Cross Country Ski for Free at Saw Mill in American Fork Canyon
A fun winter activity for people of just about any ability is cross country skiing. While the cost to downhill skiing continues to skyrocket in Utah and around the country, you can actually cross country ski for free on a groomed trail in American Fork Canyon. The only fee you have to pay is the normal fee to get into the canyon, and if you have a National Parks pass you are covered.
The Forest Service grooms a track for skate and classic cross country skiing starting at the Saw Mill Picnic area and extends through the Little Mill campground ending at the fenced Forest Service maintenance property at the fork in the road that takes you up to the Alpine Loop. For reference, Saw Mill picnic area is after Timpanogos Cave, about 4 miles from the mouth of American Fork Canyon.
Just a note that trail grooming can be somewhat sporadic and it is often used by people snow shoeing, which makes this a better trail for classic and off track skiing than your traditional skate ski.
The trail itself is just a little over a mile (one-way) and there is just one small hill to climb. The rest of the trail is relatively flat with just a slight incline up canyon that isn't very noticeable on the ski up, but gives you a little bit of help on your way back down the canyon. The trail follows the American Fork river almost the entire way, adding to the beauty of this trail. Beyond the beauty of the river, I have also seen the occasional cross country skier bring their fishing pole to stop and do some fishing in the river, and actually catch fish!
Moving at an average pace you can complete the out and back trip in less than an hour and often times, I'll do two trips up and down the trail when I want a little more exercise. The only complaint about this trail is that the parking area is not very big, so at times it may be difficult to find a parking place.
The best time to ski this trail is late December through the middle of march. Because it is at a lower elevation and some spots do get direct sun, the snow can melt, revealing the asphalt below in the early winter and late spring, which can do a number on your skis. My favorite time to go is after a good snow storm as the trail has plenty of snow and is usually freshly groomed.
If you haven't ever cross country skied before, this is a great trail to develop your skill. The trail is easy to navigate and provides plenty of spots where you can get off the main trail and practice - especially in the Little Mill campground area. If you don't have your own cross country skis, you can rent them at Scheels or Outdoors Unlimited for a pretty reasonable fee.
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