Mike Engerberson looks at the view as the trail reaches the Wasatch Crest. Photo and original trail review September 18, 1999 by Bruce. Latest update to this page August 8, 2022.
Mill Creek Canyon Trail
includes Wasatch Crest climb
The Mill Creek Canyon trail follows Mill Creek Canyon from
the Big Water area of upper Mill Creek to the ridge between the Salt Lake
Valley and Park City. It makes connections to
, to the
via the Crest Connector, and of course, the
is part of the Great Western Trail system.
Upper Mill Creek Canyon (above the
trail) is closed to bikes on odd-numbered days. Bikes are allowed on this trail ONLY on even-numbered days!
Dogs are allowed here, but must be on-leash on even numbered days, and must always be kept
in direct control. The gate to the upper Canyon (above Burch Hollow) is open July 1 to October
Riding in the shade of fir forest. We're between the Dog Lake and the Little Water trail forks, heading uphill. On the lower trail, the path contours the hillside above the main canyon, wandering through side drainages.
As the trail approaches the top, the grade lessens and there are some meadows to cross. In this area, the trail follows close to the creek.
From the lower Big Water trailhead to the junction with the Wasatch Crest trail and the Crest
Connector to Midmountain, the Mill Creek Canyon trail is 4.7 miles long. Over this distance,
it climbs 1300 vertical feet to a top elevation of 8875 feet.
For the most part, the trail is wide and smooth, but with occasional roots to bang over. It
is suitable for strong experienced beginners. The rate of climb on some sections of the trail
may be too much for less-fit riders.
The terrain is mostly a mix of aspen and fir forest. There are only occasional views until you approach the top.
We've reached the top of Mill Creek and are now climbing uphill on the Wasatch Crest trail southbound. The riding here is significantly tougher, both in tech requirement and overall trail steepness.
Mill Creek is used both as an uphill for strong riders, and as a shuttled downhill from the
Wasatch Crest for everybody else. This trail page will also describe the climbing route on
The Big Water trail begins at the lower Big Water trailhead at the top of Mill Creek Canyon for the up-and-back lariat ride.
You can start uphill on Mill Creek from either the lower or
upper Big Water trailheads. (You can also arrive at this spot by climbing
from the Elbow Fork area.) I recommend the lower trailhead,
where the lower Big Water trail begins. All distances reported on this
page are from the lower trailhead.
Via Wasatch Crest
Most riders will pay for a shuttle to Guardsman and ride the
trail to the top of Mill Creek Canyon. It is 8.3 miles from the top of
trail -- at Guardsman Pass -- to the top of the Mill Creek
Canyon trail and its fork with the Crest Connector.
Looking north downhill as the Wasatch Crest trail begins to descend from the ridge between Big Cottonwood Canyon and Mill Creek Canyon
Trail fork on the Mill D North Fork trail, with a connection uphill to Dog Lake and from there, to Mill Creek.
Via Mill D North Fork
Many riders make a loop ride that includes a climb up
D North Fork
from Big Cottonwood Canyon, descent on the
and Mill Creek, and a connection back over the ridge via
Looking uphill as the Mill Creek trail reaches a meadow.
The Mill Creek Canyon route consists of the lower Big Water trail and the Great Western trail
above the Dog Lake trail fork. It ends on the ridgeline where the Crest Connector to the Midmountain
Trail and the Wasatch Crest trails continue. It's 4.7 miles long with 1300 feet of elevation
While this ride description goes all the way to the
, you can make shorter rides on this trail, for example
, or just up to the viewpoint over The Canyons and back (9 miles round trip). For the Mill
Creek to Desolation out-and-back, you'll climb 2300 vertical feet over the 14 mile round trip,
so come prepared to use some thigh!
View up the Big Water Trail early in the ride. Note the wide trail with a root or two, shaded by mature fir forest.
Dominic and Jackie hide from a rain shower about 5 miles into the ride. Good time for lunch. Photo August 1999.
Important note: Dogs are allowed on Mill Creek Canyon trails, but don't take Fido over the
ridge into Big Cottonwood Canyon! The last mile of the ride to the Desolation Lake overlook,
you're in the Cottonwood Canyon watershed, where dogs are absolutely outlawed. If you're caught
with a dog in Big Cottonwood, you WILL be busted!
As you leave the lower Big Water parking lot, keep straight as the connector from upper Big
Water arrives on your left. Then at mile 0.1, keep left and uphill as the
descends on your right.
At mile 0.5, keep to the right as the upper Big Water trail joins from
the upper parking lot. Then at 1.5 miles, the Big Water Trail turns towards
. You'll branch
off to the left on the Great Western (Mill Creek Canyon Trail). Then at mile
1.6, cross the Little Water trail.
The Little Water trail intersection as seen from the Mill Creek Canyon trail heading uphill.
The terrain alternates between aspen and fir. The aspen areas often have luxurious undergrowth.
The trail will meander in and out of small side-canyons. There are bridges over three creeks.
After the Dog Lake trail fork, the pitch gets tougher for around a mile, but it's still pretty
mellow compared to what you'll encounter on the Wasatch Crest.
At mile 3.4, the Mill Creek Canyon trail enters a large meadow. There will be a bridge across
Mill Creek. Just uphill from that bridge, the
Mill Creek Meadows
trail comes in on your right. This trail fork is unmarked in 2022. (Mill Creek Meadows descends
from the Wasatch Crest.)
The big meadow -- and the bridge over Mill Creek -- as seen from uphill.
Looking north as the Red Pine Road trail leaves the Mill Creek Canyon trail.
After passing through the meadow, the trail goes back into forest. In 0.2 miles the
Red Pine Road trail
forks away on your left. Red Pine is an alternate descending (or climbing) route from the upper
Mill Creek parking.
At 4.7 miles, the trail reaches the Crest. On your
left is the Crest Connector to the
, used for long
. To the
right is the Wasatch Crest. It looks easy, but it will get tough. This is
a good spot for a turn-around for intermediate riders. Your ride will be
9.4 miles with 1300 vertical feet of climbing. Not bad.
From a rare open spot in the trees, we're climbing up toward the ridge. Still a mile to go.
Arriving at the trail fork for the Crest Connector (to the Midmountain Trail) on the left and the Wasatch Crest itself on the right.
If you're ready for some tough stuff, turn right (south) and continue the climb on the
Your destination might be Desolation Lake at 9,800 feet (another 2.5 miles and over 800 vertical
feet of climbing) or
for a downhill or the
Climbing through aspen forest on the Wasatch Crest.
If you continue uphill from the Crest Connector trail fork, you'll have a bit of an adventure.
The climbing gets tough at this elevation and there's some technical rock to navigate. For
the first two miles, the trail follows an old road-cut on the Mill Creek side of the ridge
between the Salt Lake Valley and Park City.
Most riders do Upper Mill Creek as an out-and-back: 6.5 miles to the Desolation Lake overlook,
then a lightning-fast 6.5 mile return descent down the same trail.
On the upper mountain, there are occasional breakouts from the aspen and fir forest. You'll encounter chokecherry, elderberry, currant, as well as daisies, lupine, geranium, and many other wildflowers.
Looking toward the ski resorts and Red Pine Lake above Park City.
For even more awesome alpine views and high-elevation riding, continue from the Desolation
Lake viewpoint another 3.4 miles along the
before your turn-around at the top of Puke Hill, for a 20-mile round trip. From the top of
Puke Hill, you can descent to Park City's
Pine Cone Ridge
for a loop ride or connect to
trail via Blazing Saddles.
Watch out for descending riders. Many riders will be riding Mill Creek as a downhill from the
Wasatch Crest, and they may not yield to you.
(Bruce's #4 son) rides the ridgeline between Park City and Mill Creek on the way to Desolation Lake. The red blossoms are Mountain Paintbrush. Photo August 1999.
We've reached the watershed boundary between Mill Creek and Big Cottonwood. No dogs past this spot! Photo 2012.
At mile 1.8 from the Crest Connector trail fork, the Mill Creek Meadows trail forks away on
At mile 1.9, you'll reach the ridge between Big Cottonwood and Mill Creek. No dogs beyond this
Desolation Lake is an example of a glacier lake, formed within a cirque and dug down by the
moving glacier. (Note the circular form of the small canyon within which Desolation Lake resides.)
When the glacier melted (around 10,000 years ago), the depression filled with water.
This view is worth the vertical feet you'll climb to get there (2300 feet, to 9800 ft. elevation)! Here's Dominic.
Other descending options!
Cruising the Wasatch Crest toward Desolation Lake.
The Desolation Lake to Dog Lake return is a popular option. Drop down the
Desolation Lake (Mill D North
trail. Intersection of the Crest with the Desolation Lake trail is GPS N 40° 39.508' W 111°
We're finally on the Crest and looking south toward the granite peaks of the mouth of the Cottonwood canyons.
In this photo, we're descending Mill Creek and have reached the meadow where the Mill Creek Meadows trail joins the Great Western.
Descend Mill D North Fork for about a mile and a half, then fork to the
right on the new (2017) connector trail to
Pedal a mile gently uphill on the connector, then turn right again to
pedal past Dog Lake and descend the Big Water Trail.
Option: If you want a bit more climbing, you could pass the first Dog Lake connector trail.
After 2 miles and 1400 vertical feet of downhill on Mill D North Fork, turn right towards Dog
Lake at GPS N 40° 39.731' W 111° 37.733. The Dog Lake to Mill D Connector has been rebuilt
and is now a reasonable climbing route. At the top, ride past
and pick up the original trail 1-1/2 miles later, then finish the last 1-1/2 miles down Big
Water to the trailhead.
Cruising the Wasatch Crest toward Desolation Lake in 1998.
Map of the upper Mill Creek trail system
Get to Foothill Blvd on the east bench of
Salt Lake City via I-215. Exit at 39th South. Take 3800 South eastbound into the Canyon.
Mill Creek user fee is $5 per car as of 2022, payable by credit card as
you leave the canyon. Drive all the way to the top of the canyon. The trail begins on the south end of the Big
Water Trailhead parking area GPS N 40° 40.922' W 111° 38.914'. (Note: the gate to upper
Mill Creek Canyon is open to cars July 1 to November 1. Mountain bikes are only allowed on
upper Mill Creek trails on EVEN numbered days!)
There are bathrooms at the Big Water trailheads.
Latest update August 2022