For those of you who consider yourselves pretty serious road bikers, Little Cottonwood Canyon is one of the classic must-ride routes in the area. Like Big Cottonwood Canyon, Little Cottonwood is known primarily for its unmatched ski Resorts (Alta and Snowbird). The canyon is also home to some of the more unique hikes near Salt Lake City like White Pine and Red Pine Lake. That said, it’s easy to understand why the Tour of Utah finishes with the ascent of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
What Makes It Great
The climb can be reached via Wasatch Boulevard and a number of different routes from downtown Salt Lake if you’re looking for a higher difficulty ride. Once you enter the canyons it’s worth knowing that the climb ascends more than 2,500 vertical feet over the course of approximately 7 miles. The average grade of 7.5% doesn’t take into account the rolling terrain before you enter the canyon and doesn’t really tell you just how hard this climb actually is. While it is about half as long as it’s sister canyon, it is significantly steeper. This is easily one of the hardest climbs on the Wasatch Front.
As with any of the canyons, it’s important to dress and plan appropriately. This is a difficult climb so in the summer you should make sure you have plenty of water before you enter the canyon. Until you reach Alta there isn’t any opportunity to refill. If in question, stop at the 7-Eleven on Wasatch Boulevard at the entrance of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Also, fall and spring temps can be quite cold and you can see some substantial swings in temperature from valley to peak (usually around 20-25 degrees difference). It’s not uncommon for some snow to be present from October into May and June.
That being said, Little Cottonwood can be a refuge from some of the heavy summer temps in the valley. Just be aware that the canyon can be very popular for hikers, runners and mountain bikers so be prepared for occasional traffic. There is a substantial shoulder for you to make use of which will ease your mind enough to suffer your way up the beautiful climb.
Who is Going to Love It
Experienced road bikers will welcome the challenge. For folks who are new to the sport or aren’t in great physical condition, the canyon may be too much. Bear in mind, however, you can turn around any time.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are free parking lots in several locations along Wasatch Blvd. The canyon has no official hours, but this ride is best attempted during the day.