UT-190 | Big Cottonwood Canyon

  • Distance: 14.6 Miles (23.5 km)
  • Rating: 2-A, The lower half of the canyon could be described as a 3, but the upper half is probably a 1. So it gets an average of 2. Road condition is pristine. Ratings Explained »
  • Travel: Either direction for best results
  • Start: Junction of Wasatch Blvd and Ft. Union Blvd
  • End: Silver Lake Boardwalk
  • Fuel: There’s a 7-11 at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon (its the busiest 7-11 in America)
  • Along the Way: Silver Fork Lodge has awesome food (and lodging) and its worth the time to walk the boardwalk that goes around Silver Lake at the top of the canyon.
  • Highlights: The infamous S-Curve. All local riders know and love this corner.
  • Advisories: Lots and lots of recreationists and lots and lots of cops. World class mountain climbing, hiking, mountain biking and road cycling keep this canyon pretty active year-round. As a result, expect to see several Sheriff’s during the ride.

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Glacial ice packs dredged out this out-and-back canyon (and its smaller brother Little Cottonwood Canyon) and have created stunning scenery adjacent to Salt Lake City. World class ski resorts make this area popular with skiers and snowboarders the world over. When skier Robert Barrett was denied bathroom access at Alta Ski Resort (up Little Cottonwood Canyon) he decided to start his own ski resort. He subsequently purchased all the available land in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and in 1956 construction on Solitude Ski and Summer Resort began.

Entering the mouth of the canyon, you will be immediately within the confines of narrow set, steep rocky walls. The road snakes its way around the towering rocks resulting in the best riding the canyon has to offer. Forest Service campgrounds lining the route were constructed by CCC corps and have the subsequent CCC bridges and amphitheaters. Watch out for a couple of nasty corners where oncoming traffic will most certainly be over the double-yellow line. Use patience and judgment. A long clear straight-away will offer a great opportunity to pass any slow moving traffic. Don’t. Slow way down to build a large space buffer for the infamous “s-curve”.

The highlight of the riding comes in two gloriously tight, sweeping and climbing corners, first to the left then to the right, a short straight tosses you into another technical left hand corner before the road begins to open up and gradually climb up towards the top of the canyon.

If you are seeking some good food, keep your eyes peeled for a log cabin eatery called “Silver Fork Lodge”. A locals favorite. At the top of the canyon the road lollipops and heads back down. Stop and stretch your legs while walking the Forest Service boardwalk that circles Silver Lake. Moose, beaver and various other wildlife frequent the area, so keep your camera at the ready.

If you do not fear dirt, take the turn-off to “Guardsmans Pass” just below the turn-around. It offers a handful of more technical corners that will be paved for a few miles before the road becomes a graded dirt road suitable for passenger cars. Guardsman Pass crosses over the top of the Wasatch Mountain Range and deposits you into Park City.

Most locals avoid both the cottonwood canyons because of how much use and traffic the canyon can accrue, but when ridden during quiet times, the riding is actually some of the best in the state. Many locals will ride both cottonwoods at one time to lengthen the ride-time.

Road Rating System

The first part of our rating describes how technical we feel that road is. Numbers one through five with five being the most technical and one being a more mellow road with few challenging corners. The second half of the rating is a letter grade. A rating of “A” would be a road that is in great condition and a grade-F would be a crumbly, slippery or degraded surface.

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