It has been three years since I hiked up to Willard Peak and Ben Lomond Peak (see 8/21/06 post). Given my schedule, I knew this past weekend would be my best chance to get back up there this season. Although I had invited my teenagers, their late Friday night activities prevented them from being sufficiently vigorous to get up early on a Saturday morning to go hiking. So I ended up with only my 12-year-old for company.
You can get to these peaks from several different trailheads. The question is whether you want a serious hike or a moderately short hike. If you start from the top of the North Ogden Divide, you’ve got 9.5 miles to get to Ben Lomond Peak and another nearly two miles to get to Willard Peak. If you want to make the round trip, you need to start early and plan on taking all day.
Different trailheads in Ogden Valley lead to Ben Lomond Peak (Cutler Trail: steep 5mi one-way, Ben Lomond Trail (3): 7.6mi one-way), and you can hike from there to Willard Peak.
Wanting a shorter hike and having heard that the Willard Peak Road Scenic Backway (map) was getting a major overhaul this season, I opted to drive to the Willard Basin trailhead. (The road is currently closed for construction from Monday morning through Thursday afternoon, and is open on the weekends.) We first drove up Sardine Canyon to Mantua. We drove through Mantua and soon found ourselves on Willard Peak Road.
Even with the improvements, you really don’t want to do this road unless you’ve got a serious 4WD vehicle or an ATV. The first couple of miles are very good, even as the road rises — something it does a lot of for the first nine miles. The further you go on this road, the worse the conditions get.
Don’t get me wrong. This past weekend the road was substantially better than it was three years ago. The work isn’t done yet, but I can tell that when the work is done, the road is still going to be pretty rugged and very narrow in many spots. The road is mainly used by ATVs. The later in the day you traverse the road, the more ATVs you encounter. If you’re going to use an ATV, be prepared to eat loads of dust (or mud, depending on conditions). If you use an automobile, be prepared to stop frequently to let ATVs pass you safely.
After nearly an hour driving more than 11 miles of rugged road, we parked at the Willard Basin trailhead, where there is very little parking. The road continues another couple of miles to the 9,422-ft-high Willard Mountain (aka Inspiration Point, which is not the same as Willard Peak). But driving all the way up there saves you less than half a mile of hiking each way, and there’s even less parking on Willard Mountain.
(See a mountain biker’s description of a 2008 ride from Mantua to Ben Lomond Peak and back. See another hiker’s description of the hike to Willard and Ben Lomond Peaks from Inspiration Point.)
If you start from Willard Basin (elevation 8,711 ft), you’ve got a pretty significant climb, especially if you want to scale Willard Peak (elevation 9,764 ft), considered the highest peak in Weber County. You climb over 1,000 feet in about a mile and a half of hiking. Most people skip Willard Peak and head straight to Ben Lomond Peak (elevation 9,712 ft) because there is no trail to Willard Peak while there is a good 3½-mile trail that leads right to Ben Lomond Peak.
Willard Peak looks like a whitish rocky prominence that seemingly juts 100+ feet straight up out of the surrounding mountains. You have to pick your way to the top from the trail below, but if you study the peak, you will see that the approach from the northwest face can be managed without any special gear. My 12-year-old handled it just fine, but I would caution against taking younger kids up there.
The top of the peak is broad enough to fit a few dozen people. There are a couple of geocaches up there. Every time I have been up to Willard Peak, I have seen three U.S. Geological Survey markers embedded in the rock, although, I have been told that there are four.
The view from Willard Peak is spectacular, particularly when the air is clear. If you know what you’re looking for (binoculars are useful), you can see three Mormon Temples: Logan, Ogden, and Bountiful. The peak sits very close to the Weber-Box Elder County line.
We had hoped to see mountain goats, as I had three years earlier, but they had already moved down the hill due to the warm weather. After diligently searching, we were able to spot some mountain goats in a canyon below the ridge line where the trail to Ben Lomond Peak runs. You have to know what you’re looking for, because the goats blend in so well with their surroundings.
After relaxing on Willard Peak for a while, we scampered down the south face to the trail below. This can be a pretty harrowing adventure, as there’s plenty of loose rock scattered about the fairly steep 200’+ slope. We then hiked to the rim of the canyon where we could get a better view of the mountain goats. We took some pictures, but my camera isn’t good enough to take high quality distance shots. We counted about 20 goats.
Then we were on our way to Ben Lomond Peak about two miles away. The trail is very good and there isn’t much of a climb until about a quarter of a mile before the peak. At that point you run into switchbacks, but they’re not terribly challenging, rising only about 100 feet in elevation. I’ve seen families with kids as young as seven successfully make the trek from Inspiration Point. If you come from the other trailheads, you have to scale a whole series of switchbacks that rise about 900 feet.
On Ben Lomond Peak there is a stainless steel desk-type box that contains a sign-in pad. I saw that a nine-year-old had signed in earlier in the day. This peak is also on the Weber-Box Elder County line. You can see far into Cache County and south into Davis and Salt Lake Counties. You can see the Logan and Ogden LDS Temples, but the mountain range obscures the Bountiful Temple. There isn’t much room on the peak. If there are a lot of people up there, you can stand or sit on various ledges close to the top.
As we were descending the peak, we saw a group of hikers approaching. As we got closer, I recognized them as a family I knew. I have worked with the father of the family in Scouting for years. He is in his 70s and seemed to be doing quite well on the hike. I was proud of him.
My son wanted to be somewhere else that afternoon, so he insisted that we hightail it back to the truck as quickly as possible. We hiked at a good pace, but we weren’t going terribly fast. We stopped briefly to check on the mountain goats. Many of them were still in the same location as they had been earlier. After passing Willard Peak (we didn’t climb back up there), we descended to Willard Basin quite rapidly.
Our hike from Ben Lomond Peak back to Willard Basin took just under an hour. We’d spent two hours getting to Ben Lomond Peak. The extra time was spent climbing and relaxing on Willard Peak, watching mountain goats, and going uphill as opposed to going downhill on the way back.
We encountered far more ATVs on the way back down the scenic backway than we had on the way up. We passed a few trucks. After traversing that rugged road, we were glad to be on paved road again. We had only driven on the paved road for a quarter of a mile or so when I sensed that something was wrong. I quickly pulled over since I figured I had a flat tire. I was right. I had encountered some object that ripped a big enough hole in the tire that it could not be repaired. We changed the tire and then we were on our way home.
Still, we had enjoyed our hike. It was a nice sunny day that was warm enough that we hiked in shirt sleeves even at high altitudes. If you want to do this hike, please bear in mind that there are no sources of drinking water and no restroom facilities once you get a short distance from Mantua. There are restroom facilities at the other trailheads, but that’s the end of such comforts once you start hiking. So make sure you carry plenty of drinking water and adequate sanitation supplies with you. Apply adequate sunscreen.
Also, make sure to check weather conditions before departing and prepare accordingly. I have watched out my window all day today as the areas that we hiked on Saturday have flitted in and out of lowering clouds. You could hike up there on a day like this, but you’d jeopardize your safety if you weren’t adequately prepared.
I know people that have lived for decades near the foot of Ben Lomond and Willard Peaks, but that have never made the trek up there. For me, it’s well worth the hike.