It’s no secret that locals and visitors love Salt Lake City’s proximity to the Wasatch Mountains. From downtown to downhill, terminal to trailhead, it takes an hour or less to access one amazing adventure after another.
While Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons are renowned for world class skiing in winter and otherworldly wildflowers in summer, Millcreek Canyon is a nature lover’s dream in its own right. This narrower, less developed canyon is home to a treasure trove of single track trails. Millcreek Canyon is perfect for hiking, trail running, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
For dog owners, most of Millcreek Canyon lies outside the protected watershed, so canine companions are welcome to explore the trails too. On even-numbered days, dogs must be on-leash in all areas of the canyon. Dogs are allowed off-leash on trails on odd-numbered days.
We spent the summer exploring Millcreek Canyon. After our first visit, we purchased the annual pass ($50/$30 for seniors). For visitors, it’s well worth the $5 daily fee ($3 for seniors) to explore this stunning canyon.
Rattlesnake Gulch to Pipeline Overlook
At only 3.5 miles roundtrip, the out-and-back hike (or run) from Rattlesnake Gulch Trailhead to Pipeline Overlook provides a lot of bang for your buck. Located 1.5 miles up Millcreek Canyon Road, it’s the perfect option when you’re short on time or looking for a quicker family hike. Ample parking and facilities are available at the trailhead.
From the parking lot, the trail steadily ascends the shaded gulch for the first mile before intersecting the Pipeline Trail. Follow the trail signs for Pipeline Overlook (stay left and head West). Once the trail levels out and opens up, it skirts the ledge of the mountain, providing great views across Millcreek Canyon. From the overlook, enjoy sweeping views of the valley and Salt Lake City.
For a longer run or ride, the Pipeline Trail stretches 7.5 miles one-way from the Overlook to Elbow Fork. For a smooth, mostly flat 9-mile out-and-back, park at the Burch Hollow trailhead and head west to the Overlook. A stream crossing at the Grandeur Peak intersection is a great place for dogs to get a drink.
Reaching 8,299 feet, Grandeur Peak offers 360-degree views across Millcreek Canyon, Parley’s Canyon and the Salt Lake Valley. Families looking for an intro to peak bagging will love Grandeur Peak. The trail is six miles round trip with a moderate elevation gain of 2,900 feet.
To access the trail, drive up canyon to the Church Fork picnic area. Follow the road 1/4 mile to the official trailhead. The small parking lot fills quickly in summer, so arrive early to secure a spot. Do not park in picnic spots for trail access. In winter (or when the lot is full), park along the canyon road and walk to the trailhead.
The lower section of the trail is shaded and follows a stream. It’s perfect for pups to stay cool and hydrated. The upper trail turns left and works its way up several exposed switchbacks. When you reach the ridge, a side trail overlooks Parley’s Canyon. The trail continues steeply to the peak for stunning views in all directions.
Quickly climbing two miles to the summit, the short but steep trail to Mt. Aire packs a punch. Boasting fantastic views in all directions, the trail from the Elbow Fork parking lot to Mt. Aire (8,621 feet) only takes 2-3 hours round trip. From November through June, park below the winter gate and walk an additional 1.5 miles to the trailhead.
The lower section of the trail is shaded and follows a stream to the ridge. In summer, bright yellow wildflowers fill the ridgeline meadow before the trail turns and continues through scrub oak to the summit.
Desolation Trail to Salt Lake Valley Overlook
On a clear night, hiking Desolation Trail to the Salt Lake Valley Overlook is the perfect way to watch the sun set over the valley and Great Salt Lake. We packed a picnic dinner and had the popular trail mostly to ourselves on a summer evening.
From the South Box Elder parking lot, follow signs for Desolation Trail and Salt Lake Valley Overlook. Follow a series of switchbacks and climb 1300 feet in just over two miles. Pack a headlamp or flashlight to navigate tree roots and rocky sections on the descent.
Truly a destination for the dogs, Dog Lake is a popular summer hike for dog owners. From July 1 through October 31, Millcreek Canyon Road is open all the way to Big Water trailhead.
The three mile (one-way) trail to Dog Lake gently climbs long switchbacks through a beautiful forest to Dog Lake. Sticky geraniums and other wildflowers dot the trail, and dogs can stop at stream crossings for a quick drink. You’ll know when you’re close to Dog Lake by the happy barking and splashing. To make the hike a 5.5-mile loop (instead of 6-mile out-and-back), turn right at the first and second forks, descending the steeper Little Water trail back to the parking lot.
What to Wear
Many of the trails in Millcreek Canyon traverse exposed ridgelines. Wear comfortable, non-chafing clothing, and bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
- Wear a loose, organic cotton top or tank for quick evaporation.
- For exposed hikes, consider a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt with mesh venting and sun protection like the KÜHL Engineered Shirt.
- For summer hiking, look for shorts designed to stretch like the lightweight KÜHL Vantage Short. For trail running, wear running-specific shorts to avoid chafing.
- Wear a broad-brimmed hat like the KÜHL Sun Dagger to minimize sun exposure. A trucker hat with mesh ventilation like the Ridge Trucker is also a good option.
- Protect your toes and ankles with sturdy hiking boots or trail shoes.
Nicole’s idea of a perfect vacation involves camping, hiking, trail running, SUP and exploring secluded beaches with her husband and two daughters. She writes about travel, raising KÜHL kids and her obsession with outdoor apparel for KÜHL.