7 Easy Big Cottonwood Canyon Hikes

If you’re looking for somewhere to take the family on an adventure into the mountains near Salt Lake City, it’s impossible to go wrong with Big Cottonwood Canyon. Easily accessible from pretty much anywhere in the Salt Lake Valley, this canyon offers a fantastic network of hiking trails, from short boardwalk loops around mountain lakes to epic mountain adventures.

Lake Blanche

Big Cottonwood Canyon offers a lot of great family-friendly hiking. I’ve spent a lot of time on the trails in this canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon and I’ll share some of my top picks for easy hikes that would be great for bringing the kids along to get a taste of the mountains.

The hikes in this list are accessible and easy enough to tackle with little ones, but they still offer some adventure and a chance to experience the wild beauty of the Wasatch Range.

Silver Lake Loop

Silver Lake loop

Distance: 0.9 miles
Difficulty: Easy
AllTrails Link

Silver Lake is an easy go-to destination in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Located right at the top near Brighton Ski Resort, it offers classic alpine scenery while still being extremely accessible for hikers of all ages. If you’re looking for an easy, fun hike to take small kids on, this is your best bet in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

The trail starts at the Solitude Nordic Center and loops around Silver Lake. About half the trail is on a boardwalk that crosses the marshy land surrounding the lake. This makes for easy hiking for the whole family and a unique experience as you cross over pools, streams, and portions of the lake.

Silver Lake itself is a relatively large natural mountain lake in the basin near the top of Big Cottonwood. The area is fantastic for seeing wildlife. Birds, deer, chipmunks, and more congregate in the wet area around the lake. It’s not uncommon to even see a moose in this area, especially if you come in the early morning before the crowds.

Read Next: An Easy Hike at Rocky Mouth Falls Sandy, Utah and Hiking the Crimson Trail in Logan Canyon

Willow Lake

Willow Lake Area

Distance: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
AllTrails Link

The Willow Lake Trail is a mellow meandering path through the forest that is perfect for families. The trailhead is a pulloff on the side of the Big Cottonwood Canyon road, and it’s easy to miss. As long as you follow the Google Maps directions to this point, you should get there no problem, the trail starts from the north side of the road.

Because there isn’t a big trailhead parking lot or much signage, this is a great hike for escaping the crowds that are becoming more incessant in the canyons. It’s easy to feel like you’re out here all on your own as you wind through the maples, aspens, and pines.

I think this hike is best in fall from mid-September to mid-October when you can enjoy the vibrant colors of the changing leaves. I have skied in this area in the winter, and it’s a beautiful place to go on snowshoes, but there is a potential of avalanche danger, so I’d recommend sticking to the dry months.

Brighton Lakes

To Lake Mary
Distance: 2.6 miles
Difficulty: Easy
AllTrails Link

To Lake Martha
Distance: 4.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
AllTrails Link

Mary and Martha

Starting at the Brighton Lodge, this is a classic hike in the high Wasatch. This hike exemplifies what this incredible mountain range is all about, with stunning wildflowers, alpine meadows, shady pine forest, abundant wildlife and crystal-clear high altitude lakes.

I once saw seven different moose along this trail in one backpacking trip, including a mother with a calf that walked through our campsite and then a large bull that went for a swim in the lake. You can also expect to see plenty of deer, chipmunks, red-tailed hawks, and possibly mountain goats.

There are three lakes along this trail, and each makes for a fantastic destination and turnaround spot on a dayhike. The three lakes are called Mary, Martha, and Catherine.

Just a 2.6-mile roundtrip hike can take you to the first and largest lake, Lake Mary. This was a small natural lake that was dammed to create a much larger reservoir. There are plenty of places to stop along the lakeside to skip rocks, eat lunch, or even get some rainbow trout fishing in.

Lakes Martha and Catherine are both smaller natural lakes. If you have the time and stamina, I highly recommend extending your hike up to Lake Catherine. This is a beautiful true high alpine lake, and nearby you can find an incredible viewpoint looking over the other two lakes.

Donut Falls

Entrance to Falls
Entrance to Falls
Inside Donut Falls
Inside Donut Falls

From Summer Trailhead
Distance: 1.5
Difficulty: Easy

From Mill-D Trailhead
Distance: 3.3 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
AllTrails Link

Donut Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and for good reason. It is an easy, beautiful hike that gets you to a unique and spectacular destination.

There are two possible places to start this trail. The summer trailhead is higher up and gives you a shorter 1.5-mile hike. This trailhead has limited parking, so you may have a hard time finding a spot if you come on a weekend. Starting at the lower Mill-D lot doubles the hike, but has much more parking.

Whichever way you take, the trail alternates between deep pine forests and open mountain meadows that can be covered with wildflowers in early summer.

Donut Falls itself is a fascinating and unique waterfall where the stream cascades down through a hollow opening in the roof of a small cave (the donut hole).

One unique thing about this hike is that it’s one of the few trails in Big Cottonwood Canyon that you can safely hike year-round. You’ll have to start at the lower Mill-D trailhead, but the route sees a decent amount of traffic in the winter, so the trail should be packed-down and easy to follow.

Latest Posts:

Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes

Distance: 2.3 miles
Difficulty: Easy
AllTrails Link 

Starting at the Silver Lake parking area, this is another fantastic hike in the Brighton ski area. You’ll start by looping around the northern shore of Silver Lake before branching off on a trail that climbs to almost 9,500 feet where you’ll find Twin Lakes.

This trail is fairly short and easy to follow, but with over 700 feet of elevation gain, it’s not a simple walk in the park. Make sure you have enough water and snacks, and take your time on the climb up.

This still is a fantastic hike for kids though. As long as you aren’t in a hurry and plan on taking about an hour to get to the lake, you’ll find a beautiful trail with an amazing destination.

Twin Lakes itself was originally two small natural lakes. When the area was dammed, the two lakes joined to become a single larger reservoir. The reservoir is nestled between towering peaks and is a stunning place to stop for lunch and hang out by the water.

Day’s Fork Trail

Distance: Up to 6 miles
Difficulty: Easy to difficult
AllTrails Link 

The Day’s Fork Trail is a less popular trail heading south up Day’s Fork Canyon from the Spruces Campground. It is well-shaded in the pine trees and crisscrosses a seasonal stream, so it is a great place for a hike out of the summer heat.

One thing I love about this trail is that you can take it as far as you want. There are beautiful open meadows along the way that make for great destinations and turnaround spots in themselves, or you can follow the trail all the way up to the top of the canyon and a stunning rocky cirque.

I’ve done shorter out-and-back hikes on this trail with young kids, and it’s a great place to take the family into the mountains while avoiding crowds on more popular trails.

This is another trail that makes for a great hike in winter when most of the mountains are inaccessible. Snowshoes are helpful, but the trail usually gets packed down enough that you can get by without them. 

If you go up in winter, don’t go farther than the first 1.5 miles, as it starts to enter potential avalanche terrain. I would avoid this trail altogether when avalanche danger is high. The Utah Avalanche Center is a great resource to see the current avalanche danger in the Wasatch.

Jakob Withyr Profile Pic

Jakob Withyr

About the author: I am an outdoor adventure seeker who collects sunburns, National Park maps, and trail miles. I love anything that gets me outdoors, whether it’s on foot, on skis, on a bike, or on the open road. A Utah native, I’m most at home in mountains and deserts with clear air and bright stars.

3 thoughts on “7 Easy Big Cottonwood Canyon Hikes”

Leave a Comment