Two Popular Alta Utah Hikes – Albion Meadows and Cecret Lake
Albion Meadows and Cecret Lake are two wildly popular canyon hikes near Salt Lake City Utah. They are both located at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon at Alta. Even though I live close to the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon, I don’t spend nearly enough time up there. Utah’s most popular canyons can get very crowded, especially on the weekends. And so I have traditionally (and shamefully) avoided them more often than not. But now that I am retired, I have less excuse – and can go on weekdays. So, my daughter and I made a pledge to hike a different canyon trail every Monday this summer. And with few exceptions, we have done just that. Let me show you our experiences on these two popular Alta Utah hikes.
Albion Meadows Trail
The first of these Alta Utah hikes is the Upper Albion Meadows Trail. Albion Basin at Alta is one of Utah’s top destinations for summer wildflower viewing. During July and August, the gentle slopes along this alpine valley explode with color. The surrounding green hillsides and mountain peaks only add to the beauty.
Taking The Trail Up
You can find the trailhead for the Upper Albion Meadows Trail just past the Albion Grill – a restaurant at the Alta Resort. It’s all located at the very end of the paved portion of road through Little Cottonwood Canyon, where there is a large free parking lot and several other Alta Ski Resort buildings. Signage directs you to the trail.
The trail starts out flat, but doesn’t stay that way for long. It ascends most of the way, with some moderate climbing at times. But it isn’t difficult overall, and there were plenty of young kids out on the trail with us.
Once you arrive at the Meadows, the trail does flatten out some. Here, several trails intersect through the wildflowers.
On our hike, we improvised our route around various branches of the trail and ended up looping around one of the more densely flower-packed hillsides, before making our way back down to the Alta parking lot.
Our total distance was 2.85 miles and our total gain was 686 feet. Our route is outlined in purple below. The red line is the Cecret Lake Trail – the second of the two Alta Utah hikes highlighted in this post. You can click on the link that says Steven Jepson’s Map for more detail about both.
A Driving Alternative
You non-hikers can also enjoy the beauty of Upper Albion Basin without the physical ascent. At the end of the paved canyon road, a dirt road continues up the canyon. Here sits a toll both.
For a $10 fee, you can drive up to Albion Basin. The road itself is in good shape and easy to drive on.
It’s not uncommon to see moose along the way, so go slow, and pay attention.
There are three small parking lots along this road (and pit restrooms at each) The first of these is 1.2 miles up the road. It’s now called Parking Lot A, but is referred to as the Catherine’s Pass Trailhead Lot on some online maps. This parking lot is located right in the middle of the Upper Albion Basin, within steps of the loop section on our route.
But, the parking lot is small, and cars aren’t allowed to park on the side of the road. From what I understand, access to the road is limited at the toll booth once the lots reach capacity. So, plan to go early during on weekends or other peak times of year. At 11 am on a Monday morning in early August, I noted two empty slots in the lot as we hiked past.
And here is what you’ll see in Albion Meadows
It should be clear now why this hike is one of the most popular in Northern Utah.
Cecret Lake Trail
Cecret Lake (pronounced Secret) is another of the most popular Alta Utah hikes. And despite its name, it’s hardly a secret. I hiked to the lake on a weekend a few years ago, and shared its rocky shoreline with a hoard of people. The experience put a damper on the lake’s beauty, so I’ve avoided returning. However, a Monday…in late August after school was back in session…. Seemed like a reasonable time to go. And it was!
Cecret Lake’s popularity certainly stems from the fact that it’s one of the most easily accessible alpine lakes in this part of the Wasatch Mountain range. Alpine lakes are small high elevation lakes usually at 10,000 feet or higher. My iPhone altimeter told me that Cecret Lake sits at 9910 feet. So, close enough.
The hike itself isn’t difficult either, so it’s very appealing to families. It’s 1.8 miles round trip. There is a 470 foot gain, but a lot of that is at that end, up a rocky but well-marked slope.
You can most easily access Cecret Lake through the aforementioned toll gate and up the dirt road. About 0.5 miles past Parking Lot A, you’ll find Parking Lots B and C. The Cecret Lake trailhead sits in between these two parking lots.
For a longer hiking adventure, you can also easily access the Cecret Lake Trail directly from the Upper Albion Meadows Trail by following one of several connecting trails. AllTrails lists the total distance from the Alta base through Upper Albion Meadows and on up to Cecret Lake at 4.6 miles with a gain of 1150 feet.
Our Hike to Cecret Lake
We hiked these two trails on different days, and drove up to the Cecret Lake parking lot C. It was less than half full (though B was near capacity)
The trail is well-marked and quite wide in some places. The initial half is an easy mild ascent surrounded by tall mountain peaks, pine trees, and smaller fields of wildflowers. You’ll even cross a couple of small mountain streams.
The latter half is a rocky scramble, but one that I’ve witnessed all ages tackling without too much difficulty.
Keep in mind though, the high altitude here could make it a little more difficult for some.
Once on top……Cecret Lake!
So Beautiful! And so much more enjoyable for me this time without the crowds. We didn’t have it to ourselves, but there were only a handful of people here and there.
Keep in mind that wildflower season is at its peak from mid July to early August. We noticed a definite decline in the intensity of the wildflower blooms between our Albion Basin hike on August 8 and our Cecret Lake hike on August 22.
Be aware that dogs are not allowed in Little Cottonwood Canyon as this is a watershed for the Salt Lake Valley. The ranger at the toll gate even clarified with us that we didn’t have one hidden in the far back of my SUV. Perhaps my daughter had a suspicious dog-sneaking look about her?
I would recommend taking bug repellant with you on these two Alta Utah hikes. We didn’t end up needing it through Albion Basin, but found that flying bugs of various types were bothersome at the lake. They left us alone though once repellant was applied.
And try for an early weekday morning if possible for a quieter experience. But regardless of when you can go, if you are looking for some of the very best that Utah’s mountains have to offer, then absolutely drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon, and enjoy either – or both – of these Alta Utah hikes.
Click here for a full description of all the trails at Alta and other information about summers at Alta.
To read about another great hiking experience just to the west of Alta, check out my post on riding the Snowbird Tram for 11000 foot hiking in Mineral Basin.
And to read about another of my favorite hikes just outside Little Cottonwood Canyon – along the south Salt Lake Valley bench – check out my post on Hiking to the Bear Canyon Suspension Bridge.
Or for a taste of hiking in Southern Utah, check out my post on the Petrified Dunes and Lava Flow Trails in Snow Canyon.
And to read about some great hikes in Utah National Parks, check out this post I wrote for TravelDudes.com
Latitude Adjustment: A Tale of Two Wanderers
Stunning photography. Very beautiful!
Thanks! Lots of beauty up there
Great read. I hadn’t really known anything about those destinations. Funny that your daughter likes to take pics of you taking pics in awkward positions haha… Your picture of Cecret Lake’s perfectly flat surface with the reflections and the crystal clear water looks amazing. Would love to go hiking in that area.
Come on over Stefan, and I’ll take you up there