost $25 per vehicle. Alta’s early morning parking area is located on the south side of Highway 210 on either side of the Alta Lodge entrance. Note: Alta season passholders' parking codes cannot be used for early morning parking reservations. Fines for parking at Alta without a reservation or for illegal parking anywhere range from $75 to $150. After 1 p.m., All parking at Alta Ski Area and the Town of Alta is free, no reservations required.
Parking at Snowbird is a hybrid system of free, first-come, first-served parking; paid on-demand parking; and paid pre-reserved parking. Snowbird’s free, no-reservations-required parking is in the Entry 1 lot, Upper Gad Valley lot, Wilbere Hill parking, Main Lot, at the top of the Chickadee run, in the Superior lot, in the Batch Plant lot, on levels 2 and 3 of the Cliff Lodge parking structure and on the Bypass Road (excluding the parking pass area). Free parking is also available along Little Cottonwood Canyon Road, SR-210, between Entry 1 and 4 on a first-come, first-served basis when conditions allow. Check Snowbird’s Mountain Report before you arrive to check the availability of S.R. 210 parking. Advanced parking reservations and day-of paid parking at Snowbird is located in its Lower Gad Valley and Pond lots, starting at $10 per day. Advance parking reservations can be made for visits beginning December 17 through most of the 2023-24 winter season beginning in mid-November at pass.snowbird.com. Parking reservations can be managed, canceled (until 7 a.m. day of) or transferred through ParkWhiz. Valet parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Snowbird Center valet station and at The Cliff Lodge starting at $30 per day. Vehicles parked in no-parking zones and/or illegally will be ticketed and required to pay a $75-$150 fee.
The Little Cottonwood Canyon Park & Ride Lot (at the mouth of the canyon) and the White Pine/Red Pine Trailhead are open and maintained all winter and both have year-round restrooms. Both lots tend to fill up quickly so be sure to plan ahead.
Parking in Big Cottonwood Canyon
The Town of Brighton has enacted a new parking reservation system for the Big Cottonwood Canyon Road (S.R. 190) for the 2023–24 winter season. On weekends and holidays beginning December 1, reservations will be required to park on S.R. 190 from the Willow Heights trailhead, located west of Solitude, to the Guardsman Pass Road. Details can be found at brighton.utah.gov.
Brighton has instituted a parking reservation policy for the entirety of the 2023–24 season as well, covering the resort’s main lot, along with all snow ramps, and any additional parking around the loop. The Brighton Store parking lot is for employees only. Reservations are required from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., daily. After 1 p.m. all parking is free, no reservations required. Reservations will be available through an online, to-be-announced reservation system.
Solitude Mountain Resort has also put a new parking reservation system in place for the 2023–24 season. Parking reservations, costing $35 per vehicle, are now required in all lots prior to 11 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holiday periods, December 15, 2023 through April 14, 2024. (Holiday periods are December 25–28, 2023; January 1 & 15 and February 19–22, 2024.) From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on reservation days, parking transitions to a space-available basis, $35 per car. Vehicles arriving with four or more passengers any time before 1 p.m. get to park for free, but still need to make a reservation. After 1 p.m., all parking at Solitude is free, no reservations required. Parking reservations are not required at Solitude Monday through Thursday, except for holiday periods; the parking fee on those days is $20, again, for all vehicles except those with four or more occupants. Reservations may be canceled before 6 a.m. on the day of arrival with no penalty. More details about parking at Solitude can be found here. Looking to carpool? Download the Solitude Carpool app. You’ll get to meet some new friends, save on parking at Solitude and do your part to reduce traffic congestion in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Big Cottonwood’s Cardiff and Spruces parking lots are open and maintained through the winter, both of which have restrooms open year-round; there’s also a year-round restroom at the Guardsman Winter Gate. These lots tend to fill up quickly so its a good idea to plan ahead.
Over on the Wasatch Back, Park City Mountain allows uphill travel on its Homerun trail daily, 6 p.m. to 8:30 a.m., conditions permitting, from December 15 to the end of the season. (No dogs, please.) Early morning uphill skiers may park for free, no reservation required, along the far eastern edge of the First Time parking lot until 8:30 a.m. In the early season, typically Thanksgiving to late-December, and in the late season, early-April to whenever the snow melts out, backcountry skiers and riders (along with snowshoers and cross-country skiers) can make a reservation to take the free Transit to Trails shuttle from Park City up to the Bonanza Flat Conservation Area, operating Thursday to Sunday.
Catching a Ride
Wasatch Backcountry Alliance runs a Backcountry Shuttle in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon on Saturdays beginning December 16. Reservations must be made by 5 p.m. on the Friday prior. Parking and pickups are at Butler Elementary (7000 S. 2700 East, Cottonwood Heights); the first shuttle leaves the Butler Elementary School in Cottonwood Heights at 6:30am and the last return shuttle leaves the Alta Lodge and the Brighton Store & Cafe at 3 p.m.
The UTA Ski Bus, services Alta and Snowbird on the 994 Line and Brighton and Solitude on 972 line at 30-minute intervals during peak periods, Sunday November 26, 2023 to Saturday, April 13, 2024. The UTA Ski Bus is free passholders at the following resorts: Snowbird, Alta, Brighton and Solitude as well as IKON season passholders; the rate for all other riders is $5 one way.
The Cottonwood Connect Ski Shuttle, offering transit from several Salt Lake Valley hotels and park-and-ride locations to Alta, Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude, is available weekends and holidays, mid-December through April.
If you'd like to learn more about parking at Utah's 15 ski resorts, please visit skiutah.com/parking.
Before heading into the backcountry it is important to have the correct gear, knowledge and education. Please visit Utah Avalanche Center for forecasts, education and more.