A Love Letter to Little Cottonwood Canyon

In the past 10 years, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to beautiful places all over the world: France. Ireland. Cuba. National parks. Pristine lakes. Windswept coastlines. But one of my favorite places is much closer to home, only about a 45-minute drive from my apartment. It’s called Little Cottonwood Canyon, and it’s located just southeast of Salt Lake City. And it’s absolutely stunning.

The gray and green mountains of Little Cottonwood Canyon appear behind wildflowers.
The mountains of Little Cottonwood Canyon, seen in Albion Basin. Photo by Whitney Brown.

What Is Little Cottonwood Canyon?

Little Cottonwood Canyon is part of Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. It’s home to two ski resorts, Snowbird and Alta. I’m not much of a skier (although it’s worth mentioning that Little Cottonwood Canyon is gorgeous all winter long), so for me, summer is the best season in the canyon.

The first time my husband set foot in Little Cottonwood Canyon, he gasped. “It looks like Switzerland,” he said.

A woman, far below, takes a photo of the wildflowers growing across Albion Basin in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Albion Basin in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Photo by Whitney Brown.

We had gone up to see the wildflowers at Albion Basin. In late July and early August, so many wildflowers grow there that the basin almost seems landscaped — like someone deliberately created a place where the wildflowers could grow safely. Of course, the beings behind the basin’s beauty are all pollinators: bees, butterflies, birds.

Today, my husband loves Albion Basin as much as I do, and he likes to go there every single summer.

Making It A Tradition

Another time, I visited Albion Basin all by myself and hiked to the top of a nearby ridge. From there, I could see wildflowers growing all over the basin. The individual flowers blurred into a patchwork of colors: yellow popped out against green, orange and pink blended together, purple and white receded quietly into the background.

A bee appears just above a cluster of one-flower helianthella. Indian paintbrush grows in the background.
A bee and wildflowers in Little Cottonwood Canyon’s Albion Basin. Photo by Whitney Brown.

I knew, at least roughly, what the colors represented. Yellow meant that I was looking at one-flower helianthella. Orange and pink marked the spot for Indian paintbrush. Purple was the sign of silvery lupine. I didn’t know what the white flower was, even though I remembered from previous visits that it was a tall plant with dainty inflorescences.

How many flowers could I see from my vantage point? Thousands? Tens of thousands?

I didn’t know, but the sight humbled and amazed me.

White Pine Lake, a small glacial lake in Little Cottonwood Canyon, surrounded by trees and mountains.
White Pine Lake in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Photo by Whitney Brown.

Last summer, I hiked to White Pine Lake all by myself. It’s a long, fairly challenging hike, so I felt triumphant, almost exultant, when I reached the lake. (And I felt very footsore when I finally got back to the trailhead.) I had headed up the trail early in the morning, before the sun had risen above the mountains, and watching the canyon come to life under rich, warm, golden lighting was a treat I’ll never forget.

Live In The Moment

On other occasions, I’ve snowshoed in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Once, after a snowshoeing excursion, my brother’s car got stuck in the snowy parking lot, but luckily for us, a good Samaritan came along and helped us free the car.

Cecret Lake, another small body of water, appears surrounded by rocks, grass, and towering trees.
Cecret Lake, near Albion Basin, in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Photo by Whitney Brown.

This summer, I want to do some more hiking in Little Cottonwood Canyon. I want to take my watercolor set with me and find something to paint. I’d like to photograph the wildflowers. I’d like to let the canyon’s beauty wash over me, like to let it remind me of how extraordinary our planet is. I want those memories to carry me through hard days and new challenges.

Most of all, I want to thank Little Cottonwood Canyon for all that it has given me.

If you go to Little Cottonwood Canyon, please practice Leave No Trace principles! (I love this canyon, and it really does hurt me when I notice people picking wildflowers or going off trail or doing anything else that adversely affects the canyon.) You should also note that Little Cottonwood Canyon is an important part of Salt Lake City’s watershed, which means that dogs can’t come into the canyon and people can’t swim in the lakes. My final word of advice is to hike in the canyon during the week, if at all possible. Other Utahns love this canyon as much as I do, so it gets fairly crowded on summer weekends and holidays.

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