Big Cottonwood Canyon is usually ranked as the #1 thing to do in Salt Lake City on Tripadvisor. Salt Lake City is famous for its easily-accessible canyons. They offer great skiing in the winter, awesome hiking in the summer, and amazing colors in the fall. And Big Cottonwood Canyon is beloved by locals and tourists alike. At the top of this 15 mile canyon, easily accessed from the middle of the Salt Lake Valley, you’ll find the small town of Brighton Utah and its two ski resorts – Brighton and Solitude. This summer, my daughter and I have continued last summer’s quest to hike a different Utah mountain trail every week. Here’s a look at three very different trails we recently explored while hiking at Brighton Utah. And one most definitely stood out as our favorite.
A Quick Orientation
Accessing the hiking trails at Brighton Utah is very easy, no matter which trail you choose. Simply follow the main canyon road to the very end, where you’ll enter Brighton Resort. The road then loops through the resort, ultimately taking you back down the canyon.
Immediately upon entering the resort, you’ll find parking areas on either side of the road. The smaller lot on the right is located directly in front of the small Silver Lake Information Center. The other one on the opposite side of the road is larger. I’ve personally never struggled to find a parking spot when hiking at Brighton Utah (which isn’t always the case with other popular northern Utah canyon trails).
From the Silver Lake Information Center, you can access the three trails I will be highlighting in this post. Other hiking trails are located further into the Brighton Resort, where there are additional parking areas.
Silver Lake is very popular because A) it is beautiful and B) it is very family friendly. So you’ll find several picnic tables and toilet facilities within steps of the Information Center. And there is also a small convenience store & cafe adjoining the larger parking lot.
The Information Center itself is small, but offers a quick look at Brighton’s history, a look at the animal & plant life of the area, and a detailed map of Brighton’s trails.
The embedded map below though is from AllTrails.com, and shows the hikes featured in this post – Silver Lake Loop in Red, Twin Lakes in Blue, and Lake Solitude in Green.
Silver Lake Loop
I’m not sure if I should even count the Silver Lake Loop as a hike. It’s more of a stroll really. From the Information Center, you follow a boardwalk out through a large area of wetlands, situated between the lake and the parking lot.
Not more than a quarter mile later, you’re at the lake. A wide trail then takes you around the backside of the lake. And ultimately a second boardwalk returns you back through the wetlands to where you started. The entire loop is less than a mile….and flat.
Silver Lake and its Loop is very family friendly. A great hike for all ages and abilities. In fact, I’d wager a guess that it may be the most accessible high mountain natural lake in Utah.
And as a bonus….it’s very pretty.
Two More Trails
On the other side of Silver Lake, you’ll find two other trails that offer more of a challenge. They are both quite different from each other, though each takes you to a higher lake.
And as mentioned, I prefer one of them far more than the other. Stay tuned to find out which.
At the northwest corner of Silver Lake, you’ll come across a signpost announcing the two trails. One is called Twin Lakes and the other is called Lake Solitude. The sign tells you that from this point the hike to Twin Lakes is 1 mile with a 710 foot gain. And the hike to Lake Solitude is 1.25 miles with a 500 foot gain.
From this signpost, I found it a bit confusing where to go next. There is pseudo trail off to the right here, which is actually a dead end. I know this because I thought it was the trail to Lake Solitude and started hiking it. Fortunately for us, it dead ends quickly. To avoid your own brief detour, hike up the trail that gently ascends to the west (the one in the photo above). That’s the correct path.
Ultimately you will come to another crossroads where the two trails diverge for real, and both are clearly marked….
Twin Lakes Trail
Based on the number of other hikers encountered, the hike up to Twin Lakes seems to be the most popular of the two.
You’ll start by hiking through groves of aspens…
….before working your way across the mountain slope behind Silver Lake.
As you pass along here, you’ll have an amazing view of Silver Lake below.
After you’ve crossed this rock slide area, be sure to look for a knoll on your left. Here you’ll see a couple of smaller dirt trails that will take you out to its edge. From this spot, the view down to Silver Lake and out across Brighton is especially spectacular.
Once you return to the main route, the already-steep trail gets even steeper, and you follow a rock bed for most of the remaining distance to Twin Lakes. It turns out that this part of the trail is Solitude’s Solbright ski run.
As you continue your ascent, you will ultimately spot a dam. Twin Lakes is actually a reservoir. And despite the name, there is only one lake here. Apparently whoever named it, thought that when looking from high above, the reservoir looks like two smaller lakes joined together.
Once you arrive at Twin Lakes, the setting in certainly beautiful, though the dam does detract a little.
In addition to the lake, we also enjoyed the trailside wildflowers. This entire area can be covered with gorgeous wildflowers in July and August. Utah had record snowfall this past winter, so the wildflower blooms are a little delayed this year. They were just getting started for our mid July hike. But in general, if you are hiking at Brighton Utah during the mid to late summer, expect a spectacular burst of color.
Oh, and my daughter made a friend…
As you might then expect, the hike down such a steep trail is more of a challenge then going up. Loose rock makes for careful steps and slower going. And once, I tried going down one of the accessory dirt paths that occasionally will parallel the main rocky trail. This was worse…much more slippery. Stick to the rocks.
Lake Solitude Trail
The second trail that you’ll find behind Silver Lake is quite a bit different. The incline is not nearly as intense. Even though the gain to Lake Solitude is only 200 feet less than the gain to Twin Lakes, it didn’t feel like that at all. It was a much easier, more pleasant hike. Both up and down.
And while it doesn’t have the views of the Twin Lakes trail, the payoff – Lake Solitude – is in my opinion much better.
Obviously then, this was my favorite of the trails we experienced while hiking at Brighton Utah.
Like Twin Lakes, the trail starts off through groves of aspen…
And then ultimately crosses the mid section of the Solitude Mountain Resort.
The 500 foot gain happens gradually, without any significantly steep sections throughout its length. I really didn’t notice the climb much.
(Several times as we descended from Twin Lakes, huffing puffing hikers asked us if they were almost there. When we told them how much further, they were invariably disappointed and one even turned around. Any hikers we passed on the Lake Solitude Trail seemed quite content.)
You’ll come across various other pathways related to the resort while hiking this trail, but directions to Lake Solitude are always clearly marked. In fact, you’ll even hike across a section of Solitude’s Disc (Frisbee) Golf Course.
While you don’t have quite the views on this trail compared to Twin Lakes, the mountain scenery is fantastic in a different way.
Ultimately, you will arrive at Lake Solitude. This is a natural alpine lake – not a reservoir. And while small, it’s very picturesque.
A trail circumnavigates the lake, and I thought the views from the other side were the best.
So be sure to enjoy the lake from all it’s vantage points.
A Couple Other Observations
We hiked these two trails on different days at approximately the same time – mid to late morning. Twin Lakes was much busier. Several groups of hikers were lined up to take pictures from the dam. At Lake Solitude however, we shared the Lake with only four other hikers briefly….it definitely lived up to its name.
Each hike took us approximately two hours to complete from the parking lot at Silver Lake (though we always stop frequently to take pictures).
The temperature in the Salt Lake Valley during the time of our hikes was in the low 90s. But, while hiking here at Brighton Utah, we enjoyed temperatures in the high 70s. This is certainly one of the great advantages of escaping to Utah’s mountains in the summer.
We did encounter mosquitos and other flying insects. However, I used a picaridin-based insect repellant and all the bugs left me alone.
Sunscreen is always important. Note though that the Lake Solitude hike enjoys more shade. Big sections of the Twin Lakes hike are exposed to the sun. But with views like these, who’s complaining.
If you are looking for a great way to experience Big Cottonwood Canyon, then you can’t go wrong by hiking any of these trails. Silver Lake is rightfully popular. And then, if you want more of a challenge, the trails on the Lake’s other side offer two completely different experiences. Though I think it should be obvious by now that I’m partial to Lake Solitude.
And I didn’t even mention hikes to Lake Mary, Lake Catherine, Lake Martha, and Dog Lake – all on the other side of the Brighton Resort. We still need to hike these ourselves sometime.
Whichever trail you decide to take, I’m sure you will not regret hiking at Brighton Utah
If you would like to read more about hiking in and around the canyon’s near Salt Lake City, then check out these posts:
Or if you would like to read about some of the great hikes in Southern Utah, then check out these posts: