Little Cottonwood Canyon is a beautiful canyon in the southeast corner of the Salt Lake Valley. It is well-known for it’s glorious wildflowers in the late summer and snow skiing in the winter.
Little Cottonwood Road
The drive up Little Cottonwood is beautiful! It gets very congested on powder ski days and weekends during wildflower season.
The fall colors are splendid!
Sometimes in the winter the air gets that yucky inversion. If you go barely into the canyon you can escape it. These two photos were taken coming down the canyon Dec. 4, 2019 and then Oct.4, 2022. That cloud of bad air is gross, right?!
Here are a few more pretty ones!
At the entrance of Little Cottonwood Canyon is the Temple Quarry Nature Trail (0.3 easy miles) and Little Cottonwood Trail (5.4 easy miles) for walking and biking. These are especially beautiful in the fall!
They are beautiful in summer too!
In the late winter/early spring mountain goats live at the tops of these lower mountains. I didn’t have my most powerful zoom lens, but you can still see the mountain goats!
Only about 12 minutes up the canyon is the short and easy Lisa Falls (0.3 easy miles) trail. This is a great one for toddlers since it’s short and the water is shallow.
Aren’t those mountains gorgeous!
Lisa Falls also makes for a great autumn and winter hike.
Red Pine and White Pine Trailhead
About five more minutes up the canyon is the Red Pine and White Pine Trailhead. This is the starting point for family-friendly Gloria Falls (2.3 moderate miles) and longer, more challenging hikes to Red Pine Lake (7.5 difficult miles), White Pine Lake (10.7 difficult miles), and Maybird Gulch to Maybird Lakes (7.3 difficult miles).
Gloria Falls is a favorite and great for all ages. It would be easy except for the last 0.1 mile is a bit steep. The falls are spectacular at 75 feet high!
The trail is also lovely in every season!
It gets buried in snow later in the season, but the first mile of the trail is open year round.
Red Pine Lake
If you continue along the trail after the second bridge, you will head up to Red Pine and Maybird. They follow the same trail for 2.5 miles and then split. The lake is gorgeous! I also included a view down the canyon from the trail.
This whole area abounds in wildflowers in July and August. Here are some from the Red Pine trail.
Maybird Gulch to Maybird Lakes
This trail is lesser-known, but the views are breathtaking!
The wildflowers on this trail are out of this world!
The Maybird Lakes aren’t as stunning as Red Pine, but still a nice destination.
Snowbird Ski Resort
Snowbird is most famous as a Ski Resort, but it is also a nice place to visit in summer and fall. This first view is an arial view from Mount Superior looking down on Snowbird. The second shows off the fall colors there.
I used to ski Snowbird all the time as a teen, but it was before cell phones so I don’t have any photos. They have some lodges and condos as well.
Mount Superior and Monte Cristo are neighboring peaks that tower over Snowbird. The access is near Alta. You have to climb steeply up to the ridge where you can look down into Big Cottonwood Canyon. This section is called Cardiff Pass (3.2 difficult miles)
Then the trail heads west along the ridegeline. This trail is not for anyone afraid of heights or not used to hiking and scrambling. It’s intense! More intense than I prefer.
The views at the top of Mount Superior and Monte Cristo are incredible! This first one is looking down on Snowbird.
This first one is from Monte Cristo looking down on Sundial Peak and Lake Blanche!
At the top of the canyon is Alta Ski Resort and town. It is called a town, but it just has a few restaurants, cabins and the ski resort. My first few times skiing were at Alta Ski Resort.
Albion Basin Hikes
The Albion Basin is famous for its stunning wildflowers. They really are spectacular and much easier to see than the glorious ones higher up on peaks.
The Albion Meadows (3.6 easy miles from Alta Base, 0.1+ easy miles from Catherine’s Pass) are fields of wildflowers that bloom in late July-August.
You can drive nearly up to the meadows, but then you miss some of the beauty on the trail to the meadows.
Cecret Lake is a such a picturesque lake. It is longer if you hike to Cecret Lake from the Alta Base (4.5 moderate miles, but the Albion Meadows are on your way, so it’s such a pretty hike. Instead you can pay $10 to go on the Albion Basin Road and hike the short way to Cecret Lake (1.8 easy miles) from the Albion Basin Campground. Isn’t it magnificent? These photos are standing on different sides of the lake.
One of the coolest things about Cecret Lake is that has Tiger Salamanders in it!
Of course the wildflowers and mountain views along the way are impressive too.
Albion Basin Road
The Albion Basin Road is a graded dirt road. It has a toll booth at the base ($10). It is closed most of the year, opening July 1 – mid-October.
It is also super busy during peak wildflower season. If you go up on a Sunday plan to wait in your car until people leave since there is only limited parking beyond Alta.
Keep your eye out while you drive to see wildlife and wildflowers along the road. All of these photos below were taken right from my car: a moose crossing the road, a deer and gorgeous wildflowers.
Catherine’s Pass Trailhead
Catherine’s Pass Trailhead, which is the trailhead to Lake Catherine, Sunset Peak, Mount Tuscarora and Mount Wolverine. It is also immediately next to the Albion Meadows if you don’t want to have to hike. from the Albion Basin road. At the end of the road is the Albion Basin campground. There is parking there for the shorter hike to Cecret Lake. Catherine’s Pass has all abundant wildflowers, but it also has mountain views and potential wildlife sightings.
Lake Catherine (3.9 moderate miles) is actually the top of the three Brighton Lakes, above Lake Mary and Lake Martha, and can be accessed from either Big Cottonwood Canyon or Little Cottonwood Canyon. From Big Cottonwood this trail is called Brighton Lakes (4.4 moderate miles). It is shorter to come from the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
When you come from Catherine’s Pass, this is the view you get approaching the lake.
It is only 0.2 moderate miles added on to Lake Catherine to summit Sunset Peak. It is a wonderful first peak because there isn’t any scrambling or anything. There is just a moderate trail that heads to the top and the views are sensational! You can see Catherine, Martha, Mary and off in the distance Silver Lake.
These are the other directions.
The views on the way up are pretty too!
In addition or instead, you can head to other peaks near Lake Catherine. Mount Tuscarora (4.0 moderate miles) is actually a tiny bit shorter, but is a bit steeper. If you go in late summer, you will probably see more wildflowers along the way.
You can also see all three Brighton Sister Lakes from Mount Tuscarora.
Once you are on Mount Tuscarora it is a quick 0.1 miles round trip to add on Mount Wolverine (4.1 moderate miles). You can see a bit of Twin Lakes (2.3 moderate miles) to the left and Lake Mary (2.6 moderate miles) to the right.
From Mount Wolverine you can continue onto neighboring peak Patsy Marley and Twin Lakes Pass down Grizzly Gulch back to Alta, continue down to Twin Lakes, or just head back the way you came. If you are looping multiple peaks check out this link.
Albion Basin Campground
The Albion Basin Campground is only open for a short time July-September. There are only about 18 sites so most of the traffic nearby is taking the short route to Cecret Lake (1.8 easy miles).
Sugarloaf Mountain (2.7 – 5.4, moderate/difficult miles) is directly behind Cecret Lake and is the one featured in the photo above. Here are a few photos of the trail.
During wildflower season, the flowers here are unparelleled in abundance and beauty!
From this trail and peak you can look down into Utah County at features like Mount Timpanogos and Pittsburg Lake.
From the top you can look down on Cecret Lake and over to Devil’s Castle.
There were beautiful butterflies on the trail.
Geology and History
Little Cottonwood Canyon was carved by a glacier, creating steep cliffs.
In 1861 the pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mined the granite near the Little Cottonwood entrance for the Salt Lake Temple. Here is a description:
“Workers painstakingly chiseled out of the canyon walls huge granite blocks that weighed from 2,500 to 5,600 pounds each and carefully transported them to Temple Square, first by ox-drawn wagon and later by railroad. There, expert stone cutters carved the blocks to fit perfectly into place.”
You can learn more about it at the Temple Quarry Nature Trail.
The town of Alta was formed in 1861 to house workers for silver mines in Little Cottonwood. The owner of the mines, George Watson donated the land to the federal government to pay back taxes under the stipulation that it be used for skiing. The first ski resort in Utah was opened in Alta in 1938.
Distance – 8.6 miles one way (unpaved Albion Basin Road continues another 2.6 miles)
Approximate driving time – 30 minutes (one direction and longer if including hikes or during peak times)
Permits needed – None
Pets allowed – No
Other hikes near Little Cottonwood Canyon are Bells Canyon Lower Reservoir, Bells Canyon Lower Waterfall, Rocky Mouth Falls, and Bear Canyon Suspension Bridge.
Other nearby canyons are Big Cottonwood Canyon and American Fork Canyon.