Mill Creek Canyon
This page presents our personal notes on camp sites and hiking trails accessible from Mill Creek Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah.
It was a sunny day, with just a few thin clouds drifting overhead. The air temps weren’t too hot. The high got to 80, which is pretty cool for this time of the year. We drove up to Mill Creek Canyon to hike the Pipe Line Trail, from the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail trailhead up to the Elbow Forks Trailhead, where the Mt. Aire and Lambs Canyon trails also begin. We have three maps and several books that discuss this trail, and each gives a different total distance, ranging from 6.3 to 7 miles one way. Our GPS gave us a reading of 6.89 miles one way, and 13.9 miles round trip. So we’ll go with that.
We arrived at the Rattlesnake Gulch trailhead. It was in the deep shade of the peaks, so it was chilly, but we’ll be in sunshine most of the day. There is only one other car in the parking lot. The entrance station wasn’t open yet. GPS Coordinates (NAD83): 40 41.483N; 111 46.135W; at an elevation of 5,342 feet.
We spritzed ourselves with bug spray, just in case, because the air seems very humid.
The Rattlesnake Gulch Trail starts out climbing immediately and is mostly loose gravel on a packed clay surface. But we were able to chug along and make it to the junction with the Pipe Line Trail at GPS Coordinates 40 41.918N; 111.46.089W; at an elevation of 5921 feet. The GPS showed that we had come .68 miles from our Trooper, with a 563 foot climb. This short trail is steep along its entire length, but becomes very steep just before the junction. It does switch back and forth a little bit, but in some areas it goes straight up.
Once you are on the Pipe Line Trail the route levels off considerably and you can catch your breath and make some good time. Most of the length of the Pipe Line Trail, like its name implies, was once the route of a water line from farther up the canyon. Here and there you will find the remains of sections of the old metal pipe. It looks like it had about a two foot diameter. You do have to watch your footing. Here and there along the trail there are the remains of bolts and other metal pieces that probably anchored the old pipe line. They stick up through the surface just enough to catch the toe of your boot if you’re not watching.
Most of the trail is packed clay, but here and there you’ll encounter sections of gravel and crushed rock. In these areas you’ll have to watch your footing or risk catching the tip of a boot and stumbling. We found, even though mostly flat, this is one of those trails where you have to watch your footing. If you want to look at the scenery, stop for a moment and be safe. There are some areas with steep edges, but most of the trail passes through scrub oak and some other weedy trees. Parts of the trail are actually shady.
On this trip we encountered a good number and variety of plants in bloom. Even some of the wild roses were already blooming. We saw lots of yellows, whites, purples and reds.
GPS Coordinates 40 42.099N; 111 44.581W; at an elevation of 5,974 feet. We reached the junction of the Pipe Line and Grandeur Peak Trail. This point is 1.6 miles from the junction with the Birch Hollow Trail and 2.1 miles from the Rattlesnake Trail junction. Just after this junction we climbed a short hill and came to a rushing stream with a solid wooden bridge crossing it. There is a shallow pool below the bridge, just before the water plunges over a long cascade of boulders, where one could slip off hot boots and dangle feet in the cold water. The water looks very clear, fresh, and inviting. But remember, it is not safe to drink without filtering or some other treatment.
GPS Coordinates 40 41.978N; 111 43.449W; at an elevation of 6,030 feet. We reached the junction with the trail to the Birch Creek Trailhead, which heads down toward the road to the south. From here the Pipe Line Trail begins to climb steeply up a series of switchbacks until it levels off again farther along the route.
GPS Coordinates 40 42.154N; 111 42.655W; at an elevation of 6,597 feet. Here we encountered the trail that heads to the north, up slope, signed as the Birch Hollow Trail. Because of the climb from the Birch Hollow Trailhead, and the distance from that junction, it would seem that the shorter route to reach this junction would be to come in from the Elbow Fork Trailhead and walk the flat mile or so from there, and then start the ascent.
We reached the junction with Elbow Fork, Mt. Aire, and Lambs Canyon trails. To this point (according to our GPS) we’d come 6.89 miles with an average moving speed of 2.8 miles per hour. There is a parking area here, and a restroom. The spot was still in the shade, and the air was cool, but even sitting in the sun was not too bad. We used the restroom, then ate a snack, and sat and watched people biking and walking along the road, and watched and listened to the roaring stream across the road. GPS Coordinates 40 42.417N; 111 41.404W; at an elevation of 6,648 feet. Our total ascent to this point was 1,306 feet, most of which was along the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail and the switchbacks just after the junction with the Birch Creek Trailhead Trail.
We applied more bug spray and sun screen and headed back down the trail.
We made it back to the Trooper. 13.9 miles round trip, at 2.8 miles per hour average moving speed. It took us 4 hours and 55 minutes of walking time. Our overall speed was 2.4 miles per hour, including our stops.
On the way up the trail we encountered several runners, and only a couple of bicyclists. But on our way back down the trail we encountered many more bikers and quite a few hikers. Most, I believe, came up some of the side trails. Also, I should note, that bicycles are allowed on the trails in Mill Creek on even numbered days, and not allowed on odd numbered days. Most of the riders we encountered were cautious and courteous. There were also several dogs along the trail, with their owners, of course. However, it seems that most people don't obey the odd/even day leash laws. But we didn't have any problems with the dogs. They all seemed friendly enough.
Along one stretch on the way back down there was a wedding taking place down below in one of the resort areas. I’m sure it was a lovely setting.