The Wasatch Crest Trail is the pinnacle of mountain bike trails in the Salt Lake City area. This high-altitude romp hovers around 10,000 feet and is sure to please all riders with its stout initial climb, curvaceous singletrack, technical rock sections, log drops and fun descents through thick aspens. There’s no question that this is one of the most popular trails in the area and rightly so.

Over the years, this trail has been very good to me personally, but has also been the cause of some casualties amongst friends.  A pogo landing sent one of my partners to the hospital with a nasty concussion. A tire caught in a rut and snagged on the side of the trail broke a collarbone and tore up another friend’s shoulder. A missed turn sent another over the bars and down a steep slope. And, today… I’m just grateful all I got was a pinch-flat!

Desolation Lake from the Wasatch Crest Trail

The Climb Up Puke Hill

Getting started on the Crest Trail leaves no time for warmup. The initial climb is relentless and aptly-named “Puke Hill” by many.  This is a very steep climb up nearly 1000 vertical feet on a dirt road. The road is well-packed and provides good tread grip throughout, but it is relentless.

I felt pretty strong today on the Niner RIP 9 and mashed out the climb to the top without stopping. I was pretty stoked about that and glad to have cleaned it after a 3-year personal hiatus from the Crest.

Trail traffic today was fairly light. A few hikers, some trail runners training for the Wasatch 100 and a handful of mountain bikers, but overall pretty light for a late-summer lazy Saturday morning.

Mill D Canyon near Desolation Lake - Rich Lambert

The Winding Ribbon of Singletrack

Once on the Crest, the trail intersperses fun singletrack with several small climbs just to keep you honest. Upon arrival at The Spine, we saw a couple of bikers scoping it out from the top. We zipped by and dismounted just as things get sketchy–opting to keep our flesh intact and our wives happy. A look back and the two gawkers were making the attempt… unsuccessfully.

My days of cleaning The Spine are over, but I can proudly say I have cleaned the whole thing once, back in the day on my 2002 Turner RFX before I was married and before I had kids. Times have changed and I’m not taking any chances with this little number anytime soon.

The Descent Down Mill D

Just before the initial switchback-laden drop to Desolation Lake and into Mill D Canyon, I let some air out of my tires for extra traction.  Apparently, I was a little heavy-handed in releasing air out of the rear tire because just as I dropped into the Desolation Lake basin, the last rocky section took its toll.  Sccchhhhhhhhhhhhh… I looked down and my rear tire was flopping around–the dreaded pinchflat!

Just a few weeks prior, I had stopped at a local shop (Canyon Bicycles in Draper) to pick up a 29er tube, but all they had were Schraeder valves and a whole lot of them just sitting there.  Apparently, the tube buyer didn’t bother to notice that not many 29er rims run Shraeder valves. And, you could always run Presta valves on any rim, but you can’t always run a Schraeder. On top of that, they were ridiculously-priced at $9 for a standard tube. </rant>  So, I opted for a patch kit instead, which came in handy as I quickly patched both holes and we were back on track.

Mill D Canyon - Rich Lambert Winding Through the Trees

Winding down to the trailhead, the trail meanders through meadows, thick aspen glades and across a few creekbeds.  The highlight of the descent comes in the form of the myriad of nicely-spaced log drops and rocks that act as launching pads.

We had a blast and the trail was in great shape–just dusty after the long, not summer.  This is definitely one of the most fun shuttle rides in the area when you don’t have a lot of time or are riding on an odd day (Mill Creek Canyon is only open to mountain bikes on even days). 1200 vertical feet of climbing with nearly 3000 vertical feet of descending makes for a good workout and a blast of a descent.

Mill D Canyon off the Wasatch Crest Trail - Jason Mitchell

A Note About Save Our Canyons

Apparently, Save Our Canyons is getting a little overzealous and wants to designate Mill D as a wilderness area–thus making it off limits to mountain bikers. Should this happen, mountain bikers will no longer have any loop ride options off the Crest unless they drop into the Park City side, or ride on even days only. I’m all for protecting the beautiful Wasatch, but there is no reason why this trail should be permanently closed to mountain bike traffic. Get involved with IMBA, URMB or other advocacy groups and speak your mind. Hopefully we don’t lose Mill D.

About Author

A Seattle native, Jason developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 --sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.


  1. The Wasatch Mountain Club and the International Mountain Biking Association, both eager to assure bikers’ access to popular trails, have endorsed SOC’s Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection initiative, which would preserve bicycle access to the Mill D north trail. This has been the result of negotiations extending over many years. Seemingly irreconcilable differences can sometimes be bridged. Congratulations to everyone who made this happen.

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