The Great Salt Lake’s Undiscovered Recreation Oasis
To Wasatch Front commuters, the Great Salt Lake is a reflective shimmer west of the freeway. To some, the lake is more a particular smell when the wind blows just right. But for recreationists who’ve explored its wonders, the Great Salt Lake is an outdoor enthusiast’s oasis.
To “float like a cork” became a worldwide trademark of the Great Salt Lake. Visitors have long come to swim in this lake where they can’t sink due to the high salt content. Watersports like paddleboarding wakeboarding, sailing, and kayaking are popular pursuits here. But a visit to the lake’s islands offers opportunities beyond the water, from spectacular hiking and biking to camping.
Hiking and Biking Galore
Antelope Island State Park—the largest and most developed of the Great Salt Lake’s islands—receives about 400,000 visitors a year and boasts visitor’s center, restaurant, and historic ranch museum.
According to Jeremy Shaw, Park Manager for Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake Marina, Antelope Island has between 30-35 miles of non-motorized trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Leashed dogs are also welcome on the trails.
Herds of bison, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and bighorn sheep call the island home, and you’re likely to see many of these animals on a hike. You can sometimes spot coyotes, rabbits, badgers, bobcats, lizards, and even a few snakes.
For a short, scenic hike, try the Lady Finger Point Trail on the island’s northwestern tip. The reward of this .50-mile roundtrip trek is a view of Bridger Bay and Egg Island. Egg Island is a gull nesting area, and the surrounding wetlands are home to over 250 species of birds, making this short trail a birdwatchers’ paradise.
Antelope Island is also home to Frary Peak, and the strenuous hike to the summit climbs 2,100 feet over 6.1 miles. From the top of the island’s highest peak, see stunning views of the surrounding landscape and the
Great Salt Lake.
The 11.1-mile one-way Mountain View Trail on the island’s eastern shore is a fun, flatter option for mountain bikers or hikers. The sandy singletrack trail begins at the Visitor’s Center and ends the Fielding Garr Ranch.
Plan to leave time for the return ride back to the Visitor’s Center. Because it is close to the water, it can be buggy in summer so bring your repellant. Unique for Utah, this trail can typically be biked year-round.
For equestrian enthusiasts, Mountain View, White Rock Bay, and Fielding Garr Ranch have hitching rails for horses. Horses and bikes are prohibited on Frary Peak and Dooley Knob Trails.
Throughout summer, Antelope Island’s popular events give you plenty of reasons to visit: full moon hikes, star parties, wildlife programs, historic demonstrations, music events, and the annual Bison Roundup.
For runners looking to put in serious miles, try the Antelope Island 50K and half marathon on November, 11, 2017. Sponsored by Buffalo Run Adventures, the 50K starts at White Rock Bay and the half marathon begins at Fielding Garr Ranch. Mountain bike and road bike races are also offered during the year, and Antelope Island State Park grants about 50 permits per year for special events.
Make a night of your island visit at one of the 50 campsites on Antelope. There are no hookups, but Shaw says you’ll see RVs on the island year-round. Tent camping is also available. Reservations are recommended for busy summer weekends.
The Great Salt Lake’s Other Islands
The only other island accessible to the public is Stansbury Island. Take a gravel road from the mainland just past Grantsville off I-80 Exit 84 to the 9-mile hiking/biking trail that features petroglyphs along the trail and at least two caves.
Many islands are private, like Gunnison, which is home to the largest pelican rookery in the west. Each year the Division of Wildlife Resources goes there to band pelicans and track them with GPS, and they recently installed a pelican cam in conjunction with Westminster College.