Mill Creek Canyon – Little and Big Water Trails – Salt Lake City, Utah

The Little and Big Water Trails are located in Mill Creek Canyon, which is located outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Drive to the Upper Big Water trailhead by following Mill Creek Canyon Road until it dead ends (about nine miles of slow driving). A park fee or prepaid pass is required upon exiting the canyon. The Upper Big Water trailhead provides adequate space for horse trailers. The main activities on the Little and Big Water trails (described below) include hiking, dog walking, trail running, horseback riding, and mountain biking (bikes allowed on even days only). Restrooms are provided but not water. In addition, a lean to shed and tent platform are positioned next to the restroom but I don’t know their usage policy. Cell phone service was intermittent but my GPS signal was strong.

Little Water and Big Water Trails

From the Upper Big Water trailhead, we intended to do a short 1.0 mile loop seen in the map above by hiking on the two the trails marked with 0.5 miles. Instead of starting on the Great Western Trail at the southern end of the parking lot, we mistakenly started on the Little Big Water trail at the northeastern corner. This was my first time to Mill Creek Canyon and I got confused between the black and white map on the paper brochure and the color coded map at the trailhead (featured above). The black and white map can be confusing but the color coded map is easier to understand; more on my confusion later. We hiked a clockwise loop that started on Little Water and finished on the overlapping Great Western and Upper Big Water trails for an estimated length of 2.5 miles and an elevation gain of 600 feet; from 7,800 to 8,400. This hiking loop included a diverse set of terrain. It starts with a few stream crossings and then follows one of the streams up the ridge.

On the Little Water Trail, the following picture illustrates the daunting 600 foot elevation gain that takes place in a little over a mile but it also captures the thriving vegetation. The Little Water trail has a steeper slope and less shade than the Great Western and Big Water trails.

One of the most noticeable wildflowers near the trail was Indian Paintbrush. You can see a better picture of it on my Cecret Lake post.

Indian Paintbrush

After Little Water, I decided to run because it was getting dark. I found all three trails great for  running because they are wide, smooth, and consist of very few obstacles with which to trip on. As I was running down Great Western, I came across the following unmarked intersection that I thought was four-way. Instead, it is a three-way intersection in which the Great Western and Big Water trails begin to overlap. The narrow trail seen to the right is not a marked trail. I mistakenly followed it for several hundred feet, which you can see in the GPS coordinates in the Google Map above.

Notably, Mill Creek Canyon is the only major canyon in Salt Lake County’s
Wasatch Front that permits dogs and, thus, we saw several happy dogs and
dog owners. For information on the importance of picking up after your dog, check out myths about dog feces. Wide bridges make all of the stream crosses easy for dogs, bikes, and runners.

For mountain bikers, the trails are very smooth and fast but also extremely vertical; at least compared to what I am used to riding. The following picture shows a gentle switchback coming down Great Western.

In addition, there are a few technical, challenging switchbacks for mountain bikers to conquer.

In comparison to trails in the Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons, the Mill Creek Canyon trails have a refreshing backwoods feel to them because they are not intertwined with ski lifts and resorts and, thus, I felt a deeper connection with nature.

In sum, Mill Creek Canyon’s Little and Big Water trails have a refreshing backwoods feel and are great for dog walking, hiking, trail running, and mountain biking. Also in the canyon, I recommend hiking to the summit of Mt. Aire. Similar trails nearby include:

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