Trib Trails: Beat the heat by hiking to Boyds’ Bench in Big Cottonwood Canyon

Willow Heights trail near Solitude benefits from shade and subalpine temperatures

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Boyds' Bench on the Willow Heights hike in Big Cottonwood Canyon, seen on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, has views of Arnold Peak and Gobblers Knob and has a book to sign that's kept in the box on the back of the bench.

It’s hot and it looks like it will be for at least a few months. You can’t stay cooped up in your house that long, AC or not, and pools teeming with kids don’t feel like much of a getaway.

So what to do to beat the heat and crowds? Head up Big Cottonwood Canyon and hike the Willow Heights overlook trail to the Boyds’ Bench.

First, let’s address the bench. It’s a beautiful, lacquered wood creation with two moose and a Kokopelli engraved in the backrest. Daffodils and frilled tulips spring up in front of it, but it’s easy to miss them while being distracted by the views of Raymond Peak and Gobblers Knob. According to a handwritten note jotted into the logbook, which is kept in the wooden box built into the bench’s backrest, the bench was installed there 20 years ago by Eva and Larry Boyd. They invite visitors to write a message about themselves in the book before continuing on their way.

While the bench is beautiful, so is the shade, cast by aspen and pine trees for most of the length. The sun can be strong in the exposed sections, but it’s generally cooler in the mountains. I hiked this trail on a recent Sunday afternoon, and when I arrived back at the Solitude parking lot, the temperature was an enjoyable 72 degrees. Pulling into the nearest Arctic Circle at the bottom of the canyon a half hour later, it was a wilting 104.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Willow Heights bench on the Willow Heights Bench hike in Big Cottonwood Canyon, on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

The Hike: Start at the parking lot and hike the paved resort driveway back up to Big Cottonwood Canyon Road. Cross that road onto Old Stage Road. Continue another .15 miles after it becomes a dirt road and you should see the trailhead on the left, flanked by two granite boulders. It’s 1.33 miles to the bench, climbing fairly steeply at first but eventually leveling out. Though the trail appears to keep going beyond the bench down to Willow Lake, it’s a haphazard path that’s steep, poorly marked and not recommended. Instead, sit a while and then head back the way you came.

Getting There: Park at the Entrance 2 parking lot at Solitude Mountain Resort, which is 12.5 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon. Restrooms are available at the resort lodging office. Dogs are not allowed anywhere in the canyon.

Willow Heights to the Boyds’ Bench

Region: Wasatch Canyons

Destination: Bench, overlook

Distance: 3.2 miles

Time: 2 ½ hours

Elevation Gain: 705 feet

Dog Allowed: No

Restrooms: Yes

Biking: Yes

Difficulty: 2.5