Mills Creek is one of four nice loop hikes in this area of the Blue Ridge, with Three Ridges, St. Mary's Wilderness, and Torry Ridge, and is the least hiked of the four. Mills Creek is usually flowing, and surrounded by grasses and ferns. As a backpack, there are two nice campsites halfway along the Mills Creek trail that are suitable for multiple tents.
This hike can also be slightly punishing in sections. The first days hike along the Torry Ridge Trail is undulating and can be rocky, then the second days ascent at the end of the Mills Creek trail is a tough 1.2 mile climb with over 1,100 vertical feet of gain.
From the Slacks Overlook parking area follow the trail on the right for 60 yards to the intersection of the Slacks Trail. Turn left towards the Torry Ridge Trail as it gently climbs for 0.9 miles where the Slacks Trail ends at the Torry Ridge Trail.
Turn right on the Torry Ridge Trail and pass several small vistas between the trees then arrive at the Blue Loop Trail in 1.9 miles. This terminus of the Blue Loop Trail descends down to Lake Sherando. Continue on the Torry Ridge Trail passing the other end of the Blue Loop Trail in another 1.0 miles. From this point the Torry Ridge Trail becomes more rocky then passes over Torry Mountain and reaches the intersection of the Mills Creek Trail in 1.9 miles.
Turn left on the Mills Creek Trail as it descends towards the valley. In 0.7 miles reach the next intersection. Turn left crossing a small creek and continue on the Mills Creek Trail where it will pass a small campsite and cross a larger creek in 0.8 miles. After crossing the creek the Mills Creek Trail reaches the valley floor.
Turn left on the Mills creek (a forestry road bears right). In 1.3 miles just before crossing Mills Creek for the first time there is the best campsite on the circuit on the right. Another smaller campsite is just up the trail on the left, again just before crossing Mills Creek.
For the next 2.9 miles the Mills Creek trail crosses the creek several more times as it gradually winds its way up the valley, then steeply ascends the right side of the valley making 8 switchbacks, and gaining over 1,100 feet of elevation gain in just 1.2 miles.
Follow the Torry Ridge Trail, passing several good vistas, as it descends back to the intersection of the Slacks Trail in 1.2 miles. Turn right on the Slacks Trail for the remaining 0.9 miles and Slacks Overlook parking area connector trail.
Mills Creek Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 14, 2018
First thing I'd recommend is doing this hike NOT in the summer. It wasn't bad in the morning while we hiked down the ridge, but once we got down to the creek it was miserably hot and buggy. Also, don't underestimate the last mile to the campsite at the clearing (at the end of the mills creek trail), it's a solid 1,000ft+ over just a mile and is very strenuous with a backpack. Do this as a two day backpacking trip (we did it in one day and it was a suffer fest). There are a few good views in the first part of the hike before you get down to the creek. The highlight of this loop is the campsite at the end of the mills creek trail (it's on top of the ridge in a small clearing and had a nice cool breeze even in mid-summer). You can even drive your car there if you just want a nice place to camp. This loop is generally a nice walk in the woods with a good amount of elevation change, but nothing too special or deserving of a higher rating.
Date of Hike: Monday, August 14, 2017
50% miserable 50% fun. Parts of this hike were really nice and there were tons of vistas peaking through the trees. About half of it was very easy with little change in elevation and nice easy terrain. However, the other half was awful. The climb the second day was pretty rough and a few outside factors, such as rain that wasn't in the forecast, made it even worse. But the worst part of the whole hike was the rocks. I've done several hikes around here and jumps and ruck runs in the military and this was by far the most physically punishing. I took my girlfriend along for her second trip and both of us were hurting. The descent on day 2 after climbing the mountain was the roughest part of the entire hike. The bugs for the first 1.5 miles by mills creek were so bad even with bug spray on. We camped at the second spot on the map which was a nice camp spot. There is a cool little trail that takes you to the creek. The water was ice cold and tasted so good after filtering it. We wanted to camp farther up on the trail but we weren't sure if there would be a decent camp site. We did find what I would say is the best campsite on the entire trail 1.5 past where we camped. I highly recommend that site because it'll make day 2 a little better and it is right on the creek. My gps clocked the whole thing at right around 16 miles. We also didn't see a single person the entire time we were out. Overall this hike had a lot of pros but equally as many cons.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 1, 2017
Planned to do this as a nice July 4th weekend overnight backpack. We got sort of a late start (terrible traffic coming from DC), but still figured we could make the planned campsite by around dinner time. The ridge trail was nice - a cooling breeze was around that helped alleviate the sticky temps this weekend. When we reached the Blue Loop trail, we dropped our packs and headed down to the lookout. It was a steep drop, and the view wasn't all that amazing...I would recommend skipping it because there is actually IMO a better view a ways down the main trail (once you reach a big talus slope, just carefully descend a hundred feet down or so, and you'll have a cool view of Sherando Lake and the surrounding ridges).
All was going well until the Mills Creek Trail, when we bumped into the hiker that had been ahead of us. He had run into a rattlesnake, which had coiled and would not move. We couldn't get it to move after several minutes, so eventually we just went into the woods around it. Lesson learned, watch where you step! We arrived at the Mills Creek campsite at around 630 nevertheless. The creek and the campsites are nice, but it was incredibly buggy. It was refreshing to wash off in the creek that night, however (plenty of running water right now).
The climb up out of the valley the next day is pretty punishing - especially on another hot and humid day like today. The campsite at the top was occupied, but we still stole a quick look at the viewpoint there. The last leg of the trip on Torry Ridge trail was actually my favorite part - the trail itself was gorgeous (but rocky in parts), and there were some cool views through the trees.
Overall, this hike was really nice. Lots of varied terrain, a couple challenging parts, and a couple views. If it had been less buggy down along Mills Creek, with slightly better views, I would give it a 5 star. Oh, and I didn't find it to be that rocky - in some parts it was, but nothing worse than anything I've hiked before. Cheers!
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 24, 2017
Decided to take on this hike in reverse to ease the 1,100 ft ascend at the end of the hike, BIG. MISTAKE. My girlfriend and I did this hike in reverse which seemed like an okay idea, boy were we wrong. First off the weather was AMAZING 75, breezy and low humidity. Perfect hiking weather! The first day we made it to the camp site along Mills Creek (great spot) and there was plenty of water to filter and refill our bottle. not knowing what lies ahead, we set up camp and had a great night. Turns out, when hiked in reverse you spend about 6.5 miles mainly uphill(getting on and across Torry Ridge) and did I mention 85% of the hike is on uneven rocks!?!?!?! Overall it was a little punishing(my fault) but we will tackle it again, minus a 25lb backpack and with PLENTY of water! Also, since the trail is a tad obscure, the vegetation was overgrown which meant TICKS! Load up on the DEET and everything will be alright.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, April 13, 2016
When I first read the reviews of this hike, I thought that the rockiness would be exaggerated. I was quite wrong. The Torry Ridge Trail sections are incredibly rocky, with parts of Mills Creek also containing some rocky parts. Be prepared to get your feet beat up and your ankles/knees twisted.
The campsites are very good and almost make the trip worthwhile. But even splitting this hike up into an overnighter, it was still a lot tougher than I envisioned. The steep climb on the second day is very punishing, but mentally rewarding. I would say if you're looking for an overnighter and want a good challenge, this is a fantastic hike for you. If you're looking for something of a more leisurely overnighter or dayhike, you might want to look elsewhere.
As one other commenter put it, the best description of this hike is: ROCKS!
Date of Hike: Sunday, July 5, 2015
The trail was nice and very quite. but poorly marked. as for the Torry ridge part cant say anything about that area I walked out to Torry mount road and then to Shenado lake, and finish on the white rock gap trail.
Date of Hike: Saturday, March 28, 2015
I thought this hike was okay if you want distance and solitude, but the walk along Mills Creek really isn't since most of the time you can't see the creek. Unlike others I didn't think the rocks along Torry Ridge were worse than other rocky sections on different hikes. There are a couple of stretches where you have to watch your footing, but otherwise it's fine. I actually thought the 1 mile section between the forest service road and the Slacks Trail was the rockiest. On the first leg of Torry Ridge I decided to drop down to the "rock overlook" for Sherando Lake at the first intersection of the Blue Loop. It was a nice view, but required a steep climb to get back on the trail. I counted 5 crossings of Mills Creek, three of which required fording as there were no rock hops in sight. I don't know what the normal water level is but the creek was running well today and at 30 degrees and with no spare socks in my pack it made for a squishy last few miles. The climb out at the end is pretty tough with the steepest section coming just before the top. I day hiked so my legs were pretty tired by this point. You do get rewarded on the final Torry Ridge section with a view of everything you just hiked and it's always nice to see how much ground you covered, especially on a long hike like this.
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 28, 2014
Very nice hike with a great camping spot on Mills Creek that splits the hike almost exactly in half. We saw surprisingly few people for a Saturday hike.
We went clockwise on the loop and it wasn't too bad of a climb. I agree with everyone else, Torry Ridge is very rocky, but other parts of the trail are nice. The trail narrows in parts to just barely wide enough for a person.
Bring a map, there are a few unmarked turns off of Fire Service Roads that could mess up your hike.
I would consider redoing this hike due to the excellent camping.
Date of Hike: Sunday, October 21, 2012
Beautiful hike, the views form Torry Ridge down onto Sherando Lake is amazing. The campsite along Mill Creek was very nice. Strenuous is an accurate description of portions of the hike but only at times(the ascent to Bald Mtn). Overall it is a great hike with many beautiful vistas down from Torry Ridge and across the Valley as you ascend Bald Mtn.
Date of Hike: Thursday, October 4, 2012
This hike is much more difficult than the description leads one to believe. That the trail is rocky is an understatement and there is ample opportunity to twist your ankle. The Torry ridge trail is nice and there are some decent views on the backside of the trip. Both the Torry ridge trail and Mills creek trail amble on and on and you end up spending most of the hike watching your footing so not to trip on the rocks. One should also be warned of the 1,100 foot ascent towards the end great workout, but very exhausting. At the top of the climb is a large campsite that has great view of the valley. If I ever come back to this trail, it will be to camp out at that site. So, to summarize my expereience on the Torry ridge/Mills Creek hike, ROCKS.