Antelope Island State Park – Great Salt Lake

Measuring 15 miles long and seven miles wide at the widest point, Antelope Island State Park consists of 28,022 acres. Utah State Parks and Recreation purchased the 2,000 acres on the northern end of the island in 1969, and in 1981 purchased the rest of the island for recreational purposes. The former landowner donated approximately 250 bison along with the land. The island was void of antelope until they were reintroduced to the area in 1993 and have continued to thrive in their former homeland.

Antelope Island State Park, Utah is one of the more unusual parks in the United States. It consists of the largest island in the Great Salt Lake (water five times saltier than the ocean) and provides rangeland for pronghorn and bighorn sheep, mule deer, bobcats and coyotes along with a herd of 600 bison that roam the island. Each November there is a Bison Roundup–open to public viewing–held to check the health of the herd and remove some animals from the island to keep the herd numbers stable. Throughout the year the island is also home to a wide variety of birds and waterfowl. The backcountry trails are open to hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing during the winter. Pets on leash are allowed except on the Frary Peak trail.

The visitor’s center provides information on the history, unique biology and geology of the island. In May and June the island is inhabited by biting gnats. Visitors are instructed to wear hats or light hooded jackets and insect repellent on any uncovered skin. Midges (which don’t bite) are the insects on the causeway, and harmless brine flies infest the edges of the lake.

The only access to Antelope Island State Park is by boat or a narrow, two-lane causeway cutting across the Great Salt Lake from the mainland to the island refuge that rises from the desert sea. The Fielding Garr Ranch on the southeast end of the island includes a distinctive ranch house. It’s the oldest Anglo home (continually inhabited from 1848 to 1981 when the state park was established) and the oldest in Utah on its original foundation.

Antelope Island is an extension of the Great Basin. The eastern boundary begins at the Wasatch Range extending to the Sierra Nevada in California. These are skinny mountain ranges surrounded by broad valley basins. Antelope Island technically qualifies as a mountain peak in the range while the Great Salt Lake fills multiple basins. The view northwest from the visitor’s center demonstrates this geologic pattern. The state park contains some of the oldest rock formations in the state as well as some of the youngest. The visitor’s center provides information about the variety of rock formations visible there. The water level at the shore is at an elevation of 4,200 feet, rising to Frary Peak at 6,596 feet above sea level.

The island provides outstanding recreational and scenic opportunities. Sunsets over the lake are breathtaking combinations of red, orange, lavender and magenta which merge and dissolve in the evening sky, The turquoise water of the lake, and clean, white sand beaches on the island attract sunbathers, swimmers, and sailors. Freshwater showers are available for rinsing off after swimming. The state park’s trails and craggy rock outcroppings encourage mountain bikers and hikers to utilize Antelope Island’s area for secluded walks, challenging rides, and wonderful wildlife experiences.

Sailing on the lake is very popular and full-service marinas are available on Antelope Island and the northern shore side marina. Experience is necessary to navigate the lake during even moderate winds which can cause rough water due to the lake’s shallow water (average depth of 20”.) Kayaking on the lake with its 10,000 miles of shoreline is also popular and rewards the individual with sights of the island they would otherwise miss. Bicycling across the causeway to the island in the invigorating salt air to explore the island trails makes a wonderful, energetic day trip.

The camping areas are primitive with vault toilets. RVs may be parked, but there are no hookups. Water is available on either sides of the buildings at Bridger Bay Beach along with showers. A restaurant and concessionaires offer limited goods and services. The entrance fees are $9 per vehicle, $3 for cyclists and hikers, and $13 for camping.