Wasatch-Cache National Forest
Within easy reach of Salt Lake City, there are several excellent short hikes, suitable for the entire family. They are listed below in relation to three geographical regions: Little Cottonwood Canyon, Millcreek Canyon, and Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Little Cottonwood Canyon
Little Cottonwood canyon was carved by massive ancient glaciers. Today, it is accessed from 9400 South which is reached via I-15 and I-215 or on secondary roads such as Wasatch Blvd. Little Cottonwood Canyon is part of the Wasatch National Forest and the road passing through its scarred rock walls is a Scenic Byway. Hiking trails draw visitors to the canyon, as do two large ski resorts. This is a watershed area and no animals are allowed.
Cecret Lake from Albion Basin
Glacial Albion Basin, near Alta Ski Resort at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, is one of Utah's premier spots for wildflowers in season. It is also a"jumping-off" point for several hikes; Cecret Lake included. Albion Basin is the end of the road, 11.3 miles from the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. The 2.5 miles of road past Alta Ski Resort are unpaved but suitable for passenger cars. Hikers may park at the Albion Basin Campground. South of the parking area loom two peaks, craggy Devils Castle and softly rounded Sugarloaf. Cecret Lake is nestled in a basin at the base of Devils Castle on a rocky, flat-topped ridge.
The road/trail is easy to follow and is clearly marked from the campground. It crosses under the Albion ski lift where hikers should take a foot trail branching west, which crosses a stream. From that point, a mine dump and small cliff serve as locators. Cecret Lake is above them in the direction of the Sugarloaf mountain summit. Several routes access the lake. The trails are easy to pick out and any of them will reach Cecret Lake, about 3/4 of a mile from the campground.
Please note that as of 7/10/99, access to the Albion Basin by car is restricted coming from Alta. The distance from Alta to the Albion Basin is approximately 2.5 miles and should be considered before attempting this hike.
White Pine Overlook/White Pine Lake
This trailhead is the major access to the southern slopes of Little Cottonwood Canyon and the Lone Peak Wilderness Area beyond. The White Pine trailhead is on the south side of the road 5.5 miles up the canyon; about .7 miles below Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. Start slowing down just after the White Pine Slide Area sign, because the parking area is easy to overlook. From the parking lot, hikers should follow a wide service road (no longer open for vehicles) as it climbs west all the way to the lake. After traveling 1.25 miles from trailhead, there is a stunning overview down the Canyon to sprawling communities and farms on the west and mountain summits to the north. This trail continues up two switchbacks into a broad meadow, then over the ridge to White Pine Lake. The meadow is 2 miles from the trailhead. The total hiking distance to the lake is about 4.5 miles.
Millcreek is accessed from I-215 at 3600 South. A small use fee will be assessed upon leaving this Popular canyon. The south side of the canyon features several entrances to private camping facilities operated by the Boy Scouts. The canyon also holds two restaurants. Numerous picnic grounds on both sides of the road offer opportunities for short explorations along Mill Creek and the surrounding forest. Other popular destinations in the canyon are listed below.
Salt Lake Overlook/Desolation Trail
This is a moderate 1.75 mile climb to an overview of the Salt Lake Valley, framed by mountain mahogany. Switchbacks climb 1,250 feet, but they are long and gradual, making this a manageable hike for children and one they would be proud to complete. This hike is lovely in the evening when views look out over the sun setting on the Great Salt Lake.
The Desolation Trail, leading to the Salt Lake Overlook, begins .75 miles from the bottom of Millcreek Canyon, just east of the Millcreek Inn Restaurant. A sign indicating the trailhead is a few yards south of a clearly visible outhouse. For more ambitious hikers, the trail continues past the overlook for 17 ridge-top miles to Desolation Lake and Views of neighboring Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Elbow Fork to Terrace Picnic Area
This 1.75 mile stroll is a good choice for hot summer days because its north-facing slope promises shade. Views down the canyon highlight the route. The trail is also lovely in spring when the Wildflowers are blooming and in the fall for viewing the showy autumn colors. The Elbow Fork Trailhead is on the south side, 6.4 miles up Millcreek Canyon about 200 feet past a sharp turn in the road. The trail, itself, starts near a footbridge. The route begins with some steep switchbacks, but they are conquered in about ten minutes of walking. The trail continues though mountain mahogany, fir, aspen and oak before descending to its end at the Terraces Picnic Area.
Big Water Trail to Mill D Pass and Dog Lake
This popular trail has its origin at the end of the canyon road, 9.6 miles from the base of Millcreek Canyon. From the southwestern corner of the parking lot, the trail heads west, switching back gently through tall trees and blooming plants. After a level stretch, the trail crosses a stream via a"boy-scout built" bridge, then climbs a short distance to join a spur of the Desolation Trail to Dog Lake. Dog Lake itself is not stunning, but the scenery along this route is.
Big Cottonwood Canyon
Big Cottonwood Canyon was carved by powerful rivers. The road which follows their meandering path is a designated Scenic Byway. Big Cottonwood Canyon provides myriad hiking and rock climbing opportunities. To reach Big Cottonwood, travel south from Salt Lake City on I-15, I-80, I-215, or on a secondary route to 7200 South. The canyon is a straight shot up this road. Big Cottonwood Canyon is administered by the Wasatch National Forest. It is a watershed area and dogs or other animals are not allowed.
Cardiff Fork/Donut Falls
Cardiff Fork is a steep-walled side canyon which has abandoned mines in its upper reaches and great picnicking on its lower slopes. The road into Cardiff Fork turns south off of Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, 9.3 miles from the base. The track is paved for a bit then turns to gravel, passing through an area of summer homes to a stream crossing. Passenger cars should not attempt to cross the stream. To reach Donut Falls, park in the"lot" area just before the stream crossing and go on-foot up the f our-wheel drive road. After approximately .5 miles you come to a fork. The right side continues up to the mines at the top of the canyon. The left leads to the base of the falls tumbling from a stone "donut" opening up-stream. Bring extra shoes because the slippery ascent into the "cave" which shelters the cascade is almost too good to resist on a hot summer day. The hike from the parking area to the base of the falls is .75 miles one-way.
Silver Lake and Lake Solitude
At the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, 14.7 miles from its origin, lies Brighton Ski Resort. A general store stands near the parking lot. From the right, or west, side of the store, signs and a wide path leads hikers through a delicate meadow for less than 1/2 mile to Silver Lake. On the -shore of Silver Lake, a trail curves right and continues along the. north shore. At the far northwest side, the trail splits. Follow the right-hand fork to reach Lake Solitude. This tiny lake is set in a tree-lined bowl and is worth finding despite some confusion on the trail. After dividing on the northwest side of Silver Lake, the trail will fork again almost immediately. Continue to the left, on the more used path, to reach Lake Solitude. Once on the proper trail, a gradual climb in a northern direction crosses a ski trail leading from Brighton to Solitude Resort. The route continues in that direction and crosses under Solitude's Sunrise lift, then turns south, traveling across two more down hill runs before reaching a small hill which crests above the lake. This hike to Lake Solitude is 1.5 miles one way.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication