Mill Creek Canyon (sometimes spelled Millcreek) is not as well known as its larger cousins to the south, Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. There are no ski resorts in this smaller canyon; and almost no development, except for two nice restaurants, some scattered private cabins, and several Boy Scout day camps. But there are some excellent hiking trails including access to some fine peaks.
The canyon stretches about 13 miles from bottom to top. If you were to proceed all the way to the top of Mill Creek and then drop over the other side, you would be at the northern edge of the Canyons Resort ski area northwest of Park City.
Mill Creek Canyon, which begins at Wasatch Boulevard and 3800 South, is more heavily wooded than any other of the canyons east of the Salt Lake Valley, and so was a great resource for pioneer settlers in need of lumber for construction. At the peak of operations, there were some 20 sawmills in the canyon (hence its name) along with several mines. Now, the forests have regrown from their earlier overuse, providing some delightful hiking opportunities.
In the winter, you can only drive in about five miles to where the road is closed (November 1 through June 30) -- begin snowshoe hikes or cross-country skiing at that point. But during the summer and fall, the road is open about 10 miles from the canyon mouth, providing access to additional hikes and much terrain to explore.
One feature of Mill Creek Canyon that may be of interest to some hikers is that unlike the Cottonwood canyons, dogs are permitted. The current rule is that your dog must be on leash throughout the canyon on even-numbered dates, but can be allowed to run free on the trails (not in public areas) on odd-numbered dates. Biking is also allowed -- on the trails above the mid-canyon gate on even-numbered days, or on any day on the lower trails.
The iconic Mt. Olympus sits at the base of the ridge between Mill Creek and Big Cottonwood canyons, overlooking Salt Lake City. The ridge leading east from Olympus between the two canyons is known as Wildcat Ridge; advanced hikers follow this whole distance for a challenging experience. But some of the peaks along the way provide excellent day hikes, and can be climbed from either canyon; the scenery and terrain are often dramatically different on the two different approaches, so both are worth exploring.
Two of the most popular peaks to summit along the ridge are Gobblers Knob, at 10,246 feet, and Mt. Raymond, a mere five feet lower. The two adjacent peaks are connected by a saddle at Baker Pass.
One very enjoyable approach to these peaks starts in Mill Creek Canyon at the Terraces picnic area, about 4.7 miles up from Wasatch Boulevard. There is a nice parking area across the bridge and up the hill from the main road. Follow the signs to get you on the Bowman Fork trail, which heads mostly east for about a mile on a gradual ascent along a small creek through a V-shaped canyon. The trail then starts some long traverses heading generally south, first to White Fir Pass that provides some excellent views, and then eventually crossing three large ridges and gaining altitude more rapidly.
At about the 3.5-mile point, you reach Baker Spring, a perennial source of water. There was once a mining camp at this location; an old cabin was still here until it burned to the ground in the 1980s. The remnants of the main mine can be seen south of the spring, and other smaller sites scattered around. One story suggests that the miners kept a flock of noisy turkeys, leading to the name of Gobblers Knob for the nearby peak.
The trail turns westward just above the spring, cutting across a long traverse on the steep talus slope below the Gobblers Knob summit, and leading to Baker Pass, elevation 9,320 feet. At this point you can see across the ridge into Big Cottonwood Canyon. This is also the location where the trails from that side, originating at Mill B North Fork and at Butler Fork, converge.
From the saddle, the two peaks are both about 900 feet above – Gobblers Knob to the east, and Mt. Raymond to the west. Though Gobblers is five feet higher than Raymond, the hike to the west is the more interesting of the two, involving a traverse of a “knife edge” rock and some minor scrambling. See photos of these features in the online version of this article at UtahAdventurer.com.
The trail to Gobblers Knob is obvious as well, involving a steady uphill that passes a couple of false summits. Be patient and you’ll eventually reach the highpoint. If time allows, be sure to “bag” both peaks, and as always, you’ll be rewarded by stunning vistas of the glorious Wasatch mountains!