In the central part of Little Cottonwood Canyon, the spectacular, rugged face of Mount Superior towers over the road, a wild contrast to the partly-tamed slopes of Snowbird and Alta to the south and east. Superior, along with its neighbor Monte Cristo, makes a fine destination for experienced hikers with some scrambling experience. Despite the rugged appearance of these peaks, you can bag both of these 11,000-foot summits in a fairly short hike from Alta.
The easiest route (and the only trail) to the top of Mount Superior starts at the Forest Service garage in the town of Alta. This route gains a total of 2,500 feet in 2.5 miles, making for a pretty reasonable hike considering that it tops out two “eleveners.”
Start up the paved road east of the Forest Service garage on the north side of Highway 210. This is Michigan City Road according to maps, but there was no sign as of October 2015. Follow the road past two left turns and take the third left at a trail sign. The route begins on an old mining road. The shade of an aspen grove quickly gives way to open grassy slopes. Note the historic observation tower (used in early avalanche forecasting and control work) just a few yards off the route on the left.
The road ascends a series of switchbacks that roughly follow a set of power lines up the slopes toward the pass. Just before passing under the power lines, watch for a fork and stay left to continue toward Cardiff Pass. The road to the right leads to the Flagstaff Mine. From the junction, the well-worn singletrack trail winds its way up toward the crest of the ridge.
After reaching the top of the divide between Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon the route continues as a faint trail on the south side of the ridge. A few sections require Class 2 scrambling with an occasional Class 3 move. While there is some moderate exposure, most of the more forbidding-looking obstacles along the ridge can be bypassed easily on the south side. From the top of Mount Superior (11,040 feet), a short section of easy scrambling leads to the slightly higher summit of Monte Cristo (11,132 feet). Watch for mountain goats on the higher scree slopes and ridges in this area.
Experienced hikers should expect this hike to take about six hours (a bit less if you skip Monte Cristo). It is a fairly popular route year-round, but an ice axe and crampons will be needed when there is snow on the route, and winter ascents require attention to avalanche conditions.