Mill Creek Falls ("Left Hand")

Moab / Mill Creek Canyon, Utah, USA

About Mill Creek Falls (“Left Hand”)


Hiking Distance: 2 miles round trip; many creek crossings
Suggested Time: 60-75 minutes

Date first visited: 2017-04-20
Date last visited: 2017-04-20

Waterfall Latitude: 38.56421
Waterfall Longitude: -109.50348

Mill Creek Falls was an unexpected natural waterfall surprise that I hadn’t planned on visiting when we made a return trip to Moab 16 years after our first visit.

Waterfalls weren’t even on our minds as we had targeted the iconic natural arches and rock formations in both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park to incorporate in our itinerary.

Left_Hand_061_04202017 - Mill Creek Falls (also informally called 'Left Hand')
Mill Creek Falls (also informally called ‘Left Hand’)

However, that all changed when we saw that snow was still very present in the neighboring La Sal Mountains.

This made me realize that there had to have been waterfalls here given the quantity of snowmelt that was surely draining towards the slickrock paradise of Moab.

And so we made a spontaneous change of plans where I devoted some waterfalling time to look for a natural waterfall, and the photo you see above was the result of that search!

Mill Creek Falls was locally known as “Left Hand” probably because it was referring to the canyon carved out by the North Fork of Mill Creek, which was on the left hand side as opposed to the South Fork of Mill Creek on the right hand side.

Left_Hand_101_04202017 - Looking down at the context of Mill Creek Falls with quite a few people standing around the rim of the gorge
Looking down at the context of Mill Creek Falls with quite a few people standing around the rim of the gorge

It was a modestly-sized 30ft play waterfall where dozens of people were beating the heat (including a handful of people doing a cliff jump) as well as looking for petroglyphs!

For years, this place had been a local secret and wilderness study area on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands.

However, in recent years, word of mouth and inevitably the internet made this place a secret no more.

Hiking to Mill Creek Falls – the dry hiking part

In order to access the Mill Creek Falls, I started from the pretty well-established Mill Creek Trailhead, which was almost literally within the town limits of Moab (see directions below).

Left_Hand_008_04202017 - Context of a 'waterfall' created by a dam near the start of the hike to Mill Creek Falls
Context of a ‘waterfall’ created by a dam near the start of the hike to Mill Creek Falls

Then, I followed a pretty obvious dirt and sand trail (it looked like it had been a road) going past a couple of structures before reaching a dam spillway barely a quarter-mile into the hike.

There was a pretty tall “waterfall” at this dam, which enticed a handful of people content to just scramble to the bottom and cool off here, but this wasn’t the goal of the hike.

So as the trail narrowed to the right side of the dam, the trail then disappeared into Mill Creek just a short distance further upstream.

For this crossing, I was able to avoid getting wet by clinging to the ledge on the right of the creek.

Left_Hand_018_04202017 - Upstream from the man-made dam waterfall, this was a part of Mill Creek where I had a choice of keeping right to stay dry or just wading right through
Upstream from the man-made dam waterfall, this was a part of Mill Creek where I had a choice of keeping right to stay dry or just wading right through

However, it could be just as easy to have water shoes and wade right through the creek and resume the trail hiking further upstream.

The dry hiking resumed as the Mill Creek Canyon remained pretty wide open while flanked by shrubbery.

There was a signed fork in the trail where the left side was a brief detour following along Mill Creek in a somewhat narrow and overgrown trail before rejoining the main, sandy trail.

Continuing on the main trail, the canyon walls quickly closed in and the path followed along the base of the north-facing cliffs.

Left_Hand_036_04202017 - People crossing the creek right at the confluence of the North Fork and the South Fork of Mill Creek to continue up the North Fork (i.e. the canyon on the 'Left Hand')
People crossing the creek right at the confluence of the North Fork and the South Fork of Mill Creek to continue up the North Fork (i.e. the canyon on the ‘Left Hand’)

Eventually, the trail reached a stream crossing at the confluence of both North Fork (“Left Hand”) and South Fork (“Right Hand”) of Mill Creek at about 0.5 miles from the dam.

Hiking to Mill Creek Falls – hiking and wading up the North Fork (“Left Hand”) Canyon

While it might be possible to look for a way to stay dry while doing this creek crossing, I’ve found it was easier to not fight it and just wade across.

The water was about shin deep when I did it in late April 2017 so it was a good thing that I came prepared with Keens and not ruining a good pair of hiking boots.

Now the trail continued along the North Fork Canyon (i.e. the “Left Hand” canyon) and made at least three more crossings of the North Fork of Mill Creek.

Left_Hand_115_04202017 - One of the handful of crossings of Mill Creek forcing me to get wet. This one was roughly knee-deep or thigh-deep
One of the handful of crossings of Mill Creek forcing me to get wet. This one was roughly knee-deep or thigh-deep

I recalled that one of the crossings was almost as deep as knee- to thigh-deep.

Given the quantity and depth of the creek crossings as well as the narrow width of the canyon, it made me think about the possible flash flood danger.

This can especially be an issue should a Summer monsoon thunderstorm quickly dump rain further upstream and the creek would quickly swell in this area.

There was no threat of it during my Spring Break visit, but it was definitely something to keep in mind as the thunderstorm threat would grow in the hotter months of Summer.

Left_Hand_075_04202017 - Finally making it to Mill Creek Falls, which was very busy on the day of my visit in April 2017
Finally making it to Mill Creek Falls, which was very busy on the day of my visit in April 2017

Anyways, it was otherwise a pretty straightforward hike for the remaining 0.3 miles before arriving at the Mill Creek Falls.

This was where the canyon had boxed itself in and I was literally surrounded by tall cliffs in a scene that was part scenic wonder and part swimming hole playground.

This overall hike was about a mile in each direction (2 miles round trip) taking me roughly 30-45 minutes in each direction (roughly 90 minutes away from the car).

Hiking to Mill Creek Falls – accessing the top of the waterfall

As an added bonus, it was possible to get up to the top of Mill Creek Falls.

Left_Hand_085_04202017 - Looking up towards a section where it was possible to climb the slickrock above the floor of the North Fork Canyon to access the top of Mill Creek Falls
Looking up towards a section where it was possible to climb the slickrock above the floor of the North Fork Canyon to access the top of Mill Creek Falls

However, in order to do that, I needed to backtrack on the trail before taking one of several informal paths leading to a pretty steep slickrock climb.

At the top of the climb, I then followed a ledge eventually leading to the top of the Mill Creek Falls while also offering a different perspective of the waterfall and canyon themselves.

It looked like it was possible to continue hiking beyond the falls and further along into the North Fork of Mill Creek Canyon, but I only went as far as the waterfall.

By the way, this path was how people were able to get around the brink of the falls to do a pretty risky cliff jump to the somewhat shallow plunge pool at the base of its falls.

Left_Hand_087_04202017 - Looking ahead at the slickrock ledge leading to the top of Mill Creek Falls
Looking ahead at the slickrock ledge leading to the top of Mill Creek Falls

In other words, you better know what you’re doing if you’re going to do the cliff jump.

Otherwise, you’re just asking for broken bones or even paralysis and death.

Hiking to Mill Creek Falls – the optional pursuit of petroglyphs

Finally, I was made aware that there were petroglyphs in the canyon.

However, I only managed to scramble up to a rock panel that had faint etchings of animals.

Left_Hand_110_04202017 - This was some etchings that I happened to see during my April 2017 visit of 'Left Hand'. To be honest, I don't know if these were genuine or if they were merely modern vandalism trying to fake people out
This was some etchings that I happened to see during my April 2017 visit of ‘Left Hand’. To be honest, I don’t know if these were genuine or if they were merely modern vandalism trying to fake people out

I wasn’t sure if they were legitimate Ute petroglyphs or just modern vandalism.

From looking at the literature out there, the ones I saw were nothing like the more obvious petroglyphs that might look like the ones behind the Wolfe Ranch on the Delicate Arch Trail in Arches National Park.

I was told that you need to know GPS coordinates or have someone in the know show you, but their whereabouts were intentionally not revealed to help minimize the chances of vandalism.

In fact, it has been said that Mill Creek Canyon itself was being loved to death given the higher visitor numbers.

Left_Hand_125_04202017 - On my way back from Mill Creek Falls, I noticed some people scrambling up to some kind of cove or cave, which got me curious about whether there were petroglyphs or pictographs there, but I didn't pursue it on this visit
On my way back from Mill Creek Falls, I noticed some people scrambling up to some kind of cove or cave, which got me curious about whether there were petroglyphs or pictographs there, but I didn’t pursue it on this visit

So it may have to become a fee area in order to fund the maintenance, personnel, and infrastructure required to support large quantities of people while maintaining the character of the canyon itself.

When I visited, there was no fee collected, and in my experiences, urban blight would inevitably occur in such “free” places.

Thus, I’m sure accessibility will inevitably change as there is greater awareness concerning the impacts of visitation here (something to be mindful when you make your visit).

Authorities

Mill Creek Falls resides in the Mill Creek Canyon Wilderness Study Area in the town of Moab in Grand County, Utah. It is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Left_Hand_005_04202017 - The trail (that also looked like a former road) leading towards Mill Creek near the start
Left_Hand_010_04202017 - Approaching a man-made waterfall due to a dam holding up or controlling part of Mill Creek near the start of the hike to Left Hand
Left_Hand_011_04202017 - Closer look at the waterfall resulting from the dam's spillway on the Mill Creek Falls hike
Left_Hand_014_04202017 - The Left Hand Trail continued to the right of the dam
Left_Hand_023_04202017 - After the dam and the interlude with Mill Creek, it was mostly dry hiking for the first half-mile or so as the trail followed along Mill Creek in a mostly wide open canyon
Left_Hand_027_04202017 - The trail to Mill Creek Falls continuing to follow along Mill Creek in the wide and sun-exposed part of the hike
Left_Hand_029_04202017 - Eventually, Mill Creek Canyon quickly started to close in, and that was when the trail would cross Mill Creek much more often
Left_Hand_032_04202017 - Looking towards the context of Mill Creek and the surrounding canyon cliffs as the canyon continued to close in
Left_Hand_034_04202017 - The trail to Mill Creek Falls now followed along the base of the cliffs, which provided some welcome shade from the midday sun
Left_Hand_035_04202017 - This signed stream crossing kept us on Left Hand (North Fork Mill Creek) as opposed to following the South Fork of Mill Creek on the Right Hand
Left_Hand_036_04202017 - Another creek crossing on the Left Hand Trail in pursuit of Mill Creek Falls
Left_Hand_037_04202017 - Closer look at a couple of guys making the crossing of Mill Creek at its confluence between the North Fork and South Fork (or Left Hand and Right Hand)
Left_Hand_116_04202017 - Another crossing of Mill Creek on the way to Mill Creek Falls
Left_Hand_038_04202017 - This was the last of the major stream crossings of North (Left) Fork Mill Creek, and as you can see, it was thigh deep in spots
Left_Hand_039_04202017 - Continuing the hike in Left Hand Canyon just as we were flanked by tall cliffs on both sides en route to Mill Creek Falls
Left_Hand_041_04202017 - Finally approaching Mill Creek Falls, and as you can see there was already quite a gathering here
Left_Hand_044_04202017 - Directly looking across the plunge pool at Mill Creek Falls
Left_Hand_046_04202017 - Contextual look at Mill Creek Falls with a couple of people standing near its brink for a sense of scale
Left_Hand_050_04202017 - More contextual look at Mill Creek Falls. The girl standing on the cliff edge on the right was contemplating whether to do the cliff jump
Left_Hand_065_04202017 - Enjoying the festive atmosphere at Mill Creek Falls
Left_Hand_078_04202017 - Lots of people frolicking in the large plunge pool at the base of Mill Creek Falls
Left_Hand_089_04202017 - The Left Fork Mill Creek Canyon was scenic in its own right, and being at the higher vantage point allowed me to better appreciate it. This was looking further upstream from the Mill Creek Falls
Left_Hand_094_04202017 - Context of Mill Creek Falls from the higher perspective
Left_Hand_097_04202017 - Looking down into the plunge pool before Mill Creek Falls providing a sense of how high up I was, and how scary it would be to try to shortcut (i.e. jump) down into the canyon
Left_Hand_103_04202017 - Closer look at loads of people gathered around the brink of Mill Creek Falls
Left_Hand_107_04202017 - Looking at some of the wildflowers blooming along the Mill Creek Falls hike
Left_Hand_112_04202017 - Looking across the canyon towards some cliffs where I wondered if other petroglyphs can be found there
Left_Hand_114_04202017 - While looking for petroglyphs,
Left_Hand_117_04202017 - Continuing the return hike from Mill Creek Falls back to the trailhead after giving up on my search for more petroglyphs
Left_Hand_119_04202017 - The return hike was delightfully shadier than on the way in to Mill Creek Falls
Left_Hand_129_04202017 - Following a fairly large group back towards the Mill Creek Canyon Trailhead after having had our fill of the Mill Creek Falls
Left_Hand_130_04202017 - Continuing to follow a group of hikers back to the trailhead parking for Mill Creek
Left_Hand_131_04202017 - A wise saying painted on the shed flanking the Mill Creek Trail

join-booking-970x240-1.jpg


To reach Mill Creek Falls from Main Street (US191) in downtown Moab, I turned left onto E Center St and followed this street for about 0.4 miles before turning right onto S 400 E Street.

Then, I followed this street for another 0.4 miles before turning left onto Mill Creek Drive.

Left_Hand_003_04202017 - Looking back towards the unpaved parking lot at the trailhead for Mill Creek Canyon
Looking back towards the unpaved parking lot at the trailhead for Mill Creek Canyon

I then continued driving on Mill Creek Drive for the next mile (keeping right at 0.5 miles to remain on the road and avoiding Sandy Flats Rd) before I then turned left to go onto Powerhouse Lane.

I followed Powerhouse Lane to its end 0.6 miles later, where there was a parking area for Mill Creek.

The last 0.3 miles of this drive was on well-used unpaved road.

Note that it was also possible to drive directly on Mill Creek Drive from the US191 when approaching Moab from the south.

Left_Hand_132_04202017 - Context of the parking lot at the trailhead for Mill Creek Canyon and some toilet facility by it
Context of the parking lot at the trailhead for Mill Creek Canyon and some toilet facility by it

If you go this way, then Powerhouse Lane was just under a mile on your right from the US191.

For geographical context, the town of Moab was about 113 miles (under 2 hours drive) west of Grand Junction, Colorado, 54 miles (under an hour drive) north of Monticello, 234 miles (over 3.5 hours drive) southeast of Salt Lake City, 339 miles (under 5 hours drive) northeast of St George, and 725 miles (over 10 hours drive) northeast of Los Angeles.

Sweep checking out the base of the falls from a couple of different spots


360 degree sweep from the upper ledge looking down at the falls and the people surrounding it both on top and bottom


Sweep checking out the artificial waterfall on Mill Creek near the car park

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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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