Little Cottonwood Canyon
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"Little", Salt Lake's Recreational Haven
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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
Have fun in the state of Utah!
Nearby Area: Big Cottonwood Canyon
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