Top 5 Trails to Hike in Big Cottonwood Canyon

Updated: Sep 15

Big Cottonwood Canyon in Utah

Big Cottonwood Canyon in Utah holds a special place in my heart because it's where I first met Brittany way back in 2009! It's also where I proposed a year later and where we shot our engagements before the wedding. We have 4 kids together now and we still come back year after year. It's home to Brighton & Solitude ski resorts, one of the most scenic marathons you could ask for, and some excellent hiking trails. No matter what season it is, it's a great place to experience the outdoors just a short drive from the city.

Hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon: Our Top 5 Trails

Hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon is one of my favorite things to do in Utah in the summer. There are waterfalls, wildflowers, pristine alpine lakes, and endless peaks to bag.Whatever you skill level is when it comes to hiking, there's something for you. Here are our top 5 favorite family-friendly hikes in Big Cottonwood Canyon:

5. Hidden Falls - Utah

This is the perfect beginner hike for families with small kids or if you just want to go for a quick stroll in the canyon. To get there, park halfway up Big Cottonwood's famous 'S-curve' and then walk to the north side of the road. From there, it's less than a 5-minute walk up stream to the little waterfall.

Hidden Falls - 0.3 miles, easy

hike big cottonwood canyon hidden falls

4. Willow Lake Trail

Willow Lake is a photographer's dream. There's a grove of aspen trees right on the shoreline for you to capture a nice reflection in the water. All the lakes in Big Cottonwood Canyon are watershed lakes, so there is no swimming, no boats, and no dogs allowed. But that means you always get glassy smooth water for the perfect photo opp. Definitely add this to your fall bucket list!

Willow Lake -2.4 miles, moderate

hike big cottonwood canyon willow lake

3. Twin Lakes Trail & Silver Lake Loop

Silver Lake is a family favorite because it's short, easy, stroller-friendly, and very scenic. It's fun for the whole family, even grandma. The Silver Lake Loop is an easy walk around the lake and about half of it is along a nice wooden boardwalk. It's fun to look down into the marshy areas and look for tadpoles and fish. The second half of the trail is dirt and has some slight elevation gain, but still stroller-accessible. Silver Lake is especially gorgeous in the fall when the aspen have turned yellow.

If your kids are up for a little bit longer of a hike, take the Twin Lakes Trail. You'll still get to experience the boardwalk around Silver Lake but you can also get a more elevated view of the lake, which is pretty breathtaking. Then continue on to Twin Lakes Reservoir, which isn't a natural lake like Silver Lake, but still easy on the eyes.

Silver Lake Loop - 0.9 miles, easy

Twin Lakes Trail - 2.3 miles, moderate

hike big cottonwood canyon view of silver lake from twin lakes

hike big cottonwood canyon silver lake
If you don't have matching camo outfits, are you even outdoorsy?

*Get this family ensemble with our Amazon affiliate links below!*

2. Hiking Donut Falls, Utah

This is hand down the most unique waterfall in Utah, in my opinion, and a must-do on your Utah Bucket List. The only reason it's not #1 on the list is because the coolest part of the hike isn't exactly kid-friendly. Its name suits it - the water falls through a donut-shaped hole in the cliffs down into a cave before cascading down the hillside. It's an easy 1.5 miles to the base of the falls but requires a scrambling up some wet & slippery rocks to see inside the cave, which can be a little sketchy. That part of the hike isn't suitable for younger kids but definitely worth a look if you're feeling a little more adventurous. Just beware: you definitely will get wet and that water is frigid!

Donut Falls - 1.5 miles, easy

hike big cottonwood canyon donut falls

1. Lake Mary & Lake Catherine via the Brighton Lakes Trail

This hike earns our number one spot because you get three lakes in hike not to mention - Lakes Mary, Martha, and Catherine. Fun fact: in the 1870s, Catherine Brighton named Lake Catherine after herself, Lake Mary after her infant daughter, and Lake Martha after a friend. This trail starts from the Brighton Resort parking lot and follows the ski slopes through fields of wildflowers until you arrive at Lake Mary. That might be as much as the younger kids can handle and is still well worth the effort to get there. But if you can manage a longer hike, we highly recommend going all the way to Lake Catherine. Alternatively, you could opt for the Catherine Pass Trail starting in Little Cottonwood Canyon. You get the same views but only 3.9 miles to get there, although you don't pass all three lakes.

Lake Mary - 2.6 miles, moderate

Lake Catherine - 4.4 miles, moderate

hike big cottonwood canyon lake catherine

If you're planning to visit Utah or just doing a local staycation and want to hike Big Cottonwood Canyon, we recommend staying at one of the Marriott hotels right at the base of the canyon. Try the Residence Inn Salt Lake City Cottonwood or the brand new Courtyard Salt Lake City Cottonwood. You'll be right next to popular local restaurants like Market Street Grill and Porcupine Pub & Grille, the Old Mill Golf Course, and just 10-20 minutes to all the hikes on this list.

Happy trails!