The Great Salt Lake is what's left of prehistoric Lake Bonneville, a massive 19, 000+ square-mile lake that covered most of what is now Utah. The lake now covers 1, 700 square miles, but it’s still the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere and the largest lake in the U.S. outside of the Great Lakes region. The Bonneville Shoreline Trail traces the borders of the old lake and offers 100 miles of hiking and mountain biking. The trail is currently undergoing expansion and will one day extend 280 miles from the Idaho border to Nephi, Utah.
Antelope Island State Park is located 45 minutes north of Salt Lake City and offers a variety of activities and attractions, including swimming, camping, hiking, biking, and wildlife-viewing.
Because it has no outlets, the Great Salt Lake is extremely salty—its salinity is around four times that of the ocean—making the lake extremely easy to float in and a unique destination for swimmers and sunbathers. At its maximum depth, the lake plunges to only 35 feet. After a day in the water, swimmers can rinse off in the Antelope Island State Park’s shower facilities.
Camping is available at Bridger Bay Campground, which can accommodate tents and RVs, and at White Rock Bay, which has group sites. Day-use sites are also available within the park.
The island features a number of trails in the park for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The Elephant Head Trail leads to Split Rock Bay Overlook, which rewards hikers with a wonderful view of the lake at sunset.
Antelope Island is home to a variety of wildlife. Although it would seem there wouldn’t be enough fresh water on an island in the middle of a salty lake, there are over 40 springs providing fresh water to the island’s inhabitants, which include bison, antelope, rabbits, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and bighorn sheep. Bison were introduced to the island in 1897—there were only 12 at the time, but the herd has since grown to about 600. The bison can easily be seen grazing about the island, while the other animals may take a keener eye to spot.
Photo: Luke Isom
After a day of exploring the island, the Island Buffalo Grill is a great place to grab some food before heading back to town or before retiring to your campsite.
On the northeastern corner of the Great Salt Lake, near Rozel Point, you'll find a peculiar earth sculpture by artist Robert Smithson. Smithson began building the spiral out into the lake in April of 1970, and he finished the project six days later. The Spiral Jetty is 1, 500 feet long, 15 feet wide, and made of mud, salt crystals, and basalt rocks. Depending on the Great Salt Lake’s water level, the sculpture is sometimes submerged, but most of the time you can view it and even walk out onto it.
The Great Salt Lake State Marina and Antelope Island State Park are both fine places to launch your boat. Kayaking, sailing, and powerboating are all options on the lake, though it’s worth nothing that because of the lake’s shallow average depth, the water can get choppy in low winds, and boating experience is helpful for those who venture out.
Fifteen miles out of downtown Salt Lake, on the edge of the Great Salt Lake’s south shore sits Saltair. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Saltair was a resort and amusement, where families would come to swim, dance, and take hot-air balloon and ferris wheel rides. The huge pavilion is now a unique concert venue and a beautiful setting to see some live music. The building rests at the edge of the water, so arrive before sundown to catch wonderful views of the sun setting over the lake.
The Bear River Bird Refuge and Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area are prime places for bird-watching. Many species stop at these locations during their migrations. Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area is just northwest of the Salt Lake City, while the Bear River Bird Refuge is further north, on the northeast end of the lake.