16 Best Hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon Utah

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Big Cottonwood Canyon is a popular hiking destination close to Salt Lake City, Utah! With so many hiking trails to choose from, this is the ultimate list of the best hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon with a range of difficulties. There’s something for everyone! Let’s dive into the list.

views of Big Cottonwood Canyon

Big Cottonwood Canyon is about 20 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. With easy access and plenty of recreational opportunities, it’s no surprise that this is a popular destination.

In this post, I want to focus on the best hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon for the Summer and Fall months.

In the Summer, when temperatures are hot down in the Salt Lake Valley, it can be around 10°F cooler up the canyon! Plus, the trees provide shade on many of these hikes.

Good to Know >> For current Big Cottonwood Canyon road conditions and closures, check here.

The Best Hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon

Note on Difficulty: It’s always best to take the distance, elevation gain, and your personal fitness level into account when assessing a hike. These ratings are just my opinion and are relative to each other within this canyon.

view from the Broads Fork Trail hike in big cottonwood canyon
View from Broads Fork Trail

1. Broads Fork Trail

  • Distance: about 4.7 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 2046 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

I think this is one of the most underrated hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon! The trail is beautiful and the view from the basin is awesome! It’s overall a moderate hike with a few steep sections.

This trail starts from the same parking lot as Lake Blanche (#2 below) but this trail is much less crowded. If you’re looking for a nice hike with a little more solitude, this is a great option.

lake blanche and sundial peak
Lake Blanche and Sundial Peak

2. Lake Blanche

  • Distance: about 6.4 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,753 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

No Big Cottonwood Canyon hiking list would be complete without talking about the Lake Blanche trail. This is by far one of the most popular hikes in the Wasatch and you can expect to see lots of other people on it.

The parking lot fills up fast on the weekends, so try to get an early start to beat the heat and the crowds. This hike is a steady uphill with beautiful views.

Once at Lake Blanche, you can see Sundial Peak peering over the lake and a gorgeous view of the Wasatch Mountains. I’ve seen moose on the trail and up around the lake.

hidden falls in big cottonwood canyon
Hidden Falls

3. Hidden Falls

  • Distance: about 0.2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 170 feet
  • Difficulty: Very Easy

Hidden Falls is a beautiful waterfall that’s not too far from the parking lot. It’s not much of a hike, the distance is very short, but it’s still a cool place to check out. Be careful because the wet rocks can be very slippery!

moss ledge waterfall
Moss Ledge Waterfall

4. Moss Ledge Waterfall

  • Distance: about 0.5 miles roundtrip (but GPS is hard to track on this hike)
  • Elevation Gain: about 531 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

This is a really cool waterfall if you’re willing to work for it. However, there’s not much of a trail. You’ll need some route-finding skills.

You also need to be comfortable climbing up and over rocks on steep terrain. The waterfall at the end is really beautiful and we had a lot of fun on this hike. Be careful because the wet rocks can be very slippery!

view from Gobblers Knob in big cottonwood canyon
View from Gobblers Knob

5. Gobblers Knob

  • Distance: about 7.6 miles roundtrip (from Butler Fork Trailhead)
  • Elevation Gain: 3415 feet
  • Difficulty: Challenging

If you want a challenging hike with great views, then Gobblers Knob is it. There are a couple of ways that you can hike to this peak. From Big Cottonwood Canyon, you can start at the Butler Fork Trailhead and hike to Baker Pass and then on to the peak.

You can also hike this from Millcreek Canyon. Either way, it’s going to be a challenging hike, but look at those views! There are a few false summits along the way so keep your spirits up because this will be a long one! Bring plenty of water because, after the first mile or so, there’s none.

on the top of Mount Raymond
View from Mount Raymond

6. Mount Raymond

  • Distance: about 7.6 miles (from Butler Fork Trailhead)
  • Elevation Gain: about 3,200 feet
  • Difficulty: Challenging

I loved hiking Mount Raymond! Like Gobblers Knob (above), you can start this hike in Big Cottonwood Canyon or in Millcreek Canyon.

Either way, this is another fun challenging hike with some steep scrambling over rocks at the top! The views from the peak are awesome. Bring plenty of water because there isn’t any after about the first mile.

circle all peak view in big cottonwood canyon utah
View from Circle All Peak

7. Circle All Peak

  • Distance: about 3.35 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1437 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

I love this hike if you want something short with a great view! The hike out of the canyon is steep, but overall the hike isn’t long and the views are really cool for such a short hike. This hike starts at the Butler Fork Trailhead.

view of donut falls
Donut Falls

8. Donut Falls

  • Distance: about 1.35 miles roundtrip (from the Summer parking lot)
  • Elevation Gain: about 180 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

This is another super popular hike in Big Cottonwood Canyon because it’s relatively easy and short. To be honest, I don’t think the waterfall view is all that spectacular, but if you want a nice afternoon outdoors, this is still a cool destination.

This is a very popular hike for families, just be careful around wet rocks because they can become slippery!

on the top of Kesler Peak in big cottonwood canyon
View from Kesler Peak

9. Kesler Peak

  • Distance: about 5 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,844 feet
  • Difficulty: Challenging

This one’s intense. The views from Kesler Peak are one of my favorites in the canyon, but the hike to the top is steep, loose, and honestly, pretty tough on the knees on the way down! Trekking poles helped a lot though.

Once you pass the Donut Falls junction, the trail gets steep… and then it gets steeper. Seriously, I could not believe some sections of this trail!

The mileage is relatively short, but it sure took us a while to get to the top. We still talk about how much fun this hike was, but it’s not one that I’ll do again anytime soon!

desolation lake hike
Desolation Lake

10. Desolation Lake

  • Distance: about 8 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,881 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

This is an easy-to-moderate trail up to an alpine lake. The trail isn’t too steep, especially compared to some of the other trails on this list, so it’s really enjoyable as you hike along meadows and see tons of wildflowers.

While the trail itself is beautiful, the lake is not my favorite in the area. But overall, it’s still a great hike and is very popular with mountain bikers and trail runners!

moose in willow lake in big cottonwood canyon
Moose at Willow Lake

11. Willow Lake

  • Distance: about 0.8 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 600 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

This is a wonderful short hike up to a beautiful lake. I’ve seen moose a few times up here! The beginning of the hike out of the canyon is steep, but it doesn’t last that long. Relax at the lake and enjoy the views!

Lake Mary hike near Brighton resort
Lake Mary

12. Lake Mary, Lake Martha, and Lake Catherine

  • Distance ONE-WAY from Brighton parking lot:
    • about 1 mile to Lake Mary
    • about 1.46 miles to Lake Martha
    • about 2 miles to Lake Catherine
  • Elevation Gain from Brighton parking lot:
    • about 700 feet to Lake Mary
    • about 880 feet to Lake Martha
    • about 1,170 feet to Lake Catherine
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

I group all of these lakes together because they’re all along the same trail. You can stop at Lake Mary (the most popular) or continue out and back to Lake Martha and Lake Catherine if you want a longer hike.

Starting from the Brighton parking lot, the trail is a steady uphill through the ski resort until you get to Lake Mary. At Lake Mary, there are plenty of places to hang out and enjoy the scenery, or continue on to the other lakes.

boardwalks at silver lake near Brighton
Boardwalks at Silver Lake

13. Brighton Lakes Loop

  • Distance: varies, but the basic loop is about 3.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: varies depending on how many lakes you stop at
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate 

If you want to do a loop hike instead of an out-and-back, then this is an awesome option! There are a lot of trails in the Brighton area. The Brighton Lakes Loop is a way to link Twin Lakes Reservoir with Lake Mary (#12 above) into one longer loop hike. You can get more info here.

I like to park at Silver Lake and take the Twin Lakes Trail to Twin Lakes Reservoir first. From there, I continue on the Brighton Lakes Trail to Lake Mary. From Lake Mary, you can go out and back to Lake Martha and/or Lake Catherine if desired. Continue on the Brighton Lakes Trail down through the ski resort to the parking lot to complete the loop.

FYI – There’s a nice boardwalk around Silver Lake if you want an easy family-friendly walk. The walk around the lake is just under 1 mile. Note: As of August 2023, part of the boardwalk is temporarily inaccessible due to boardwalk construction.

dog lake hike in big cottonwood canyon utah
Dog Lake

14. Dog Lake (the one by Brighton)

  • Distance: about 1.9 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 618 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

This is another lake in the Brighton area. I like to combine this lake with Lake Mary (#12 above). This is a small lake, but I’ve seen a moose in it before! It’s definitely worth the short detour if you’re headed to Lake Mary or up to Clayton Peak (#16 below).

FYI – There are actually two Dog Lakes that you can access from Big Cottonwood Canyon so don’t confuse this with the other Dog Lake lower in the canyon!

view of Bloods Lake
Bloods Lake

15. Bloods Lake

  • Distance: about 2.9 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 356 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

In order to access this hike from Big Cottonwood Canyon, you need to make sure that Guardsmens Pass is open. Bloods Lake is a very popular hike because it’s beautiful and relatively short and easy.

I would do this hike in the Fall because the fall colors are absolutely incredible along this hike! It’s so cool to hike through the aspen trees when they’re bright yellow. From Bloods Lake, you can continue on to Clayton Peak (#16 below) or Lake Lackawaxen for a longer hike if desired.

view from Clayton Peak in Big Cottonwood Canyon
View from Clayton Peak

16. Clayton Peak

  • Distance:
    • about 6 miles roundtrip (from Brighton Lakes Trail)
    • about 5.5 miles roundtrip (Bloods Lake Trailhead)
  • Elevation Gain:
    • 1835 feet, if starting at the Brighton Lakes Trail
    • 1722 feet, if starting at the Bloods Lake Trailhead
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

This is a really beautiful peak hike and there are two ways to access it. The more common and shorter route is via the Bloods Lake Trail.

You also can start down at Brighton and take the Brighton Lakes Trail to the Clayton Peak Trail. This route is a little longer, but it’s beautiful and you get incredible views at Snake Creek Pass along the way.

The last bit of this hike is steep and requires scrambling over rocks to get to the top. At the top, you’ll get awesome views of Big Cottonwood Canyon, Heber Valley, and Mount Timpanogos!

view of the Wasatch Mountains in Big Cottonwood Canyon Utah

Big Cottonwood Common Questions:

Do you have to pay to get into Big Cottonwood Canyon?

There is no fee to drive into Big Cottonwood Canyon, however, there are fees for picnic area day use and camping at the campgrounds within the canyon.

Why aren’t dogs allowed in Big Cottonwood Canyon?

Dogs are not allowed in Big Cottonwood Canyon because much of the drinking water for the Salt Lake Valley comes from the Wasatch Front watersheds, and dog waste can contain parasites and bacteria. If you want to hike with your dog, check out some of the hikes in Millcreek Canyon, or drive further South to American Fork Canyon.

Can you swim in Big Cottonwood Canyon?

No, you cannot swim in Big Cottonwood Canyon for the same reason that dogs are not allowed. Much of the drinking water for the Salt Lake Valley comes from the Wasatch Front watersheds.

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One Comment

  1. Very nice description when planning a trip to SLC 🙂
    wuld be nice with a map showing the hikes though, I can’t find any online