Way to the top
A popular and well-maintained recreation trail in the Manti-LaSal National Forest may challenge the stamina of many hikers, but it ultimately rewards with beautiful scenery and amazing mountain vistas.
It begins at milepost 26 of the Huntington Canyon Scenic Byway (SR-31) aside the banks of Huntington Creek. A small metal bridge spanning creek serves as an unmistakable landmark for drivers searching for the beginning of the trail.
A wide spot near the shoulder of the eastbound lane provides for adequate parking and makes a great place to prepare for the journey that awaits. It's a physically challenging route with an elevation gain of more than 2,000 feet over the course of just a few miles, so taking food and water is an absolute necessity. And for some, bringing a walking pole or two might not be a bad idea.
As it is a high elevation trail, snow can impede access to the upper parts of the trail, especially from November to June.
Like many other recreation trails in the national forest, all motorized vehicles - including ATVs and motorcycles - are currently prohibited from traveling it. In fact, the bridge itself is guarded with obstacles that effectively prevent two-track vehicles from crossing to the other side of the creek. But, in contrast, horses are allowed, and indeed, it is not uncommon to see riders travel this way.
The journey really begins by crossing the quaint little bridge, which sets the proper tone for the naturalistic hike that lies ahead.
On the opposite side near a tall conifer tree, a wooden sign reads "Mill Canyon Trail no. 063". If there is any sign that the hiker is on the right track, this is certainly it.
Not far beyond, the trail traverses a small meadow dotted with all kinds of brush and several large stones. It is a very distinct and well defined path as it heads towards the ravine to the west, into the heart of Mill Canyon, where it works its way up a gradual incline and into the trees.
The canyon begins to narrow significantly, and the trail squeezes between two horizontal wood poles that help keep the trail solid, dry and firm. Here the trail turns hard to the right, and begins to ascend sharply up the hillside, weaving between a grove of aspen trees.
From this point on, it is clear that this doesn't make for a casual evening stroll. The elevation gains are pretty stark, climbing approximately 1,000 feet in elevation per mile hiked.
As the trail quickly climbs higher and higher, and the route becomes exceedingly harder, the aspen trees quickly become the subject of much delight, giving the tired hiker something to brace against before taking on the next stretch of trail ahead.
Hikers will approach a split in the trail near a grove of conifer trees. The left fork, presumably for horses, simply bypasses a dead tree that has become suspended across the trail.
There are a multitude of different fauna and flora that the hiker is likely to encounter along the way. Most notable are the quaking aspen that jut high into the sky, and prickly conifer trees that are scattered along the vast mountainside. There's also an accolade of flora and fauna of all shapes, colors and sizes that canvass the terrain. Wild mushrooms even dot the trail here and there.
As the journey progresses, the trail meanders back and forth along the steep mountainside, turning sharply from one direction to another. At a few turns, the word "turn" (along with an arrow) has been marked on the trees, pointing travelers in the right direction.
Near the top, a break in the trees exposes the breadth of Huntington Canyon in the distance. Such great sights like these continue throughout much of the remainder of the trail, especially along the tops of Candland Mountain itself. It becomes evident how tall these mountain ridges are, towering over the highway far below.
And while the sights are certainly welcome, so are the smells. The scent of pine and the perfume of many wildflowers in the clear mountain air make the experience all the more enjoyable - at least so long as the many pollenating bees and insects don't get in the way!
At an elevation of more than 9,800 feet and an elevation gain from the canyon bottom that exceeds 1,700 feet, the Mill Canyon Trail ends at the top of the canyon near the mountain ridge. Many hikers may opt to stop here, enjoy the view for a moment, and then turn around.
But the journey doesn't have to end here. The Mill Canyon Trail is actually a part of a larger route referred to as the Candland Mountain Loop by many. The Candland Loop follows the ridge line of Candland Mountain to the south, peaking at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet, just two and a half miles north of Seeley Peak. Along this route, Miller's Flat and Hog Flat become visible, making for some stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Eventually the trail descends into Left Fork Huntington Canyon. Many ambitious hikers trek the entire 9.1 miles, from the bridge near Mill Fork Canyon all the way to the campground at the mouth of Left Fork Huntington Canyon. This section of trail is known for its beauty as well as its good fishing.
Because this loop interconnects with other foot trails, as well as an old jeep road, traversing the trail without getting lost becomes a trick. Junctions along this section of the loop can be confusing. Hikers should be prepared with adequate directions in order to safely navigate the loop.
Hikers should also be mindful that the route through Left Fork Huntington Canyon is a designated National Recreation Trail, and as such, has different restrictions than the Mill Canyon segment.