Shade-Covered Mountain Bike Glory at Mill Creek

Desolation Lake
Desolation Lake Andrey Zharkikh
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Downtown Salt Lake City is sweltering in August and escaping to a shady canyon with your mountain bike is the best way to escape the heat. Mill Creek Canyon’s flowy singletrack is only a 15-minute drive from the Salt Palace and gives riders of all skill levels great brown pow options. You can spend an hour or a day, depending on your energy level and the amount of time you have.

Mill Creek Canyon is one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Utah. It’s also one of the most accessible—just a few minutes off of the highway. During the August heat, the upper end of Millcreek Canyon is the place to be in the Salt Lake City area. Most of the trails in Upper Mill Creek are tree-covered and provide shelter from the sun. This area includes the Lower Big Water Trail to Dog Lake to Desolation Lake, and the Great Western Trail.

Use of Mill Creek Canyon is $3.00 per vehicle per day. The interagency pass available from the national park service is not accepted in Mill Creek Canyon. There are plenty of bathrooms along the road at different trailheads, but drinking water is only available at the Terraces Picnic Area—3.9 miles into the canyon.

Bikes are only allowed on these upper Mill Creek Canyon trails on even-numbered days, so plan accordingly. If you can make your schedule match this, do it, it’s worth the planning. Dogs are allowed up in Mill Creek Canyon, but don’t take your dogs over the ridge into Big Cottonwood Canyon—it’s a watershed area. The last mile of the ride to the Desolation Lake overlook is considered BCC. If you’re caught with your dog in that area, you’re going to have a bad time (you’ll be fined).

These upper trails are smooth and fast—consisting of well-groomed singletrack that winds through wildflowers and shady forests. Parking is plentiful near the top of Mill Creek Canyon where you’ll find the trailheads. Trails are well marked and provide detailed information—like clear maps with distances included.

If you want a short, six-mile ride, head up to Dog Lake. It’s a beautiful little lake surrounded by gorgeous peaks and makes for an easy out-and-back. If you’re craving a longer ride and more endorphins, head to Desolation Lake and beyond.

Both start at the Lower Big Water Trail—just behind the toilets in the parking lot. Your climb begins with tree-covered singletrack that’s filled with rolling hills, trees, and switchbacks.

Climb up to Desolation Lake and stop to enjoy the views. You’ll be tempted to jump into the crystalline lake, but you can’t—this is a watershed and the moose can bathe here but you’re too dirty. Once you’ve had enough temptation, you can go past Desolation Lake to the Great Western Trail for some more miles.

If you choose to do the entire loop (Lower Big Water to both lakes to the Great Western Trail) you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of the Salt Lake Valley and the surrounding mountains—and possibly a few moose. Wherever you decide to turn around, you’ll enjoy the smooth descent, but watch out for hikers and dogs, this is an extremely popular trail in the summer.

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