Big Cottonwood Canyon Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

16.9 mi
5,052 ft
5.5 %


Page Contributor(s): Bruce Hamilton, La Quinta, CA, USA; Stacy Topping, Tacoma, WA, USA


This climb takes us us through Big Cottonwood Canyon towards Solitude and Brighton Resorts.  Just before Solitude at mile 13.8 we turn left onto Guardsman Pass Road for the final three miles at 6.7% to Guardsman Pass.  This is the fourth most difficult bike climb in Utah behind Powder MountainGuardsman Pass (Midway - the other side of the mountain), and Little Cottonwood Canyon which begins about three miles south of the start of Big Cottonwood Canyon. The first 12 miles are through a canyon with nice forest and river views but no distant views.  We have some nice views of the surrounding Wasatch Mountains. 
The average grade of this climb is 5.5% (6.1% climb only) but the grade does vary frequently, ranging from slight descents (approximately seven brief descents) and a healthy 13% quarter-mile during the last mile of the climb which averages 9.7%.  44% of the climb is at grade 5-10% and 12% at 10-15%.  The steepest quarter mile is 13%. 

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button above.
Roadway:  Excellent as of 2019.

Traffic:  There is moderate traffic along much of the Big Cottonwood segment of the climb but very little after turning onto Guardsman Pass Road.

Parking:  There is a park and ride at the beginning of the climb - Map;  Street View
Check the PJAMM Weather Tool to determine the weather at the top around the time you expect to finish and pack clothing to account for any adverse weather.  Since you are climbing to nearly 10,000' and will finish 5,000' higher than where you began, the weather could be quite a bit different at the top than at the bottom, particularly if you arrive at the top late in the day - the descent can be miserable and freezing, depending on conditions. 
We suggest staying in Park City and enjoying the many HC and scenic climbs in that area during your cycling trip to or around this part of Utah - Park City, UT



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Cycling Big Cottonwood Canyon -- one of Utah’s great bike climbs.

17 miles gaining 5,521’ to elevation 9,709’ at 5.4% average grade.

Big Cottonwood Canyon is a destination both in the winter and summer.  This bike climb heads up Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, which, if we continue straight at the 13.8 mile mark, ends at Brighton Ski Resort.  The entire bike climb is on the Big Cottonwood Canyon Scenic Byway (SR-190) which runs from the intersection of Wasatch Boulevard/Highway 190 to Guardsman Pass. The origin of this highway dates to 1933.

Riding Big Cottonwood Canyon by bike - Wasatch National Forest sign.

We enter Wasatch National Forest (908,000 acres est. 1907).

Hydroelectric Plant on Big Cottonwood Canyon bicycle climb 

Daisy flowers on Hwy 190 Big Cottonwood Canyon cycle climb

On our way up Big Cottonwood Canyon.


Cottonwoods and mountain scenery as we climb.

Daisy flowers on Hwy 190 Big Cottonwood Canyon cycle climb


At 13.8 miles turn left onto Guardsman Pass Road and climb another 3.1 miles (1,100') to the top of Guardsman Pass (accessing this major Utah Pass via the west).  

We almost immediately enter the Wasatch National Forest as we begin our climb, and continue for nearly 14 miles through a very scenic canyon, following (by view or sound) Big Cottonwood Creek from mile two until we turn left and begin climbing Guardsman Pass Road.  

    Bike climb to Guardsman Pass via Big Cottonwood Canyon - street sign.

Turn onto Guardsman Pass Road at mile 13.8.

We begin some steep switchbacks just after the 13.8 mile mark as we complete the climb (three miles at 7.1%), up to the top of Guardsman Pass -- the views along this portion of the climb are at times spectacular.

Bicycle ride up Big Cottonwood Canyon - Wastch Mountains

Guardsman Pass can be accessed from the north (via Empire Pass North-Park City side -- YouTube Playlist) and the east (#14 - Guardsman Pass East -- Midway, Utah).  An up-over-back ride from the beginning of Big Cottonwood Canyon up to Guardsman Pass then down to Midway and back entails 51 miles riding and 8,939' of climbing (major footage for the buck!).  

Cycling to top of Big Cottonwood Canyon - Guardsmand Pass - view from the top.

View from the top of Guardsman Pass.


We pass Solitude Ski and Board Resort at mile 12.  For provisions before heading up to the top, continue straight at the junction of Guardsman Pass and Big Cottonwood Canyon Roads (mile 13.8) for a quarter mile to Brighton Ski Resort where there is a lodge, cafe and bathrooms, open during the non-winter season.  A “cleats on the ground report” comes from New Orleans cyclist Ray Clement:

Here's a photo of the cafe/general store at the top of the climb:  They've never given me any trouble despite the "No Public Restrooms" sign. But for those less willing to go into the cafe, there's a nice restroom just to the right once you reach the top loop. Water fountain, private stalls, and the toilets flush!

Bike ride on Big Cottonwood Canyon Scenic Byway (SR-190)


​Roadway and Traffic Report:  As you can readily see from our videos, the first 13.8 miles of this climb on a highway and cars can zip by at a good clip, although there is a very good shoulder/bike lane for the bulk of this stretch, the general flow of traffic is mild to moderate.  Traffic on Guardsman Pass Road is light.  The roadway surface is excellent as of August 2014.

This canyon is called “Big” Cottonwood because it is longer and wider than “Little” Cottonwood (Snowbird/Alta) four miles to the south.  However, the two are equals as to scenery and exceptional cycling experiences -- they are both “must do’s.”

That’s a wrap!!