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Camping:  Little Cottonwood Canyon

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The "Little", Salt Lake's Recreational Haven

The Wasatch mountains rise majestically from the Eastern edge of Salt Lake City. Little Cottonwood Canyon is a glacially carved canyon providing access into the heart of the range. This canyon is a multi-season destination, offering some of the best skiing in the world with Alta and Snowbird both located here.

For this weekend drive we decide to journey up into the Little Cottonwood Canyon. The ”Little” is located off the 6200 South exit from I-215, follow the signs and you should find it easily. We decide to stop at the parking area at the base of the canyon where quite often you can view mountain goats on the surrounding cliffs. Today we have no luck seeing any.

This canyon is used as an outdoors venue for many of the local residents. Whether it be skiing, hiking, camping, climbing or whatever you do in the outdoors, you will find it here. Although, if you are looking for a place to take the family picnicking, I would recommend the Big Cottonwood Canyon as the “Big” has more picnic areas than the “Little.”

The Little Cottonwood Canyon is the beneficiary of 500 inches of natural snowfall a year! This ensures some of the best powder skiing in the United States. The best time to visit is in February as we always seem to get bombed with storms during that month. Many people who come to Utah for skiing stay over in Park City and quite a few never make the trip over. These people are missing out on some of the best skiing in the State.

We continue our journey up-canyon, while our son, who is strapped into a child seat in back, sits squealing about the mountains. Along the way we are continually astounded by the beauty of this canyon’s huge granite cliffs of white contrasting with the green of spring. The Little Cottonwood Creek is running ferociously, the spring runoff is in effect.

Hiking

There are many great hikes in the Little, most of these involve some serious altitude gains.

The hike to Cecret Lake is a very scenic hike in the spring, wildflowers in the Albion Basin make this a magical place. Cecret Lake is located at the base of the Devil’s Castle where Sugarloaf Peak is also visible. This is an easier hike that most people should be able to handle, although the elevation is quite a change if you come from elsewhere.

The hike up into the White Pine area is a must do, spectacular views of the valley and White Pine Lake reward the boot traveler. This trail travels four and a half miles before ending at White Pine Lake, be prepared to travel uphill quite a bit.

There is a great deal of hiking going on during the winter season, the Little Cottonwood Canyon has some great backcountry ski terrain. The White Pine trailhead offers endless territory for backcountry excursions. Many people hike the breadths of Mt. Superior. Be very cautious when traveling in the backcountry, we lose several people each year due to avalanches. Please call the Avalanche Forecast Center at (801) 364-1581 and pay attention to what they say, keep off wind-packed slopes and check the base of any pitch you are thinking of skiing. Always travel with a partner, each carrying beepers, probes and shovels.

We stop off at Lisa’s Falls. Featuring a short hike, this is a beautiful area. A cascading waterfall surrounding a peaceful mountain vista, make this one of my favorite places in the canyon. We can carry our child up this trail and let him putter around while we are there. He is like his Daddy and loves to climb on the rocks.

Camping

There are two campgrounds located in the ”Little”, Tanner’s Flat and Albion Basin. Both of these are campgrounds that can only be visited in the summer.

Tanner’s Flat is located at 7200 feet, this campground will become accessible earlier in the season than Albion Basin. This campground is located below the road, so the noises from the constant stream of traffic is somewhat muted. There are 36 sites available here which provide your typical campground accommodations. Smaller RV’s will fit here but leave the big one’s down in the valley.

Albion Basin is a wonderful campground to visit in the spring/summer, the seasons change on a slower basis at 9500 feet. While summer is in full swing down in the valley one can see the flowers of spring at Albion Basin. The camper has his choice of 24 different sites, although you have to get there pretty early to procure your site. This campground is located on the Alta ski area, continue up the road from Alta and you will run into Albion Basin.

Driving up the canyon further, we travel the twisting road. Even though we have lived here for 5 years and driven this road many times we are still amazed at our fortune to be witnessing this on a daily basis.

Climbing

The Little Cottonwood Canyon has long been the destination of climbers from around the US.
The ”Little” is mostly comprised of granite. The majority of the climbs follow cracks and other weaknesses. There are quite a few slabby “sport” routes, Little Cottonwood sport routes are not your typical sport routes. Most of these routes were pioneered from the ground up, in bold style. A good place for the budding leader is the gate buttress. Climbs of all kinds dot the surface of the gate buttress. Presently, the LDS church is removing boulders from this area to build their new assembly building, therefore access is kind of tight here. This area was once a spectacular bouldering playground with a variety of problems. Who knows what effect this project will have on this beautiful place?

A great place to escape the heat of the summer days is the coal pitch gulch area. This crag is accessed by the pump house parking area. You can spot this gully from the road, just follow the trail over the bridge. head east for a while and make your way up to the gully. Pentapitch is located down low on this gully and is a great climb. Head further up and find the gulch area. Here there are a number of great sport routes on excellent granite.

Lisa’s Falls is a great area for someone new to the sport. Easy sport and trad routes can be found here. A waterfall provides a pleasant atmosphere. Many people also climb here, so be prepared for crowds.

As we reach the resorts of Snowbird and Alta we can see that the season’s have changed, where winter once had its hold on this area…

Overall

The Little Cottonwood Canyon is a great place to find outdoor activities of every kind. Even if you are not getting out of the car this road provides an excellent example of the scenery Utah’s mountains have to offer.

Snowbird offers some interesting events throughout the year, including a Jazz and Blues fest, and Oktoberfest. These are good ways to spend an afternoon enjoying the sun while being in the mountain environment. Check their website for the exact dates: www.snowbird.com.

Dog’s are not allowed in either the “Big” or ”Little” Cottonwoods, these are both watersheds for the city. So Fido will have to stay at home.

Soon Spring will once again regain hold of the mountains. The cycles of hobbies will repeat themselves once again. This Canyon is what brought many of us transplants here, and we love every changing season!

Have fun in the state of Utah!

Nearby Area: Big Cottonwood Canyon

Resources


Maps

Wasatch Front/Strawberry Valley Trail Map

Wasatch Front/Strawberry Valley Trail Map

More than just a map - National Geographic Trails Illustrated topographic maps are designed to take you into the wilderness and back. Printed on durable tear-resistant waterproof material this map can go anywhere you do! Each map is based on exact reproductions of USGS topographic map information updated customized and enhanced to meet the unique features of each area. Folded and printed on plastic for durability.



Campgrounds

Tanners Flat

Albion Basin


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