Little Cottonwood Canyon sits at the southern end of Salt Lake Valley and offers stunning mountain views, deep pine forests, and endless adventure. This canyon has plenty of challenging trails for experienced hikers, but if you want to bring young kids along or are just looking for something more relaxed, it can be hard to know the best places to go.
I’ve spent my entire life hiking, running, and biking in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and I’ve explored most of the trails in this area. These trails are, in my opinion, some of the best ways to explore this canyon without taking on a massive adventure. If you’re looking for a way to get above the summer heat, these hikes in Little Cottonwood Canyon are an easy way to escape the crowded valley.
From Albion Basin Campground
Distance: 1.8 miles
Cecret Lake from Albion Base
Distance: 4.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Located in the Albion Basin area of Alta Ski Resort at the very top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, this short hike is a fantastic way to get up into the mountains.
For the shortest hike, you’ll drive all the way to the Albion Basin Campground Trailhead at the end of the dirt “Summer Road” above Alta. You pass a fee station and will need to pay a $10 fee to make it up to the trailhead. Be aware that parking is very limited, so you may have a hard time finding a spot on weekends. I’d recommend starting as early as possible from this trailhead.
If you’re up for a slightly longer hike, I definitely recommend starting at the Albion Base of Alta Ski Resort. The parking here is pretty much unlimited, and the longer trail takes you through some beautiful mountain meadows that can be covered with wildflowers in early summer.
Whichever route you choose to take, you are in for a stunningly beautiful hike. The trail to Cecret Lake passes through alpine meadows, pine forests, and over slabs of granite.
Bell Canyon Reservoir
Distance: 1.5 miles
Branching off from the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Bell Canyon is a steep, stunning glacier-carved canyon that features incredible granite spires towering overhead. For years I lived just minutes from this trail, and it is one of my favorite places to explore in the Wasatch.
This trail has become quite popular in recent years, and the trailhead parking can fill up on busy summer days, but there is overflow parking on the roadside just above the parking lot.
The trail itself is mellow and very easy to follow. It starts winding up the hill through sagebrush and scrub oak, which give way to maples and pines as you get closer to the lake. This is an incredible hike to do in late September for the fall colors.
If you’re up for more of an adventure, the trail doesn’t stop at the reservoir. You can hike roughly five miles round trip to an incredible waterfall farther up the canyon. The trail gets much more difficult as you climb towards the waterfall, so be prepared for steep, rocky hiking.
An extremely strenuous 11-mile hike also gets you to a higher reservoir in Bell’s Canyon if you’re ready for a challenge.
Little Cottonwood Canyon Creek Trail
Distance: Up to 9 Miles
This is one of the most accessible trails in Little Cottonwood Canyon. It starts at the parking lot for the Temple Quarry Monument at the base of the canyon (this is where the granite for the well-known Salt Lake Temple was obtained).
The trail follows Little Cottonwood Creek running along the bottom of the canyon. It is different from many of the other trails on this list because it stays in dense maple and pine forests the entire time.
This is a perfect trail for taking kids because it is easy, flat hiking, and there’s plenty to keep them interested. As you hike along the creek, you’ll see ruins of old quarry buildings, water mills, and more. It’s fun to imagine what these places looked like 150 years ago when they were still in use.
This is also a great hike for getting out of the summer heat because it’s in the shade the entire time, and the creek running alongside keeps the air cool and refreshing.
The nice thing about this trail is that you can make it as long or as short as you want. The trail goes all the way up to the Tanner Flat Campground, but there isn’t really a specific destination, and there are plenty of interesting places to stop along the way and look at ruins or sit by the creek.
Observation Point Trail
Distance: 1 mile
If you are looking for a super easy hike to get the family up into the mountains and see some incredible views of Little Cottonwood Canyon, the Observation Point Trail at Snowbird Ski Resort is an amazing choice.
This hike starts behind the Snowbird Center and winds through the trees to a lookout over the canyon. It follows a smooth paved path, so this trail is perfect for relaxed sunday strolls, and you can bring everyone along (except dogs).
The fall colors in this area are stunning. I’d try to hit this trail mid-September most years to see the peak color.
I’ve also seen several moose in this area on different occasions, so keep your eyes on the lookout for these massive animals!
Distance: 3 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Catherine’s Pass is one of my favorite areas in the Wasatch, and I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the areas around it. For this hike you start at the top of the Alta Summer Road. Parking here is limited, so I’d recommend starting early, especially if you’re going on a Saturday or Sunday.
I think this trail is one of the most beautiful in the area. It is classic high-alpine Wasatch hiking and loops around the northeast side of the Albion Basin, giving you incredible views the entire time. In early summer, wildflowers light this area up with vibrant color.
The meadows and forests you hike through are teeming with life. Expect to pass through thick greenery and see a lot of wildlife including deer, moose, and potentially foxes (this is the only place I’ve seen one of these elusive animals in the wild).
The destination, Catherine’s Pass itself, is a beautiful overlook that gives you incredible views down to the Brighton Lakes (Mary, Martha, and Catherine), and the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon.
There are plenty of trails that branch off from this point, so if you’re in the mood for a longer adventure, there’s a lot more to explore. You can drop down to Catherine’s Lake or hike up the ridge either direction to Sunset Peak or Mount Wolverine.
Okay, so it’s a bit of a stretch to call this an easy hike, but this is another of my absolute favorite places in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and it’s still much easier than many of the surrounding hikes. This isn’t a great hike to take little kids, but for adventurous kids older than six or seven, this is a fantastic challenge.
To hike up Maybird Gulch, you start at the White Pine Trailhead. There are several trails branching off along the way, so it can be helpful to look at the AllTrails map before heading out. The nice thing is that it’s pretty easy to remember the way up: whenever there’s a fork in the trail, stay right, and you’ll make it to Maybird.
This hike is much longer and has more elevation gain than anything else on this list, so be prepared with plenty of water, snacks, and good shoes.
The hike is beautiful the entire way, and you’ll see a lot of variety, from thick maple forests near the start to the massive high boulderfield at the top.
The trail ends at a pair of lakes called Maybird Lakes, and you have a fantastic view of Pfeifferhorn Peak.
About the author: I am an outdoor adventure seeker who collects sunburns, National Park maps, and trail miles. I love anything that gets me outdoors, whether it’s on foot, on skis, on a bike, or on the open road. A Utah native, I’m most at home in mountains and deserts with clear air and bright stars.