Mill Creek Waterfall and Rock Art

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 2 - 8 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation: 4237 - 4354 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 3 hrs.
Trailhead: Mill Creek
Fee: none
Attractions: Swimming, rock art




The Mill Creek trail is located near the southeast edge of the town of Moab, Utah. The trail follows the banks of Mill Creek where numerous swimming holes draw both locals and visitors to its cool waters. Just over 1 mile from the trailhead is the Mill Creek Waterfall where a plunge pool entices many a jumper from the overhanging cliff above the water. The canyon along Mill Creek shows the signs of many of its ancient inhabitants who left their marks upon the canyons walls in the form of numerous petroglyphs and pictographs. This post follows the trail up the north branch of the canyon past the waterfall to one of the main panels of rock art that sits in an alcove above the creek.




To get to the trailhead from Highway 191 in Moab turn east on Center Street. At present there isn't a restroom at the trailhead so consider stopping at the Visitor Center, which is at the corner of Center Street and Main, and use the facilities there. Drive east for 4 blocks and turn right on 400 East. Stay on 400 East to Millcreek Drive and turn left there. There is a convenience store named Dave's Corner Market at the turn. Continue east for a short distance and turn right again to stay on Millcreek Drive. The road straight ahead at this point leads to the Slickrock Area of Sand Flats. Stay on Millcreek Drive as it heads south and turn left on Power House Lane. The pavement will end after a short distance but keep driving to the trailhead at the end of the road less than a half mile away.


There are several side trails that lead towards the creek as you leave the parking area. These all lead to various swimming holes that are popular for families with small children looking for a place to cool off and have a picnic. The main trail keeps heading up the creek toward the old power plant spillway in the photo which as you can imagine is another great place to play in the water.


To continue up the canyon to the waterfall stay just to the right of the spillway and follow the trail past the pipe rack that says 'No bicycles beyond this point'.


At this point you get to decide whether you would like to wade in the creek or try your traction out on the uneven slickrock.


Another side trail comes up that has a marker directing traffic to the right. The trail to the left leads across the creek to an old rockshelter.


The canyon gets narrower and the trail becomes more confined by rocks and shrubs as you proceed around the next corner. Keep an eye out for the poison ivy which grows in abundance through here. Avoid brushing up against it even if you are wearing pants because once the oil gets on something it ends up getting transferred to other places like your car seats.


At some point you are going to have to relent and get your feet at least a little wet. If you came to swim at the falls then its no big deal but if all you are doing is hiking you might want to wear something appropriate on your feet or maybe bring some trekking poles so you can try your skill at staying on the rocks.


If you are coming to swim at the waterfall be sure to check out the pool to find the shallow spots before jumping off of the cliff and remember to never ever jump in head first. To get past the waterfall and continue up the canyon you will need to backtrack a couple of hundred feet or so and look for a spot on the north side of the canyon where you can climb up on the bench above the creek. It is the same route many of the kids are taking to get above the falls to jump into the water or watch their friends make the leap.


As you hike up the creek you may have already noticed quite a few petroglyphs on both sides of the canyon. An alcove a little past the waterfall has a good assortment of both pictographs (painted) and petroglyphs (pecked). To get up to them you have to try out your traction on the slickrock.


We highlighted some of the faint images on the computer to make them easier to see. This is only a small sample of some that are there. The red and white images are the original colors that the pictographs were painted. We used the orange color to highlight various petroglyphs that were etched on the cliff and never actually had any paint applied to them. While exploring the area you will find petroglyphs on many of the boulders as well as several metates that were used for grinding grain. Please be careful to not do anything that would damage the images in any way including making chalk outlines or even touching them with your hands.


On one of the boulders you can see where someone tried to chisel one of the images off the rock. All they managed to do was to ruin it. If you notice any such activity be sure to report it. It is also illegal to dig around archaeological sites or to remove items from them.


For the most part the pictographs are Barrier Canyon style carrot men and such. The trapezoidal anthropomorphic images are Fremont style petroglyphs. If you look down low directly across the canyon you will see some more petroglyphs that are well worth getting a closer look at.


Some idiot left a lot of pot marks from shooting at the panel. There are more images than this that are included in the slideshow at the end of this post.


Sadly as we were leaving Search and Rescue was arriving on the scene along with a local ambulance. Someone swimming at the waterfall had an unfortunate accident.


For this post we only hiked as far as the alcove petroglyphs. There is much more of the canyon to explore that we didn't have time for. On the day of our visit the temperature was in the 90's F and most of the people that were there had come to play in the water. There were still a good number of hikers that had come to explore the canyon. Whatever will draw you to Mill Creek we are sure you won't leave disappointed. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.