where, when, and what to find

Big Willow Canyon & Sawmill Trail

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 

Big Willow Canyon photo by Tim Avery

Originally this location was created for the canyon; but the canyon is actually closed to people because it is a watershed.  Which sucks for birding because the hike looks really easy and the habitat ranges from mixed oak, to aspen, with cliffs, and mixed conifer, willows, etc.  You can bird the trail from Hidden Valley Park up to here which passes mostly through mixed oak woodland.  You can bird around the "No Trespassing" sign as there is plenty of visible habitat here.  Trying to make this hot spot viable it now includes the Sawmill Trail which actually does drop into upper Big Willow Canyon, so it makes sense.  This trail follows the south wall of the canyon up and around before dropping back down, with the same habitats mentioned above (directions for hike below).

This location is primarily going to be visited in the late spring, summer, and fall--although some interesting things might be around in the winter.  I would imagine NORTHERN PGYMY-OWL can probably be tracked down here, and flocks of ROSY-FINCHES probably use the bench here.  Year round residents include the usually WESTERN-SCRUB JAYS, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, and CALIFORNIA QUAIL in the lower stretches of the trail.  PINE SISKIN, STELLER'S JAY, and MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE can be found in the higher reaches.  Near the rocky slopes at the canyon mouth listen for CANYON WREN singing.  During the breeding season there haven't been any checklists submitted yet, but the varied habitats likely attract a variety of species you would see in other canyons nearby.  I will add more details about the birding here in the summer when I have been back and can speak to it.  One thing I have thought every time I've been here is that this is probably a great point to hawk watch from.  Either below the canyon at Hidden Valley Park--or where the gate blocks the trail to the watershed.  I have seen TURKEY VULTURE, GOLDEN EAGLE, RED-TAILED HAWK, SHARP-SHINNED and COOPER'S HAWKS in just a couple visits.  I'll update this with more information as I learn more about the area.

From the north taking Wasatch Blvd from I-215 at 6200 South head south past both Cottonwood Canyons.  At 9800 South continue straight another 3.5 miles till you arrive at the park on your left. Pull in to the lot and keep right to go to the parking area for the park.  From the south follow 12300 South in Draper east as it loops north and becomes Draper Parkway just past 1300 East. Eventually turning into 1700 east, take a right on to Wasatch Blvd at about 11700 south.  Follow the road east 1.7 miles till you reach the park on your right.  From the parking lot follow the paved trail 100 yard southeast to a bench and sign pointing the way to the "Bonneville Shoreline Trail".  Follow the sign and 4 wheel drive track as it climbs the mountain 300 yards to a red gate.  At this point a sign points the way south to continue on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail but to reach the Sawmill Trail you must pass around the red gate and climb the hill for 250 yards.  At the top of the hill the road will flatten out and turn sharp to the right.   Ahead you can see the gate that marks the watershed.  As you approach you will notice a tiny sign on your right that points right and says "Sawmill Trail". From here, after one mile you will reach an avalanche warning sign and a junction in the trail.  The Right (East) Fork leads 150 yards down to a stream with a small waterfall and cascades. The Left (North) Fork climbs over the ridge into Big Willow and climbs to the top of the canyon.

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