Cliffs towering thousands of feet form the gateway to Big Cottonwood Canyon. Skiers come in season to try the downhill slopes at Solitude  and Brighton  and to cross-country ski at the Solitude Nordic Center or on snow-covered campground loop roads.
Enter the canyon from Wasatch Boulevard and 7000 South, about 15 miles southeast of downtown Salt Lake City . The 14-mile drive to Brighton Basin reveals splendid vistas at each turn while climbing to an elevation of 8,700 feet. The summertime-only Guardsman Pass Road turns off just before Brighton and winds up to Guardsman Pass (elev. 9,800 feet) at the crest of the Wasatches, then drops down into either Park City  or Heber City  on the other side; the mostly unpaved road is usually open late June–mid-October.
Several picnic areas lie along Big Cottonwood Creek. You’ll come first to Oak Ridge Picnic Area, one mile from the entrance, followed by Dogwood Picnic Area (elev. 5,200 feet), 1.1 miles from the entrance, and finally to Silver Lake Picnic Area (elev. 8,720 feet) near road’s end, 14.5 miles up the canyon. Silver Lake offers full access to fishing and picnic sites.
Hikers in Big Cottonwood Canyon should leave their dogs at home; because of water purity concerns, dogs are prohibited in this watershed. A good map for hikes in the area is the Trails Illustrated Wasatch Front North, map 709.
Mineral Fork Trail (5 miles one-way) follows an old mining road past abandoned mines, cabins, and rusting equipment to a high glacial cirque. Waterfalls, alpine meadows, wildflowers, and abundant birdlife make the steep climb worthwhile. The signed trailhead is on the south side of the road six miles up the canyon (0.8 mile past Moss Ledge Picnic Area). You'll climb 2,000 feet in three miles to the Wasatch Mine, whose mineralized water makes up much of the flow of Mineral Fork Creek. Another two miles and 1,400 feet of climbing lead to Regulator Johnson Mine. A loop trip can be made by climbing the ridge west of Regulator Johnson (no trail) and descending Mill B South Fork Trail to Lake Blanche and the main road, coming out 1.5 miles west of the Mineral Fork Trailhead.
The easy and popular hike to Donut Falls (0.75 mile one-way) starts just past the Jordan Pines campground and follows a trail that's partly through the woods and partly an old dirt road to the falls, which spurts from a "donut hole" in a rock. (Actually, rockfall and erosion have made the effect a bit less donut-like in recent years.)
Brighton Lakes Trail (3 miles one-way) winds through some of the prettiest lake country in the range. Families enjoy outings on this easy trail, which begins in Brighton  behind the Brighton Lodge. Silver Lake has a boardwalk giving full access to fishing docks. The first section follows Big Cottonwood Creek through stands of aspen and evergreens. The trail continues south across meadows filled with wildflowers, then climbs more steeply to Brighton Overlook, one mile from the start. Dog Lake, surrounded by old mine dumps, lies 200 yards to the south. Continue on the main trail one-half mile to Lake Mary, a large, deep lake below Mount Millicent. Lake Martha is another one-half mile up the trail. Another mile of climbing takes you to Lake Catherine, bordered by a pretty alpine meadow on the north and by the steep talus slopes of Sunset and Pioneer Peaks on the south. Total elevation gain for the three-mile hike to Lake Catherine is 1,200 feet. Hikers can also go another one-half mile to Catherine Pass and descend 1.5 miles to Albion Basin in Little Cottonwood Canyon . Sunset Peak (10,648 feet) can be climbed by following a 0.5-mile trail from the pass.
All Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest campgrounds have water during the summer. Reserve at 877/444-6777 or www.recreation.gov  ($9 reservation fee). Please note that, in order to preserve the Salt Lake City watershed, dogs are not permitted at these campgrounds. This is strictly enforced!
At an elevation of 7,500 feet, Spruces Campground (9.7 miles up the canyon, late May-mid-Oct., $16) is the largest campground in the area. Redman Campground (13 miles up the canyon, mid-June-early Oct., $19) is located between Solitude  and Brighton  at an elevation of 8,300 feet. Jordan Pines (8.8 miles from the canyon entrance) has several large group camping sites available by reservation only.