Big Cottonwood Canyon Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

16.9 mi
4,992 ft
5.4 %


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. 
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
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

Park City has many resort and hotel options and for longer cycling adventures (which we highly recommend in this area) you can rent one of the many great villas and condos in this popular ski town.  



Difficulty: Challenging



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Sep 28, 2021
difficulty: Challenging
scenery: 5
traffic: 2
road: 3
Sep 28, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 2
road: 3
The first few miles are fairly challenging, but the road flattens out (and even gives you a very short downhill) for the middle section. Ramps up in difficulty significantly once you hit Guardsman Pass. The shoulder on the uphill is wide, but large sections of the descent have little to no shoulder. There can also be rocks and debris on the road, so be alert. It's a very popular canyon for hiking, so there will be heavy car traffic. Be aggressive (and safe!) and take your lane on that descent when you lose the shoulder. Recommend riding on a weekday if possible to avoid weekend traffic. Scenery is incredible. Narrow sections right up on the creek and trees give way to big open fields with breathtaking views of the canyon. Rode it in late September, so got to see the changing leaves.
Jul 24, 2021
difficulty: Challenging
scenery: 4
traffic: 2
road: 4
Jul 24, 2021
scenery: 4
traffic: 2
road: 4
Beautiful climb! I did not go all the way to Guardsman Pass, but the scenery was still pretty good. The traffic was pretty heavy, but to be fair I did go on a holiday weekend. The roads are in great condition and the descent was (for the most part) flowey and fast.
May 19, 2021
difficulty: Challenging
scenery: 4
traffic: 2
road: 3
May 19, 2021
scenery: 4
traffic: 2
road: 3
A classic Utah ride. This is a super accessible climb. The shoulder going up is large and the climb itself isn't super hard(but still challenging) as there are lots of breaks in the gradient where you can recover. To make it easier you can skip Guardsman and just finish at Brighton. In my opinion, the climb up to Guardsman is by far the hardest section, though the view from the top is so worth it. There's also the Brighton General Store that is a great mid ride refueling stop.

Climb Profile Not Found

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.

“This climb is one of the most difficult in Utah up very scenic Big Cottonwood Canyon (Route 190) to Guardsman Pass on a route that does carry some traffic at times. A shallow start turns a bit steeper when the road gets very twisty. Just beyond the five mile mark the grade eases a bit through its middle section. Just over 12 miles in are two solid grade miles and then you turn left for the pass (straight to the Brighton Ski Resort). The first ramp on this section is steeper (double digit briefly) and the grade then eases a bit soon after a right turn that leads toward the top. The upper part is scenic and over variable grade and the climb soon ends at dramatic Guardsman Pass. You can continue down the east side ot reach Park City (upper section closed in winter- Wasatch-Cache National Forest - 801-733-2660). The descent is challenging so be alert, particularly the S curve and down low in the twisty section where there are many areas where people park just off the road to hike and climb.” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 214.)

Before heading to Utah and climbing Big Cottonwood Canyon, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.

Climb summary by PJAMM’s John Johnson.

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!!

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