Utah

The Snowbird Tram in Summer – Utah Mountain Hiking at 11000 Feet

One of my favorite summer activities in Northern Utah is taking the Snowbird tram to the top of Hidden Peak. Once on top, I take in the amazing views across the Wasatch Mountains, plus hike around a bit. Any time I can hike at 11000 feet without actually physically climbing to 11000 feet is a win in my book.  This year, Snowbird updated its iconic 50 year old aerial tram system with new and improved tram cabins.  My daughter and I decided to go check them out last week.  

Visiting Snowbird 

Snowbird is one of Utah’s most renowned ski resorts. It sits near the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, accessed from the southeast Salt Lake Valley.  Snowbird is more than just a winter resort.  It also offers a variety of summer actives – including an alpine slide, a mountain coaster, a ropes course, a bunch of hiking and mountain biking trails, several restaurants, and a 10-weekend Octoberfest from mid-August to mid-October. 

The Aerial Tram

When the Snowbird Tram was first constructed in 1971, it was one of the longest and most powerful tramways in the world. The tram cabins were (and still are) the world’s largest, with a capacity of 125 people. 

The Snowbird Aerial Tram descending through Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah
The original Snowbird tram cabin descending through Little Cottonwood Canyon

Now 51 years old, it was time for a cabin redesign this year.  The newly updated Snowbird tram cabins feature floor-to-ceiling windows and three glass floor panels.  Next year, an open-air roof top balcony will be added.

The newly redesigned Snowbird Tram Cabin

The current cost for a summertime round trip on the Snowbird tram is $35 dollars on weekdays and $40 on weekends.  

Going Up 

Our Snowbird tram experience began on a Monday morning with the first tram of the day – at 11:00 am.  Weekends can be very busy at Snowbird.  Especially during Octoberfest which began just a few days before our visit.  A weekday will always be your best bet if you want to avoid the crowds.  We shared our ride up with only 12 other riders.

Regular readers know that I am height phobic.  I was a little concerned that the floor-to-ceiling windows and floor panels would compound the anxiety I typically feel on these sorts of dangling-from-a-cable-in-the-sky adventures.  

But…I wasn’t bothered at all.  I loved the expansive views out all sides of the tram. 

Views out to Little Cottonwood Canyon from the Snowbird Aerial Tram
360 views from the floor to ceiling windows in the Snowbird aerial tram

And the floor windows were too small to really cause any heart palpitations.  

Looking down through the glass floor panels on the new Snowbird aerial tram cabin

The ride itself is quick.  It covers 1.6 miles in about 10 minutes.  The elevation gained throughout the ride to the top – at a summit called Hidden Peak – is 2900 ft.  The elevation at Hidden Peak is just shy of 11000 feet. 

The Snowbird tram arriving at Hidden Peak
The redesigned Snowbird tram arriving at Hidden Peak

At the top, there is a large building housing a cafeteria-style restaurant and restrooms. And then hiking and biking trails heading off in many directions.  

Mountain Views and Wildflowers

After disembarking from the tram, we followed my traditional route.  We headed south along a dirt road called Sunday Saddle Road (upper horizontal purple road on the map) across the top of Mineral Basin, before branching off and doubling back on the Wildflower Trail.   

Some of the trails at Mineral Basin

This route first offers spectacular views to the west and down into Little Cottonwood Canyon all the way to the Salt Lake Valley. 

Eastward view from Hidden Peak in Little Cottonwood Canyon Utah

Then looking east …views out across Mineral Basin and out to many of the tallest peaks in this section of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. 

Views out across Mineral Basin from Snowbird's Hidden Peak

In July and August, many of the mountainsides at this elevation are covered in wildflowers.  

Wildflowers cover the mountainside in Mineral Basin Utah

The Wildflower Trail snakes through the wildflower-covered mountainside at the top of Mineral Basin, and is the perfect way to surround yourself in their beauty.  

Directional signs in Mineral Basin show the way to the Wildflower Trail
Wildflowers along the Wildflower Trail in Mineral Basin Utah
Taking photos of the wildflowers in Mineral Basin Utah

Towards the end of the Wildflower Trail, there are several places to walk off the path and take in the surrounding grandeur.  

A panoramic view from the top of Mineral Basin at Snowbird Utah in the summer

Return Decisions

The Wildfire Trail ends several hundred feet below Hidden Peak and the Snowbird Tram Station.  A steep road from here will take you back to the top. 

Or… your tram ticket gives you the option of taking the Peruvian Express chairlift back down instead of the tram.  

I always opt for the Peruvian Express for a slower, more leisurely, open-air descent down the mountain.  Plus you get to walk through North America’s only ski tunnel along the way, easily accessed from the end of the Wildfire Trail.

A sign points to Snowbird's Peruvian tunnel on the Mineral Basin side
A sign points the way to Peruvian Tunnel entrance in the distance

Walking Through The Mountain

The Peruvian Tunnel cuts 600 feet through the mountain, connecting the Little Cottonwood Canyon side of Snowbird with Mineral Basin.  

Historical photos lining the Peruvian tunnel at Snowbird

It also doubles as a museum.  Photographs and artifacts line both sides of the tunnel, documenting the canyon’s mining history.  

A moving walkway transports skiers more efficiently through the tunnel in the winter, but I’ve never known it it be running in the summer.  I prefer to use my legs anyway. 

Upon exiting the Little Cottonwood Canyon side of the tunnel, the Peruvian Express is just a few steps away. 

The Little Cottonwood Canyon entrance to Snowbird's Peruvian Tunnel
The Peruvian Express chairlift at Snowbird Utah in the summertime

Going Down

The Peruvian Express, despite its name, takes a more leisurely pace down the mountain compared with the Snowbird tram.  The views throughout this part of Little Cottonwood Canyon are amazing, and wildlife can usually be spotted roaming the mountainside below.  I’ve seen moose several times in the past while riding the lift down.  This trip though…only a single deer. 

Views of Utah's Little Cottonwood Canyon while riding down the Peruvian Express chairlift

There is a significant distance to the ground from the chairs, but I generally try not to let that bother me.

The Thorough Tripper relaxes while riding the Peruvian Express chairlift at Snowbird during the summer.

Final Thoughts

All in all, we spent about 1.5 hours on our summer Snowbird adventure – from tram up to lift down. 

Snowbird lists the Wildflower hike at 1 mile.  My iPhone health app logged our entire hike from the mountaintop tram terminal, through the tunnel, to the Peruvian Express terminal at about 1.5 miles.  It’s not a strenuous hike – though the higher elevation could offer some challenge for those not accustomed to it.

Also, don’t forget that there is a significant temperature drop from the Snowbird Center to the mountain top. I found myself wishing I had a light jacket – even in the middle of August.

You could easily spend a whole day up on top, exploring the various trails. Or, many visitors take the tram up, and either hike or bike all the way back down to the Snowbird Center – a distance of 3.5 miles. 

After another summer visit to Snowbird, it remains one of my favorite Little Cottonwood Canyon experiences.  I highly recommend it. You can visit Snowbird’s website for up-to-date information on the tram schedule.

You can learn about two nearby Little Cottonwood Canyon hikes by checking out my post on hiking to Albion Meadows and Cecret Lake at Alta Utah

To read about another of my favorite hikes in the Salt Lake area, check out my post on hiking to the Bear Canyon Suspension Bridge.

Or to read about some Southern Utah hiking, check out my posts on Hiking a Volcano in Snow Canyon or Hiking to Cassidy Arch in Capitol Reef.

15 Comments

  • Mitch

    What a delightful place to go hiking. The views are wonderful and the wildflowers along the route just stunning. It’s great that there are so many different options for walks and also a choice of Snowbird or chairlift. It looks as though you had a splendid day!

  • Alison

    I am so envious that you have all that right on your doorstep!! I’m not great with heights either but I always force myself to go on cable cars etc as I hate the thought of missing out!! I wouldn’t be able to cope with the glass panels in the floor though!! What a view though.

    • thethoroughtripper

      The glass panels really weren’t that scary. I’ve experienced them before at the Space Needle observation deck and that was far more frightening

  • Paul (Paul Passing Through)

    Whatever I was going to write in here has been forgotten by this…There are moose in Utah?! I had no idea. I might need to go back to check the middle and northern parts of the state out. But I digress. The tram looks fun. These types of rides are always a good time.

  • Lisa at www.followingtherivera.com

    I can understand why you enjoy taking the snowbird tram here, the views are really incredible. I love the wildflowers, they really show that summer is in full swing! The Peruvian Express sounds great as does the mountain walk; I would choose those options too.

  • Lenny

    I also highly, no pun, Snowbird(The Bird to locals) during the Summer. I moved to Utah Labor Day weekend 1993. I had previously skiied in Utah and fell in love with it.
    After finding a hotel, my 1st trip was back to The Bird. I rode the tram up and white mountain rams were walking about on the way up. Yes bring a light shell for the temperature drop.
    With the many routes down, you will have a Grate time. And the food is good to…..
    ✌️💜

  • Stefan Hacker

    Snowbird Tram sounds impressive. 125 people per cabin! I guess it’s not exactly dirt cheap, but worth the money. Good to hear you kicked that fear of heights for the most part. Yes, the views are all amazing, not just from the tram cabin.

    As a caver, I like that Peruvian Tunnel, not quite a cave, but still pretty cool.

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