For those with an adventurous spirit, the Mule Hollow Mine Trail is waiting to be explored.
Like Indiana Jones, daring hikers can pursue the discovery of not-quite-ancient treasures — maybe even gold or silver, or at least evidence of a mining operation — by taking a seldom-used trail that requires creek crossings, bushwhacking and fighting off the natives (those being hungry mosquitoes and horseflies).
Even the less intrepid wanderers will find bounty in this hike, however. Situated at the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon, it’s invaluable for its proximity to most of Salt Lake City. It also offers a shaded canopy that makes it hikeable even on the afternoon of a 100-degree day. Perhaps its most cherished aspect, though, is its lack of traffic.
Those who make it to the top will be rewarded with the discovery of several old mines, from which silver, lead or possibly gold was excavated. I’ve seen reports that as many as four exist. Though I could only find one for sure, I was able to locate steel minecart tracks in a couple of locations as well as a place where a box-shaped form was cut out of the cliffside. To reach any of those artifacts required some bushwhacking and suffering a fair number of bug bites.
Even if they don’t make it to the top, smaller hikers will find adventure along the Mule Hollow Mine trail as well. In addition to getting to ford a stream in several places, which is why it’s best hiked between late June and October, (before water levels rise), they can keep a lookout for lizards, try to catch a butterfly and be bedazzled by the quartzite and other sparkling stones.
The Hike: Pick up the paved trail across from the bathrooms at the Storm Mountain Day Use area. After it crosses the dam, a spur trail takes off to the right. Follow it up some rough stairs to a clearing. Turn right, go back across the dam and head down the wide road alongside Big Cottonwood Creek. Go around the pole gate and cross to the other side of the lot (another parking option). The trail begins to climb up a dry riverbed to the left.
About a third of a mile up, you’ll come to a small creek. Rather than cross it, look for the trail to continue up the hill, though this will require climbing over a large fallen tree stump. About .6 miles in, the trail leads through the middle of the running creek. Just after that, a tree trunk appears to block the trail, but you can actually walk on or beside it. After a steep scramble, you’ll land on a wide clearing. The view across the canyon is worth the journey and the steel cart tracks on the other side of it are interesting. But, if you’ve come to see the mines, you’ll have to push your way through some overgrowth to the left of the landing and return to the dry creek bed. From here, a faint trail leads up (north), passing at least one mine and other remnants of a mining operation. The trail ends after another steep shale scramble. Return the way you came, remembering to keep a keen eye out for the trail and stick to the creek bed when you inevitably lose it.
Getting There: From I-215/ Belt Route, take exit 6 for 6200 South and follow it southeast. At the light, following signs to Solitude and Brighton, turn left onto state highway 190/Big Cottonwood Canyon Road. In 2.8 miles, turn left into the Storm Mountain Picnic Area. It costs $10 to park with up to eight people per car, but there is shade and access to bathrooms. Another option is to continue up highway 190 another .6 miles, where you’ll see a dirt parking lot on the left. This is where the trail begins and, though there are no amenities, it is free to park.
Mule Hollow Mine Trail
Region: Big Cottonwood Canyon
Destination: Several old mines and equipment
Distance: 3 miles
Time: 2 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,391 feet
Dog Allowed: No
Restrooms: Yes (flush)
Wheelchair accessible: No