Hike in Cottonwood Canyon

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7 Incredible Hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon

I don’t know about you, but when I was a beginner hiker, I was not looking for the easiest trails out there. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I wanted to find trails and hikes that were going to challenge and push me.

In this post, I’m going to be sharing 7 incredible hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon. I absolutely love hiking, and Northern Utah has some of the most beautiful hikes in the US. And Big Cottonwood Canyon, some of the best hikes in Utah.

Southern Utah is best known for its National Parks (5 to be exact, and yes, we’re quite proud of them!) but Northern Utah is ski territory which means in Summer, there is some amazing hiking in our mountains.

So that’s why in this post I’m sharing 7 incredible hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon. We’ll explore the National Parks in another post, this one is just Big Cottonwood Canyon because there is so much exploring to be done.

In this article, you will also find tips on how to plan hiking adventures, what to wear and pack on Utah hikes, and some handy trail etiquette tips. Ready? Let’s dive right into hiking in gorgeous northern Utah.

Below I’ll be sharing my favorite hikes for beginners and intermediate hikers - yes they all tried and tested by me! I’ll also be sharing a rating guide based on how difficult they are and at the bottom of this post, you’ll find a packing guide to help you make sure you’re always prepared when you’re out there on the trail.

These hikes are all accessible via Salt Lake with 1 hour or less driving.

7 Incredible Hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon

Planning tips for first time hikers:

I don’t know about you, but when I was a beginner hiker, I was not looking for the easiest trails out there. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I wanted to find trails and hikes that were going to challenge and push me.

Make sure to pick hikes you know you’ll be able to complete, so nothing too crazy when you’re first starting out but I think you’ll find a good range of hikes in this post for those just starting out and more avid hikers after a good challenge.

One thing to know is that all of the trails listed here are popular hiking routes which means they’ll be well maintained and well marked. They’ll usually have utilities at the trailhead and can be accessed by a paved road.


Before you head out hiking for the first time:

  • Research your trail before heading out.

  • Factor in overall distance, elevation gain, current conditions and your fitness when selecting a trail.

  • Start easy and gradually work your way up to longer and more challenging trails.

  • Be sure to wear and pack the appropriate items.

  • Print a physical map of the trail and/or download offline maps (I use the All Trails App for this).

  • Tell someone your plans before heading off (where you are going and when you will be back).

  • Read up on Leave No Trace Principles.


Disclaimer: These hikes are suggestions for the summer months and early fall.

Utah Hikes #1: Lake Blanche

Lake Blanche is a very popular Northern Utah Hike that’s rated as moderate. It’s steep with a lot of elevation gained, and it’s quite a long hike but I’d still recommend it for beginners. Of course, you know better than me what you can handle, but this is one of the hikes I started with when getting back into hiking in Utah.

Insider’s tip – This is a popular hike up Big Cottonwood Canyon. I recommend starting early to beat out a lot of the crowds.

Location: Big Cottonwood Canyon

Native lands: Shoshoni, Ute

Distance: 7 miles roundtrip

Elevation gain: 2,700 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Route Type: Out & Back

Pass/permit: NA

Dogs: No. Big Cottonwood Canyon is watershed so dogs are not permitted in the canyon or any of the hiking trails offered here.

Road Access: Paved road up the canyon with a well marked turn off and parking area

Utah Hikes #2: Red Pines Lake

At the Red Pines Lake trailhead you’ll actually be able to start several of the hikes in this post. It’s a popular trailhead because it’s home to easier hikes like Gloria Falls (grandparent and children friendly) but it breaks off to Maybird Gulch, Red Pines and White Pines, which get you away from the crowds.

I did this hike in July and encountered lots of snow. Make sure that you have on closed toed shoes and take poles for balance in the snow. (Even with poles I still slipped and fell a bit)

Insider’s tip – If you’re wanting to try a close to home backpacking trip, the Red Pines Lake is a great option. There are plenty of places you can set up camp for the night. It’s a great option for beginner overnight backpackers.

Location: Big Cottonwood Canyon

Native lands: Shoshoni, Ute

Distance: 7 miles roundtrip

Elevation gain: 2,073 feet

Difficulty: Hard

Route Type: Out & Back

Pass/permit: NA

Dogs: No. Big Cottonwood Canyon is watershed so dogs are not permitted in the canyon or any of the hiking trails offered here.

Road access: Paved road up the canyon with a well marked turn off and parking area

Utah Hikes #3: White Pines Lake

You’ll be starting this hike at the Red Pines Trailhead. White Pines lake is a more difficult and longer trail but the reward is even better. This is one of the most beautiful lakes that you can hike to in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Even though it starts from the same trailhead, it’s a less popular hike so you’re much more likely to have no crowds.

Insider’s tip – If you’re wanting to try a close to home backpacking trip, the White Pines Lake is another great option. There are plenty of places you can set up camp for the night. It’s a great option for beginner overnight backpackers.

Location: Big Cottonwood Canyon

Native lands: Shoshoni, Ute

Distance: 10.5 miles roundtrip

Elevation gain: 2,762 feet

Difficulty: Hard

Route Type: Out & Back

Pass/permit: NA

Dogs: No. Big Cottonwood Canyon is watershed so dogs are not permitted in the canyon or any of the hiking trails offered here.

Road access: Paved road up the canyon with a well marked turn off and parking area

Utah Hikes #4: Maybird Gulch Trail to Maybird Lakes

This is the last hike that you’ll be starting from the Red Pines trailhead. It’s another much less popular hike up this trailhead, so once you get past Gloria falls you should have the entire hike to yourselves. We took hammocks and set them up at the lake.

Insider’s tip – When you’re headed out on this hike, head towards Red Pines Lake. Then you’ll be walking along and see a bridge over the river to the right. Cross that bridge and you’ll be headed on the Maybird Gulch Trail.

We went in July and saw the most amazing wildflowers the entire hike up. It was beautiful.

Location: Big Cottonwood Canyon

Native lands: Shoshoni, Ute

Distance: 7.3 miles roundtrip

Elevation gain: 2,214 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Route Type: Out & Back

Pass/permit: NA

Dogs: No. Big Cottonwood Canyon is watershed so dogs are not permitted in the canyon or any of the hiking trails offered here.

Road access: Paved road up the canyon with a well marked turn off and parking area

Utah Hikes #5: Brighton Lakes Loop

Brighton Lakes Loop is found at the Brighton Ski Resort. The wildflowers are absolutely beautiful here in the spring and summer. I shouldn’t have to say this but please, please do not pick the wildflowers. Just enjoy them and take photos. Plenty of animals call those flowers home, they are incredibly important to the ecosystem and everyone else's enjoyment. I’m always so sad when I see people picking them.

Brighton Lakes Loop is one of the best hikes in Northern Utah. Once again found in Big Cottonwood Canyon, you can do the full loop which features multiple lakes or you can hike out to a lake or two and hike back.

Location: Big Cottonwood Canyon

Native lands: Shoshoni, Ute

Distance: 7 miles roundtrip

Elevation gain: 1,807 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Route Type: Loop

Pass/permit: NA

Dogs: No. Big Cottonwood Canyon is watershed so dogs are not permitted in the canyon or any of the hiking trails offered here.

Road access: Paved road up the canyon with a well marked turn off and parking area

Utah Hikes #6: Desolation Lake

Desolation Lake is a much less trafficked hike up Big Cottonwood Canyon. I wasn’t expecting much from this hike but it turned out to be really beautiful. The lake was really secluded and the hike was quite beautiful. This is another one I did during the summer, on a weekend and we only passed 2-3 other sets of hikers.

Location: Big Cottonwood Canyon

Native lands: Shoshoni, Ute

Distance: 7.7 miles roundtrip

Elevation gain: 1,988 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Route Type: Out & Back

Pass/permit: NA

Dogs: No. Big Cottonwood Canyon is watershed so dogs are not permitted in the canyon or any of the hiking trails offered here.

Road access: Paved road up the canyon with a well marked turn off and parking area

Utah Hikes #7: Salt Lake Overlook

Desolation Lake is a much less trafficked hike up Big Cottonwood Canyon. I wasn’t expecting much from this hike but it turned out to be really beautiful. The lake was really secluded and the hike was quite beautiful. This is another one I did during the summer, on a weekend and we only passed 2-3 other sets of hikers.

Location: Big Cottonwood Canyon

Native lands: Shoshoni, Ute

Distance: 7.7 miles roundtrip

Elevation gain: 1,988 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Route Type: Out & Back

Pass/permit: NA

Dogs: No. Big Cottonwood Canyon is watershed so dogs are not permitted in the canyon or any of the hiking trails offered here.

Road access: Paved road up the canyon with a well marked turn off and parking area

These are my 7 favorite hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon, but keep in mind there is so much hiking to do here, if you’ve already done these hikes, share with me your favorites in the comments below. I’ll make sure to add them to my list.

What to take hiking in Utah

Always be prepared when you go hiking. Take a comfortable backpack with plenty of water and snacks. While all of these trailheads have facilities, make sure that you pack a poop kit with a shovel and hand sanitizer for when nature calls. Also always make sure you hike with the proper shoes and socks, otherwise your feet will not be happy. Finally, don't forget to take a light rain jacket, a hat and plenty of sunscreen. If you’re interested in a ‘what to pack for a day hiking’ or similarly, an overnight packing guide, let me know and I’ll put together a list of all the items in my bag.

Happy hiking!


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