A Quick Ride Up Alta Canyon

After a week on the road in New York and a five-hour plus flight home, I was looking forward to a little saddle time to relax and unwind. My Saturday was pretty full, but I was able to take an hour or so for a quick ride up to Alta and back.


Both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons are wonderful little canyon rides that over the years I've tended to ignore because they are right at my doorstep, but I've rediscovered them both this year because they are so much fun on the Sportster.

I live about 15 minutes away from either of these two canyons and in another 20 or 30 minutes the temperature has dropped 15 or 20 degrees and is a great way to escape the heat, enjoy a winding canyon road, and be in the wind. I've said this before, but I think if either of these canyons were an hour or more away, we would probably ride them more frequently. That being said, it would probably be on the bigger bikes—which likely wouldn't be quite as fun.

Because of their close proximity to the Salt Lake Valley, you will likely have to share the road with picnic-ers, hikers, bicycles, and their shuttle vehicles, but the traffic is seldom very heavy. That being said, it pays to be patient and willing to simply enjoy the view and the canyon because it's very rare that you will ever have the road to yourself. In both canyons, the speed limit is going to be between 35 and 45 MPH, but at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, or Alta Canyon as I've always called it, the limit will drop to around 25 MPH through the town of Alta.

There are plenty of places to stop and soak in the view or maybe grab something to eat. The Alta Lodge and Snowbird are open year round (along with several other places), so you can get just about anything you want to eat. Or, just pull over to the side of the road and enjoy the view. The above photos were taken from a parking lot that would be filled with skiers if there was snow on the ground.

The view riding down the winding canyon road is incredible and worth the extra few minutes you might be stuck behind one of the aforementioned shuttle vehicles. The ride is beautiful this time of year with the cool crisp air and the wildflowers along the side of the road, but when the aspens turn golden in the fall, it's my favorite time up the canyon.


The canyons are only 15 or 20 minutes apart via Wasatch Blvd, so it's really pretty easy to enjoy them together. (Both of these two photos were taken earlier this spring—the first is the Brighton Ski Resort at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon and the second is the view from the top of Guardsman Pass looking down Big Cottonwood). From Big Cottonwood Canyon (or Brighton Canyon—another ski resort) you can drop down into Park City or Midway to extend your ride a little longer if you'd like. Regardless of how you approach these two beautiful canyons, it's time well spent in the saddle.