Downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, has all the glitter and glam of many large cities, but big secrets are tucked away in the canyons of the Wasatch front. Escape the oppressive summer heat of SLC and search out Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. While you'll forgo the abundant amenities offered in Park City or Snowbird Resort of Little Cottonwood Canyon, in return you'll discover quiet character and spacious wilderness. For the hardcore adventure seeker, there's hiking, biking and climbing unparalleled anywhere else in Utah.


Raymond Trail. Photo by Julie Boyer

For a strenuous trek with dramatic vistas, check out the seven-and-a-half-mile out-and-back Mount Raymond hike. Near mile 8.5 on the BCC highway, you’ll find a small parking lot on the north side of the road at Butler Fork Trailhead. Start up a well-marked trail, climbing through pine forests and aspen meadows to the sweeping views of Baker Pass to gain almost 3,500 feet, finishing with a challenging scramble to 10,241. Plan on five to six hours.

For an easier hike with lots of lakes that can be done in under three hours, check out the Brighton Lakes Trail. With Mount Millicent and Mount Tuscarora as your backdrop, discover the lady lakes: Lake Mary, Lake Martha and Lake Catherine, all reflecting the grandeur of the Wasatch. You can also access Dog Lake by a short spur trail leading 500 feet off the main trail. Approximately four miles round-trip.

Brighton Ski Resort (for the Brighton Lakes Trail), 8302 S. Brighton Loop, Brighton, UT.

Looking for a hike and more? Try your (back)hand at Solitude's Disc Golf Course. Rent discs, grab a trail map and scorecard, and buy your lift ticket at the Powderhorn Adventure Center. A challenging round of nine or 18 holes of high-altitude fun at 9,000 feet awaits. Arguably the best course in Utah, holes range from 300 to 500 feet in length and are all considered par 3. The course is open from June 17 to October 2, 2016. Disc rental is $21 for two discs, plus summer lift ticket ($10). Or hike in with your own discs for free. Plan on two to five hours. For more info, call +1 801-536-5765.

Solitude Mountain Resort, 12000 Big Cottonwood Canyon, Solitude, UT.



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Discover technical mountain biking at 10,000 feet on the Crest Trail. Certainly a bucket-list-worthy ride, a one-way, 13-mile single track will send you through dancing aspen groves and dense pine forests, carving around bowled-out basins, and tackling the “spine” if you’re daring (although most would recommend walking down it). Get in touch with Big Rack Shuttles (+1 801-822-7225) and hitch a ride to the top of Big Cottonwood for $12, leaving your car waiting at the bottom of Mill Creek Canyon. Note: The shuttle runs only on even days to coincide with Mill Creek Canyon biking regulations.

With more than 20 miles of crisscrossing trails, Solitude's single track invites bikers of all ages to explore the resort. Three days a week a running lift assists with the hard uphill, or you can pedal yourself up any day of the week. Bike rentals, including a helmet, are available at the Adventure Center from June 17 to October 2, 2016. The cost is $39 for two hours or $49 for the entire day, with an optional $10 lift ticket. Call +1 801-536-5765 for more info.

If road biking is more your style, pull on your tight shorts and challenge yourself to an intense climb from base to Brighton for 4,500 feet of elevation gain over 14 grueling miles. Then hold on tight for the hair-raising ride down! Be aware, some sections of the highway are very narrow and the bike lane disappears at times. 



Photo by Tristan Higbee via Flickr

The epicenter of climbing in Big Cottonwood surrounds the Storm Mountain Picnic Area two and a half miles up the canyon. JHCOB (Jesus H. Christ on a Bicycle) Wall is a giant quartzite cliff towering 300 feet above the road, consisting of moderate, multi-pitch climbs, rated 5.5 to 5.12c. Loose rock is common, so remember your helmet. The Outside Corner route is the most popular in this area.

Four miles up canyon you'll approach the S-curves area, where you’ll find the most difficult climb in the canyon, Dog Eat Dog, a gnarly 5.13d. Park in the middle of the S-curve and walk up the stairs and across the road following the trail. Be sure to bring a reliable guidebook to navigate the multitude of advanced sport routes, roofs and overhangs in this area.



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Located 12 miles up the canyon, Silver Fork Lodge & Restaurant is open for all courses, but locals agree breakfast is best. Highlights include the sourdough cakes made with the restaurant's own 50-year-old starter recipe, benedict Florentine and seared Idaho red trout with eggs. (Take note, Utah liquor laws prohibit any boozy breakfast drinks before 11:30 a.m.) Find a seat on the patio with views of majestic Honeycomb Canyon and Fantasy Ridge while hummingbirds flit around the numerous feeders.

Silver Fork Lodge & Restaurant, 11332 E. Big Cottonwood Canyon Rd., Brighton, UT. +1 801-533-9977;



Photo by Joshua Gresham

Big Cottonwood offers two campgrounds above 7,500 feet, so keep in mind chilly nights when packing. The Spruces Campground sprawls along the south side of the highway near mile 10. Considered a very modern and kid-friendly campground, its amenities include flush toilets, drinking water, a baseball field, a volleyball court and horseshoe pits. Just past Solitude Mountain Resort is Redman Campground, concealed at the base of Evergreen Peak. Flush toilets and drinking water are available. Gathering firewood is prohibited, but you can buy firewood at both campgrounds. Per watershed rules, no dogs are allowed and swimming and bathing in Big Cottonwood Creek are prohibited. Reservations are strongly recommended, especially on weekends. Both campgrounds charge between $23 and $69 per night.

Spruces Campground, Spruces, Hwy. 190, Wasatch, UT. +1 
Redman Campground, 13 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon, Salt Lake City, UT. +1 435-649-3805;

By Julie Boyer

Julie is a Pennsylvania native who relocated to a cabin in the woods above Salt Lake City. When she's not writing about travel or dreaming about travel or actually doing the traveling, she works at a nearby ski resort in the winter and takes people down the river in the Grand(est) Canyon of them all in the summer.