One of the main canyons in the Salt Lake area is Big Cottonwood Canyon. It is a favorite destination of hikers, picnickers, skiers, and wildlife! The top of the canyon is the home of Brighton and Solitude Ski Resorts. There are wonderful trails from accessible through difficult. Big Cottonwood Canyon is also a gorgeous scenic drive, especially in the fall!
Ledgemere Picnic Area and Cave
Two minutes up the canyon is the Ledgemere Picnic Area. It is a day use area. It is a first-come first-serve area that doesn’t accept reservations. There is a $10 day use fee or $16 for a double site. There are picnic tables, fire pits, and a stream where you can fish or play (Big Cottonwood is a watershed, so no swimming).
There is actually a really cool, man-made cave at Ledgemere that is fun for all ages to explore.
Granite Flume Trail
The Granite Flume Trail (1.2+ easy miles) begins across the street from Ledgemere Picnic Area. It is an easy trail that offers beautiful canyon and city views.
More Picnic Areas
The Birches and Storm Mountain Picnic areas are just farther up the canyon. They allow reservations for single sites ($10) or group sites.
Mill B South Trailhead
Mill B South trailhead near the S-curve has several trails, including Lake Blanche (6.9 difficult miles or 8 miles if adding neighboring Lakes Florence and Lillian), and Mill B South nature walk (0.5 easy, paved accessible miles).
Mill B North Trailhead
On the middle of the S-curve is the parking lot for the Mill B North Trailhead. The trail then crosses the road and heads north to Hidden Falls (0.25 easy miles) and Lower Mill B North Fork Trail. I love to hike this trail to the Overlook (2.8 moderate miles).
The fall leaves you can see right from the road of Big Cottonwood Canyon are so beautiful!
Butler Fork Trailhead
Butler Fork trailhead is the start of Circle-All Peak (4.0 moderate miles) and the Big Cottonwood route to Dog Lake. Circle-All Peak is a bit steep, but offers commanding views!
Mill D Trailhead
Mill D North Fork Trailhead is where you’ll find turn off to Jordan Pines Campground and the trailhead for Donut Falls (1.5 easy miles). In the winter you can hike to Donut Falls from the road (3.5 easy miles).
Here are more roadside views in the fall.
A little further up the road is Spruces Campground. This is a great place for camping and to spot wildlife. I love that the camping spots are nestled in the pines. I also took some Milky Way photos last time we camped here.
I’ll show a few more roadside shots on the way up the canyon.
The Willow Heights / Willow Lake Trailhead is hard to see. There is no parking lot, but the shoulder on both sides of the road is wide enough for parking. Willow Lake (2.2 moderate miles) is beautiful year round and the trail is great with wildflowers and amazing in the fall and can be done with micro-spikes or snowshoes in the winter.
Solitude Ski Resort has some people who live there year round. There are condos for rent as well. It is also a major ski resort.
Redman is higher elevation and a little more primitive than Spruces for camping.
During the summer and early fall, the road is open to go over Guardsman’s Pass towards Park City. There are several trails near here that are only about 10 minutes beyond this turn off. Bloods Lake (2.8 moderate miles) is probably the most popular. Lake Lackawaxen (4.6 moderate miles) is also popular, especially with dog owners who can’t bring their pups to Bloods Lake or anywhere in Big Cottonwood Canyon due to its being a watershed. Loopine (0.6 moderate), and Kalamazoo (2.0 moderate) are also trails from the Bloods Lake Trailhead.
Brighton also has a small number of people who live there year round as well as cabins that can be rented. It’s a great place for winter and summer fun! The community helps encourage cell coverage, which is mostly available throughout Big Cottonwood Canyon and is especially strong at the top near Solitude and Brighton.
Silver Lake Trailhead
Brighton has a number of trails, beginning with Silver Lake (0.9 accessible easy).
Silver Lake is also the trailhead for Lake Solitude (3.3 moderate miles), Twin Lakes (2.3 moderate miles), Patsy Marley Peak(3.2 difficult miles), and the Brighton Loop (7-8 difficult miles).
Brighton Ski Resort
The main Brighton Ski Lodge is located at the top of the canyon. We often ski at Brighton since kids 10 and under are free and it’s a great resort. The mountains are so beautiful all year round! I love seeing the snow-flocked pines and the snow covered mountains, while breathing in the crisp air.
Lake Mary Trailhead
Lake Mary Trailhead is the trail that begins on the right side of the lodge and winds back and forth under the ski lifts before moving further to the right. The trail to Lake Mary (2.6 moderate miles) is a bit steep, but it is an especially scenic lake. Because it reflects the sky and the seasons change, it looks different every time I go!
The “Three Sister” Brighton Lakes are Lake Mary, Lake Martha (2.8 moderate miles), and Lake Catherine (4.4 moderate miles from Big Cottonwood, 3.9 moderate miles from Little Cottonwood). Dog Lake (2.5 moderate miles) is also near Lake Mary (a different Dog Lake then is between Big Cottonwood and Millcreek Canyons).
Lake Martha and Dog Lake are a bit more like ponds, but they are still nice.
Lake Catherine is very beautiful!
There two peaks that surround Lake Catherine are Sunset Peak (5.8 moderate miles from Big Cottonwood, 4.4 moderate miles from Little Cottonwood) and Mount Tuscarora (5.8 miles from Big Cottonwood, 4.0 moderate miles from Little Cottonwood). Sunset Peak is amazing and probably one of the easiest peaks. It adds some distance, but not too much difficulty. The views from the top are spectacular! Mount Tuscarora is a bit more of a scramble and also has stunning views!
Both Sunset Peak and Mount Tuscarora give incredible views of all three Brighton Lakes. Mount Wolverine (5.9 moderate miles from Big Cottonwood, 3.8 moderate miles from Little Cottonwood) is the peak between Twin Lakes and Lake Mary. You can also climb Mount Wolverine from Patsy Marley Peak.
If you hike the loop from Silver Lake, up to Twin Lakes, up Patsy Marley Peak, Mount Wolverine, Mount Tuscarora, Sunset Peak, then to Lakes Catherine, Martha, Mary, and back down to Silver Lake, that is the Brighton Loop (8.0 difficult miles).
Here are a few more autumn photos from the road at Brighton.
Heugh’s Canyon (3.0 moderate miles to first waterfall, 3.5 to second) runs next door to Big Cottonwood Canyon to the north. Since the trailhead is less than five minutes from Big Cottonwood, I thought I would mention it here.
Big Cottonwood Scenic Drive Stats:
Distance – 15 miles one way (can either go over Guardsman’s Pass to Park City or turn around)
Approximate driving time – 30 minutes (one direction and longer if including hikes or during peak times)
Permits needed – None
Pets allowed – No
Other Scenic Drives are Little Cottonwood Canyon, The Alpine Loop, Nebo Loop and Mirror Lake Scenic Byway