Mill Creek Canyon – North Fork
Swimming holes, rock art and shady cottonwoods, all within two miles of downtown Moab.
After a hot and dusty hike in Arches or Canyonlands, there’s no better place to cool off than Mill Creek Canyon. It’s a big favourite with the local kids and it’s easy to see why.
The trailhead is southeast of downtown. Make your way to Mill Creek Drive and turn east on Powerhouse Lane and after about 1/2 mile you’ll arrive at the large parking area. The first 10 minutes on the trail is unspectacular until you reach the dam on your left with the creek. This is the first swimming opportunity and you can scramble down or, as many kids do, jump off. That looks dangerous to me! Carry on. It gets better after you enter the canyon, though as the trail constricts you need to watch out for Poison Oak. There’s plenty here but the path is always wide enough for you to avoid it. Mill Creek is a shallow perennial stream and you’ll need to cross it a couple of times to get to the next swimming hole, though you can just hike up the stream. If you go that way you will come across a large boulder on your right with some rock art.
It’s not long after the first dam before you need to bear left into the North Fork and shortly you'll arrive at a 20 foot high waterfall tumbling into a deep swimming hole. To get around this obstacle you’ll need to scramble up around the left hand side of it. At the top there’s also a shallow pool by a cottonwood stand where you can cool off your feet. You can opt to stay here as many do or walk on for another 20 minutes or so, leaving the stream on your right hand side for a while until you’ll reach the best swimming opportunity in the canyon, where there are rarely any other visitors. Here with dense cottonwood shade on one side and high cliff walls on the other, is a 30 yard long pool, shallow at one end, deep at the other. You can swim to a shallow waterfall at the far end, scramble up its right hand side and explore around the next bend in the stream. Here you’ll find another small fall in the guise of a narrow waterslide.. Kids love this part.
The water is cool enough in summer to refresh you and warm enough to stay in for some serious fun. It’s also a beautiful, restful spot – perfect for kicking back, closing your eyes and listening to the sound of the water in the creek. And it’s difficult to believe Moab is such a short distance away.
On the way back to your car from the final swimming hole, bear left, crossing the stream (or walk the stream), and look out for some great Fremont petroglyphs on the canyon walls. They’re some of the better ones you’ll see.