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Mill Canyon Trail
featuring Mud Spring Loop

Looking for an alpine singletrack ride that has everything? Solid tough climb, fantastic views, rockin' tech downhill? The Mill Canyon to Mud Spring Loop, in the North Fork of American Fork Canyon, gives you all that. But in return, it demands good climbing skills, strong legs, great aerobic capacity, and advanced downhill skills. This 13-mile loop has over 3000 vertical feet of climbing, with a peak altitude of 8350 feet, and is for advanced riders only.

About five miles into the clockwise ride as we approach the top of the Mill Canyon Trail, we've already climbed 2600 feet. We're looking north to the granite ridge separating American Fork Canyon from Little Cottonwood. Box Elder Peak is on the left. Original review August 4, 2003 by Bruce, updated July 14, 2010 with new ride description and pictures.

The trailhead's location at Tibble Fork Reservoir offers a family opportunity -- the monster climbers can tackle the loop, while others fish, hike, swim, or paddle at the reservoir. Certainly this is one of the prettiest trailheads in the state.

The ride begins from the parking lot at the reservoir. Head east uphill on the road, and as the paved road turns left uphill, continue straight onto the gravel North Fork road.

Looking south from Tibble Fork's parking lot. Bathrooms and water are available here.

A short distance up the gravel road, you'll see a series of railroad-tie steps on your right. This is the old trail. It goes down and through 100 feet of deep, wet, slippery riverbed.

If you don't want to get your feet wet in the river (pansy!), keep riding up the road. 0.4 miles from the trailhead, on the right, you'll find primitive parking and a bridge across the river. Cross the bridge and double back downstream along the river.

View of the new bridge across North Fork. Your canyon fees at work.

After a couple of dips through the small creek in Mill Canyon, the trail begins to climb steeply. You'll be doing 300 vertical in the next 1/2 mile, much of it in one brutal straight-ahead grunt. If the horses and motorcycles have been kind, it CAN be ridden. If the trail surface is loose, push your bike uphill.

Typical mellower trail section, as we ride through a mix of maple, aspen, and fir with a lush understory.

Most of the ride is in deep aspen and fir forest, with a smattering of maple. It will be a few miles of cranking before there are any views, but the forest is beautiful. So enjoy the trip. You're in the middle of the biggest singletrack climb in the American Fork Canyon area.

The trail breaks out of the forest into a (rare) meadow. We're looking east, just past the Mud Springs fork.

At mile 1.5, you'll reach the Mud Springs fork. If you go right on Mud Springs, you'll climb 2200 feet in 3 miles -- an average grade of over 14%! Much of the climbing comes in steep loose chutes with root drops facing you. Until Mud Springs gets a re-route, I recommend you do this ride clockwise by continuing uphill on Mill Canyon.

The switchbacks hug the north slope of a ridge, offering a cool and shady climb. As of summer 2010, the surface is good for a new trail, but still a little loose on the turns.

After passing the Mud Springs fork, Mill Canyon becomes mellow. At mile 2.5, you'll reach the new (spring 2010) upper half of the Mill Canyon trail. This well-built trail is a joy to ride, and will change the way many riders approach American Fork Canyon. 

Nearing the top of Mill Canyon, the trail breaks out of the trees on this ridgeline, offering views of Timpanogos on the south, then of the Snowbird Ridge to the north.

The trail turns back and forth countless times, with several brief downhill breaks interrupting the gentle climb. At mile 6, you reach the top of the Mill Canyon Trail. Continue straight east on the doubletrack at the water trough. At the crest of the ridge, turn right (south) on Ridge 157 (Great Western), which is a dirt road for the next 1/2 mile.

Note 2014:  Northbound on Ridge 157 (a left turn at the top of Mill Canyon), there's new singletrack that makes climbing to Holman, Old Trench, Forest Lake, North Fork, or the Ant Knolls an attractive possibility.

Almost there. Heading toward Mill Canyon Spring.

Ridge 157 now turns to singletrack. You're rewarded with some of the greatest views in Utah. Box Elder Peak, the Snowbird ridge, Timpanogos, the Cascade Springs valley -- for three miles the great views just keep coming in every direction. There will still be some occasional climbing, often with big motorcycle-blackened boulders to make things interesting.

View south from Ridge 157, with Cascade Mountain lining up behind Timpanogos. To the southeast, you can see a sliver of Deer Creek, the Heber Valley, and the town of Wallsburg.

Pedal straight through the 4-way where Tibble Fork drops off to the west and Deer Creek South Fork heads east. At the Mud Springs fork, turn hard right and begin climbing again.

A turkey watches the cyclist from the side of the Mud Springs trail as we climb uphill.

Mud Springs climbs gently up to a broad meadow. If you want, you can take the side trip to the AF Canyon Overlook. Continue straight and right to begin plunging downhill. Here it comes: 2300 vertical in 3 miles, much of it in steep washed-out technical sections where you thread the needle through rocks and roots.

View back toward Timpanogos in 2003, from the top of the Mud Springs Trail at 8200 feet.

This is not a "cruiser" romp. It's a hang-back tech downhill requiring some skill to negotiate. But there will be some mellower sections where you can let it roll. The Mud Springs Trail will cross the Tibble Fork Trail (keep straight), and take you back to Mill Canyon.

A meadow offers a brief break from the steep descent. We're on the Mud Springs trail, just past the intersection with the Tibble Fork Trail.

Bottom Line:  Very pretty. Satisfying ride. A big climb with some tough sections, some technical climbing on Ridge 157. Mud Springs has some nasty spots on the descent. Intermediates should descend Tibble Fork instead of Mud Springs. 

Alternate loops:
North Fork Road to Pole Line Pass, 157 to Mill Canyon and descend.
Climb Tibble Fork, north on 157, descend Mill Canyon.
Climb Mill Canyon, south on 157, descend Tibble Fork
Climb Mill Canyon, north on 157, descend Old Trench Rd trail

View north to Box Elder Peak from a trailside viewpoint on Mud Springs..

Riding notes, counterclockwise loop (hard!):
0.0   Pass bathrooms onto gravel road along river
        N 40 28.98' W 111 38.68', alt=6050'
0.4   R to bridge across river
        N40 29.127 W111 38.286
0.6   Keep left to begin climb in canyon
1.5   Fork R (towards Tibble Fork)
        N 40 28.655' W 111 37.695', alt=7020
2.3   Straight, cross Tibble Fork trail
        N 40 28.158' W 111 37.592', alt=7350
3.0   Keep R (L goes to view)
        N 40 27.624' W 111 37.519', alt=7990
3.5   Keep L
        N 40 27.460' W 111 37.582', alt=8250
4.2   Mud Spring, fork L on Ridge 157
        N 40 27.127' W 111 37.375', alt=7980
5.0   Straight (R=Tibble Fork, L=South Fork)
        N 40 27.547' W 111 36.894', alt=8070
6.6   L on DT
        N 40 28.067' W 111 35.675', alt=8370
7.2   L on DT (Ridge Trail is ST 50 ft right)
        N 40 28.442' W 111 35.300'
7.4 Straight onto ST
         N 40 28.437' W 111 35.437', alt=8280
10.9 Straight (L) (R = to Holman Tr)
        N 40 28.577' W 111 36.714', alt=7200
11.6 At first fork (m-1.35), keep straight
        N 40 28.655' W 111 37.695', alt=7020
12.8 Cross river
13.2 Back at parking
(2010: Climbing Mud Springs is very difficult,
due to erosion and trail damage.)

Clockwise Loop (recommended):
0.0   Pass bathrooms onto gravel road along river
        N 40 28.98' W 111 38.68', alt=6050'
0.4   R to bridge across river
        N40 29.127 W111 38.286
0.6   Keep left to begin climb in canyon
        N40 28.985 W111 38.318
1.5   Keep straight (L) to Mill Canyon
        N 40 28.655' W 111 37.695', alt=7020
2.4   Keep straight (Old Trench Rd Tr on L)
        N40 28.578 W111 36.709
5.4   Ridgeline with views
5.8   Straight onto DT N40 28.439 W111 35.440
6.0   Fork R on DT (GWT) N40 28.433 W111 35.318
 
6.5   Fork R on ST (GWT, Ridge 157)
        N40 28.073 W111 35.674
7.4   Keep straight (faint descending trail on R)
8.1   Keep straight (R=Tibble, L=Deer Creek SF)
        N40 27.544 W111 36.862
8.8   Hard R on Mud Springs Trail
        N40 27.124 W111 37.378
9.6   Keep R in meadow (L= Overlook)
        N40 27.505 W111 37.819
11.0 Cross Tibble Fork Trail N40 28.160 W111 37.593
11.7 L to descend Mill Canyon
        Retrace path
13.2 Back at parking
Getting there:  From I-15, take the Alpine-Highland exit just south of Point-of-the-Mountain. Go east towards the mountains on UT-92 and continue up American Fork Canyon. There's a $6 fee (as of 2009). About 6 miles up the canyon, turn left at the North Fork junction and drive 2 miles to Tibble Fork Reservoir. Go past the dam and park in the long parking area north of the lake N 40 28.98' W 111 38.68', altitude 6050 ft. On your bike, head up past the bathroom, and continue straight onto gravel road as the paved road turns left.

Bathrooms:  At the Tibble Fork Reservoir parking area (trailhead).
Water:  Tap just east of the outhouse at Tibble Fork Reservoir.
Camping:  Several in American Fork Canyon. Granite Flat CG above Tibble Fork, many primitive spots available in North Fork.
Nearest bike shops: Bike Peddler in American Fork, Timpanogos Cyclery in Pleasant Grove.

Riding resources for this trail:
Single-page riding guide
GPS track files and route (right-click and "Save as..."):
    Mud Springs - Mill Canyon Loop
    Mill Canyon to northbound 157 to Old Trench Lariat Loop
High-res topo (1.2 MB):  View 
Lodging, camping, shops:
     Links to north Utah County resources

Copyright 2003 Mad Scientist Software Inc
Updated 2010