Hiking Southern Utah: Mill Canyon Trail
Trail Name: Mill Canyon Trail
Location: Pine Valley Mountains
Length: 10 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: approximately 1,500 feet
The Mill Canyon Trail is a spectacular hike in the Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness that leads through a narrow canyon lined with towering crags, a rich forest of fir and aspen (particularly beautiful in fall), and a seasonal stream. With the fall colors peaking and winter’s snow right around the corner, this is the perfect time to visit this isolated corner of the Pine Valley Mountains.
Access: To find the trailhead for the Mill Canyon Trail, drive north 22.7 miles from the junction of Bluff Street and St. George Boulevard. At the town of Central, turn right onto East Center Street-Pine Valley Highway east. Drive for just under seven miles until Forest Service Road 011 is reached. Turn left and continue for 4.3 miles. At a signed junction, turn right onto Forest Service Road 255, and follow it for a little less than 1.5 miles until it ends at the parking lot for the Mill Canyon and White Rocks trails.
The rocks, combined with the dense forest and the intermittent stream, give the place a magical atmosphere.
The rocks, combined with the dense forest and the intermittent stream, give the place a magical atmosphere. The trail begins by heading due east, following a fence line belonging to the nearby ranch. Walk east for approximately 0.75 miles to where the path reaches the junction with the White Rocks Trail. Take the right-hand fork, which abruptly jogs south. Continue hiking as the path gradually curves back towards the east. In about 0.6 miles, the trail will enter the canyon proper. From here, the trail increases in beauty and ruggedness, following the canyon floor. The stream at the bottom of the canyon is often little more than a trickle, but in late spring it can sustain a more consistent flow.
The trail, while narrow and brush-lined, is easy to follow and maintains a fairly even pace of ascent, although there are occasional steps where its steepness increases. Towering cliffs and crags line both sides of the canyon, and the trail maneuvers around the occasional boulder. The rocks, combined with the dense forest and the intermittent stream, give the place a magical atmosphere. With the canyon as narrow as it is, it does not receive a lot of direct sun. Hiking in the Pine Valley Mountains is a completely different experience than the nearby desert. The scent of wet pine and the feel of moisture is reminiscent of hiking in the Northwest.
At around the four-mile mark, the trail turns south again and begins to make a more earnest ascent up the canyon. Look for the remnants of the old mill equipment on the east side of the trail. This was once a heavily logged area back in the late 1800s. There are an old boiler and scattered parts of other equipment here.
The aspens are a brilliant splash of color if timed right, and combining that with the verdant green of the firs and the craggy splendor of the surrounding peaks makes this a spot one wants to linger in for a long time.
The last mile of the trail before Mill Flats is definitely the most challenging, with about 500 feet of elevation gain in that stretch. The final flat section before the flats passes through a dying forest of ghostly fir snags (victims of a previous fire) and young aspen trees rising to fill in the void.
Upon arriving at Mill Flats, a grassy meadow with a small stream running through its center, all the toil and work to get here seems worth it, especially if you are visiting in autumn. The aspens are a brilliant splash of color if timed right, and combining that with the verdant green of the firs and the craggy splendor of the surrounding peaks makes this a spot one wants to linger in for a long time. It is truly spectacular, and makes for an excellent spot to eat lunch or, if one has the time and inclination, to make a backpacking base camp. Several trails branch out from here, allowing for a multi-day exploration of the vast Pine Valley Mountains.
When ready, return back down the trail for the long walk back to the parking area.