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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!

Mike Engerberson  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 the ride.

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 trail. 

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. 

Gary Argyle (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 Desolation Lake.

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.

Mill Creek Canyon Trail Map 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.

Riding resources for this trail:
Single-page riding guide
GPS track files and route (right-click and "Save as..."):
     GPX track     Area multi-track file
High-res topo (printable):   View map
Lodging, camping, shops:
       Links to northern SLC resources
       Links to southern SLC resources

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