Mill Creek to Desolation Lake Trail
The Upper Mill Creek Canyon trail starts on the Big Water
Trail then climbs the Great Western Trail to the Wasatch Crest. The trail is smooth and
fast. The wildflowers and trees are awesome. Upper Mill Creek opens July 1. Bikes
are allowed on this trail ONLY on even-numbered days!
looks at the view towards
The Canyons ski resort as the trail reaches the Wasatch Crest. Photo September 18, 1999 by Bruce.
Latest update to this page in 2017.
|While this ride description goes all the way to the Wasatch
Crest, you can make shorter rides on this trail, for example Dog
Lake, Red Pine, or just up to the viewpoint over The Canyons and back (8 miles round
trip). For the Mill Creek to Desolation out-and-back, you'll climb 2300 vertical feet over
7 miles, so come prepared to use some thigh!
View up the Big Water Trail early in
||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!
Dominic and Jackie hide from a rain shower about 5 miles into the ride.
Good time for lunch. Photo August 1999.
|At 1.5 miles, the Big Water Trail turns towards Dog
Lake. You'll branch
off on the Great Western (Mill Creek Canyon Trail). At 4.7 miles, the trail reaches the Crest. On your
left is the Crest Connector to the Midmountain
Trail, used for long loop rides. Turn right (south)
and continue the climb to Desolation Lake on the Wasatch
Crest. You'll reach an altitude
of 9,800 feet.
From a rare open spot in the
trees, we're looking up toward the ridge. Still a couple of miles to go.
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
On the upper trail, 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.
| For a little more awesome alpine views, continue another 3.4 miles along the Wasatch Crest before your turn-around, for a 20-mile round trip.
At the top of Puke Hill, you can descent to Park City's Midmountain
Trail via Pine Cone Ridge for a loop ride.
Looking back down the trail, a bit
before reaching the ridge.
||If you're up to a little rougher ride on the return trip, try a loop by
dropping down the Desolation Lake (Mill D North
Fork) trail. Intersection of the Crest with the Desolation
Lake trail is GPS N 40° 39.508' W 111° 35.756'.
We're finally on the Crest and looking
south toward the granite peaks of the mouth of the Cottonwood canyons.
Descend Mill D North Fork for about a mile and a half, then fork to the
right on the new (2017) connector trail to Dog Lake.
Pedal a mile gently uphill on the connector, then turn right again to
pedal past Dog Lake and descend the Big Water Trail.
(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.
Option: If you want a challenge, 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 up the hill towards Dog Lake at GPS N 40° 39.731' W 111° 37.733.
This 1/2 mile is a killer uphill; about 600 vertical. Don't be ashamed to walk your bike.
Ride past Dog Lake 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
|You can also ride this trail as a one-way from the Big Cottonwood side,
which is how most riders do it. You'll have substantially less vertical feet to climb, but
you need a shuttle car. See our Wasatch Crest Trail description.
We've reached the watershed boundary
between Mill Creek and Big Cottonwood. No dogs past this spot! Photo 2012.
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.
||Getting there: 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 $3 per car as of 2009. 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!)
For a closeup of the alternate routes
around the Big Water Trail, go to the Dog Lake page.