Big Cottonwood Canyon Astrophotography

Rate this Adventure Utah Donut Falls Trailhead

Added by Bryony Richards

Photograph the springtime Milky Way arcing over one of the most beautiful mountain valleys in the Wasatch Mountains

Located in the Wasatch Mountains, less 30 minutes from Salt Lake City, Big Cottonwood Canyon, provides some of the best rural dark-sky viewing of the Milky Way in the Wasatch.

The Donut Falls trail head/Mill D trail head, close to the ski resorts of Brighton and Solitude, additionally provides one of the easiest (and most accessible) areas to view the stars year-round. The position of the canyon in this area, with the open vista of the mountain valley to the east, additionally allows for superb viewing of the Milky Way and its galactic core.

For Milky Way photos, start by find a good spot in either the parking lot or early trail head and angle you camera towards the south (to photograph the galactic core). The Milky Way will arc from south to north over the mountains in the distance, allow you to capture both the stars and a beautiful mountain foreground!

For the single Milky Way images featured, a Canon 5D Mark III with a Rokinon 24 mm (f/1.4) lens was used, with the following settings:

  • ISO1600
  • Shutter speeds/exposure time: 20 seconds
  • Aperture: f/2.0 (stopped down from f/1.4)
  • Other settings of note: Evaluative metering, white balance of 3200

For the panoramic Milky Way image featured, 3 images were taken rotating the camera at a stationary mark and subsequently stitched together. For each frame of the panoramic image, a Canon 5D Mark III with a Rokinon 24 mm (f/1.4) lens was used with the same following settings:

  • ISO1000
  • Shutter speeds/exposure times: 20 seconds
  • Aperture: f/2.0 (stopped down from f/1.4)
  • Other settings of note: Evaluative metering, 3200 white balance

Pack List

  • DSLR camera
  • Wide angle lens
  • Tripod (the sturdier the better)
  • Remote
  • Red-light headlamp (so that you do not have to re-adjust to seeing in low-light after close-up work)
  • Warm clothing
  • Be aware of local information, including any road closures, and early spring avalanche dangers.
  • Be aware that local wildlife often roams the lake and surrounding areas at night, especially after the ski resorts have closed and there is less traffic.
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Skill Level:



Spring, Summer, Autumn


Easy Parking
Family Friendly

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Added by Bryony Richards

British (with a touch of American, South African, and European) wilderness and landscape astrophotographer, geologist, and research scientist based in Salt Lake City, Utah ↟

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