UT-210 | Little Cottonwood Canyon

  • Distance: 7.7 Miles (12.39 km)
  • Rating: 3-A, Like its bigger brother, the lower half of the canyon is the most technical, but maintains its technicality better than Big Cottonwood Canyon Ratings Explained »
  • Travel: Either direction for best results
  • Start: Junction of N. and S. Little Cottonwood Canyon Road
  • End: Alta, Utah
  • Fuel: It a seven mile long road!
  • Along the Way: A pullout at the bottom has spy glasses to see mountain goats up on the hill. The Mormon church has their genealogy archives hidden in a hollowed out cave near the entrance, the two best ski resorts in America (and some argue the world) are at the top of the road.
  • Highlights: Look down the canyon to see geology at work
  • 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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The smaller (and prettier) version of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Sheets of white rock, that reach towards the distant ridge lines, are revealed behind thick green vegetation. This does not look like Utah. The shape of the canyon is still shaped like a “U”, time and erosion have not turned it into a “V” shape yet. Geologists will be giddy about this! Alta Ski Resort, at the top of the canyon, is the oldest ski resort in the state (1938) and is world renown, as is neighboring Snowbird (that allows snowboarders).

If you are at all familiar with cycling and/or the Tour de France, you will be intrigued to know that Little Cottonwood Canyon has an almost identical climbing profile as the Alpe D’Huez in France, a popular stage in the “Tour” becuase of its brutally steep ascent. This also means you can rest assured that there will be cyclists in the canyon trying to prove their mettle.

The road begins by climbing steeply, gradually throwing more and more corners at you as it ascends dramatically towards the ski resorts. Going up is great fun because you can stay on the throttle the whole way. Going back down gives you lots and lots of practice dealing with down-hill cornering.

Halfway up the road clings perilously to the side of a mountain through seven repetitive corners, called the seven sisters. Eventually the road offers two lanes going up to allow for passing, but don’t get too excited, there are many off-camber/fallaway corners, so keep your speed in check.

At the top you’ll come to the tiny town of Alta, Utah. Slow to the speed limit, Alta has a police force that doesn’t have much to do during summer months. Ride past all the buildings and before the road turns to dirt there is a massive parking area with a road-side food stand named “The Kickstand” appropriately enough. Stop and check out the views of Alta and Snowbird Ski Resorts and maybe grab a bite of food before heading back down.

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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