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Mill Creek Canyon North Fork

While Mill Creek Canyon is a great place to go swimming and get a respite from the heat of summer, the canyon also holds an amazing amount of petroglyphs and two arches.

Mill Creek North Fork 15
Like Faux Falls, this is where Moab locals go to cool off during the summer. However, you can explore beyond the waterfall and swimming holes to see the many alcoves in the canyon walls with ancient rock art.
One particular large alcove, located about half a mile above the waterfall, is fascinating for the hundreds of images you can find and the metates carved in the rock where the ancient ones ground their corn.


  • Water runs year-round, considered the “locals’ swimming hole”. In Summer, be prepared to see possibly hundreds of people here on the weekends. 
  • The first swimming area at the waterfall can get busy, but continue another 3/4 mile to a quieter area with another deep pool, which would also be good for swimming and fewer people will be there.
  • Dogs off-leash
  • Minimum of 3 shallow stream crossings, dress appropriately for wet feet
  • A large quantity of ancient rock art can be found in the canyon
Getting there
From Moab head south on HWY 191, and turn Left on E 300 S. Turn right on Fourth St., then left on Mill Creek Dr. At the first stop sign turn right to continue on Mill Creek Rd. Drive 0.5 miles, then turn left onto Powerhouse Lane, which will turn into a dirt road. Drive to the very end to the parking lot.
Parking ( 38.561802, -109.517002 )
A large dirt parking lot

Mill Creek North Fork parking lot

1.6  miles total out and back, 440 feet of elevation gain (Mills Creek Falls)
4.5 mile total out and back, 1050 feet of elevation gain (Cliffhandle Arch)
7.5 mile total out and back, 1500 feet of elevation gain (Otho Natural Bridge)

Mill Creek North Fork MAP

From the parking lot head down the dirt road past the small brown building heading toward the dam.
At the dam ignore the trail heading uphill to your right, that is a bike trail. Continue straight ahead to the dam and look for the small metal sign with “no bikes beyond this point” which marks the entrance to the path to follow.

The dam at Mill Creek North Fork

Just past the dam, you can either make your way along the steep rocks to the right of the water or just walk through the shallow water upstream. You will end up crossing the stream a minimum of 3 times ahead so now is as good a time as any to get your feet wet.

The first choice of getting your feet wet or not

About 0.3 miles in you will come to a junction with a smaller trail taking off to the left. You can continue on the main trail or take this side trail that runs closer to the creek but will meet back up at the main trail in about 200 yards.
Whichever trail you take, when you reach the junction where they meet again look to your left over the stream, look for the caves with rock walls in their openings near the mouth of the canyon that were used by settlers for shelter and storage. 

Mill Creek trail sign

At 0.5 miles the canyon curves to the right. Look up at the shallow alcove to see petroglyphs pecked into the dark desert patina covering the interior of the alcove. A camera with a zoom lens or binoculars will help you get a better view.

The first location for rock art in Mill Creek North ForkRock art

The sandy sheltered part of the trail

When you arrive at the convergence of the two canyons this is the first water crossing, followed quickly by the 2nd and the 3rd. At the second water crossing you have the option of just walking in the stream up to the third water crossing. 

The first main water crossing

Rocks next to the stream with rock art (.6 miles from the parking lot) ( 38.564044, -109.506575 )
At the second water crossing look up to the right on a small ledge you will see multiple boulders with rock art. 

Look up to see these boulders with rock art all over themClose up of the boulders

Waterfall / Swimming hole
You should soon start to hear the waterfall, and will shortly arrive at the spectacular main swimming hole at the waterfall.

The waterfall and first swiming hole in Mill Creek North Fork Moab

To continue past the falls, you have to double back 200-300 ft on the main trail, look to your right as you walk back down the canyon and you’ll come to an obvious trail junction that you might not have noticed on the way up.
Take this trail, it will immediately start climbing the rocks and eventually get you above the waterfall. 

The bypass trail for the waterfall

Small Alcove
But stop to see some rock art on the way. As soon as you stop climbing and reach the flat ledge stop, look immediately to your left at the alcove above you. There are some faint but interesting rock art along with unfortunately graffiti you can easily climb up to see.

Small alcove in Mill Creek Canyon with rock artSmall alcove rock art

After the small alcove, keep going passing the waterfall and swimming hole below you and to your right. The area just above the falls makes a nice place to take a break, the stream makes a pleasant couple of s-turns into a pool just above the falls.

second swiming hole above the waterfall

When you are ready to leave this area start walking up the canyon and stay on the left side of the stream on small sandy trails. 

The sandy trail heading up the canyon

Large Alcove (0.9 miles from the parking lot) ( 38.565427, -109.501078 ) 
You will soon come to a rocky area, you should start to see a very large alcove above and to the left. The easiest route up is on the right end of the alcove, zigzagging your way up the slickrock. 

The route to the large alcove

This area is filled with rock art. While exploring the area you will find petroglyphs on many of the boulders as well as several large metates carved into the tops of large rocks that were used for grinding grain. Many of the flat top boulders have designs carved in them.

View of the large alcove

Rock art in the large alcove

Across from this alcove are more petroglyphs.

Mill Creek North Fork 5

From the large alcove keep heading up the canyon on the trail on the left side of the stream, you can see a parallel trail on the opposite side of the stream. The canyon quickly beings to widen with towering walls with dark striped water stains running down the cliff faces. On the other side of the canyon are different very large cave-like alcoves with steep sloping floors in them.

The Pool (1.3 miles from the parking lot)

Ahead in about 0.3 miles, you will end up at a pool that might stop your progress further up the canyon. In order to avoid this obstacle, you have to decide soon what action to take.

Mill Creek North Fork

Mill creek canyon pool map

You have 3 options (wade, bypass, or climb)
  1. Wade
    In summer you can wade/swim through the pool and climb the small waterfall at the far end (not much of an option in winter). If you want to do this continue on the canyon bottom path. You will walk through a cactus garden.  You will see the pool just a little bit further. ( 38.568189, -109.496033 )

  2. Bypass
    Continue a little further and walk up a large slick rock ramp at ( 38.565943, -109.497625 ). This will take you high up on the canyon on the left on a ledge with some exposure and bypass you around the pool.

    The slick rock ramp detour optionThe slick rock ramp detour option

    The detour path ledge high above the canyon on the left wallThe bypass path ledge high above the canyon on the left wall

  3. Climb
    The third option is to continue to the pool and look just before you reach the pool on your left for the small cave with a small tree in front of it. Where the tree is you can climb up the rock face (using the tree as an aid). This will take you to where the bypass trail will bring you to. However, if you are with a dog, you will not be able to get your dog up this climb without a rope and a harness.


Past the pool
About 0.4 miles past the pool look for pictographs in a low alcove on the north side of the canyon. Here you will find red handprints and a few other figures.

Around the 2.0-mile mark the canyon curves to the southeast. As you navigate the curve, look for a short slot canyon along the north wall. Climb slickrock ledges to explore the slot and a nearby alcove devoid of rock art. 
The next half mile is a scenic section of the canyon with soaring sandstone walls. This is a good turnaround point.
You can continue up the canyon to Cliffhandle Arch ( 38.567888, -109.483164 ) and its 40-foot span and even further to Otho Natural Bridge ( 38.554575, -109.467114 ) (3.8 miles from the parking lot) with its 75-foot span
Cliff handle arch

Otho arch

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