One of the first trails to melt out from beneath the winter snowpack is the south-facing route to Cardiff Pass. This fairly short, yet steep hike from the center of the Town of Alta climbs the slope opposite Alta Ski Area, providing outstanding views across Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta and Snowbird. Cardiff Pass is distinct on the skyline across the road from the ski area due to a power pole straddling the pass; don’t let this slight eyesore deter your adventure, as the views from the ridgeline and along the way are spectacular.
Park near Alta Lodge along the main road through town, and follow a winding, briefly-paved driveway behind the Shallow Shaft Restaurant and the Town of Alta office building. Turn right, and you will quickly reach a gravel road as you leave the buildings behind. After the main road takes a right turn, find a left turn off that road, onto an uphill, washed-out old mining road. You are now on the trail to Cardiff Pass, and soon you’ll leave a small aspen grove for immense open meadows that surge with penstemon, lupine, and alpine sunflower, sometimes well before other areas are in bloom.
The route will stay on an old mining road until after it crosses a defined gully, when hikers will find a left turn on a well-established single-track trail. This is where the trail gets steep, and a couple of switchbacks lead to a forested glen beneath Cardiff Pass. Take a breather in this little sanctuary, which bears evidence of settlement by miners of times past, before the final switchbacks to the pass itself. From the pass, you’ll be able to see into Cardiff Fork of Big Cottonwood Canyon, and across Big Cottonwood to Mt Raymond and Gobbler’s Knob. Expert hikers can head north into Big Cottonwood Canyon, or west on the ridge toward Mt. Superior, where mountain goats guard the exposed crags of Alta’s most iconic peak.