Visiting the Great Salt Lake: Things to do at Antelope Island State Park

Aug 1, 2020

Visiting the Great Salt Lake? We’re sharing all of the best things to do at Antelope Island State Park. From hikes, where to swim in the Great Salt Lake, seeing wildlife, and more! Ready to visit the largest salt lake in the Western hemisphere? Keep on reading!

During the last 4 years, we have driven through Salt Lake City a handful of times when driving between Texas and Washington. Minus a couple quick overnight visits, we had never truly explored the city or the surrounding area. And wow, we have been missing out!

The Salt Lake City area is not only beautiful, but so much fun! With so many gorgeous mountains, scenic drives, hikes, waterfalls, and lots of delicious food (and dirty soda!), we were pretty blown away by our visit. But what really stood out to us was visiting the Great Salt Lake.

Before our quick weekend trip, our only plan was to go look at the Great Salt Lake, well, until we learned that we could effortlessly float on it! We had always heard how incredible floating on the Dead Sea is, but we have no idea when we’ll make it out there, so we figured this was our best shot and it was quickly added to our bucket list.

We spent an afternoon at Antelope Island State Park, which is one of the best spots to experience the Great Salt Lake and had a blast! From an epic hike, seeing wildlife, a beautiful camping spot, and floating in the Great Salt Lake, it was a day we will never forget.

We’re excited to share all of the best things to do at Antelope Island State Park, which is a super unique place to explore, as well as all of the info you need to know before you go, such as how to get there, where to stay, and other helpful tips. We hope your trip to the Great Salt Lake is just as memorable as ours was!

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About the Great Salt Lake

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The Great Salt Lake is a natural marvel! Not only is it the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River, but it is also the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere at 1,699 mi².

The Great Salt Lake is 75 miles long and 35 miles at its widest point, and with its large size you’d think it would be a pretty deep lake, but it’s surprisingly only 34 feet at its deepest point and an average of 14 feet deep overall.

The Great Salt Lake is a terminal lake which means other water sources flow into it but that water does not flow anywhere else and only disappears through evaporation. So all the salt and minerals don’t have anywhere to go, making the lake’s total amount of dissolved salt between 4.5 to 4.9 billion tons!

The salinity of the Great Salt Lake ranges from 5-27% depending on the water level. For comparison the oceans are around 3% and the Dead Sea is 33%. If the ocean water tastes super salty imagine how salty this water would have tasted. We didn’t want to find out!

About Antelope Island State Park

On the Great Salt Lake there are 17 officially named islands. However, as the water level changes, a few more appear or disappear and some of the larger islands turn into peninsulas.

The largest of the islands is Antelope Island, which is around 28,000 acres, 15 miles long and about 5 miles wide. When looking at Google Maps, Adam was confused because on the map it looks like a peninsula, but when we visited, there was definitely water surrounding the island (although a bit low in some spots).

The island is home to Antelope Island State Park and one of the biggest draws to the island are the 550-700 free roaming bison that were brought to the island in 1893. Every fall there is a bison roundup which helps to maintain and count the herd.

Along with bison there are pronghorn antelope, which are native to the island and what the island is named after, as well as bobcats, coyotes, and badgers, oh my!

Beyond the cool mammals that call the island home, there are also some pesky little friends called no-seeums or biting gnats. Between April-June, these little buggers will hover all around you and nip at you as you explore the island. They are most active during the day when it’s sunny and the winds are calm and no bug spray will help, so plan to cover up!

Lastly, one very important thing to know about Antelope Island State Park is that the park is only open between 6 AM-10 PM. Unlike some parks where you can come and go at any hour, there is a gate on the only road into the island that is closed between 10:01 PM-5:59 AM, as well as a pay station you have to go through to pay the $15/vehicle daily use fee.

When to visit the Great Salt Lake

Antelope Island Weather

To get the full experience at the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island State Park, we would recommend visiting late spring to fall. Winters can be snowy and cold, but from the photos we have seen, it does look pretty magical! The summer will be nice and sunny, but will also be nice and hot. There are hardly any trees on the island, so if the sun is out, prepare to get a bit toasty (and possibly sunburned!).

We visited in late June and got lucky with a cloudy day and cooler temperatures, which made visiting the island much more enjoyable!

Getting to Antelope Island State Park

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The closest major city to Antelope Island is Salt Lake City, which is about a 45 minute drive to the entrance of Antelope Island State Park.

If you’re flying into town, you’ll fly into the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), which is about a 7 minute drive to the heart of Salt Lake City and also a 45 minute drive to the entrance of Antelope Island State Park.

Both Antelope Island State Park and Salt Lake City are pretty close to other awesome destinations in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, such as:

Park City, UT: 40 minutes to Salt Lake City, 1-1.5 hours to Antelope Island State Park
Moab, UT: 3 hours, 45 minutes to Salt Lake City, 4.5 hours to Antelope Island State Park
Twin Falls, ID: 3-3.5 hours to Salt Lake City, 3-3.5 hours to Antelope Island State Park
Read our Southern Idaho guide (coming soon!)
Jackson, WY: 4.5 hours to Salt Lake City, 4.5 hours to Antelope Island State Park
Read our Grand Tetons guide and Yellowstone guide!

Once you get to the entrance of Antelope Island State Park, you may have a bit of a drive depending on your final destination, so keep that in mind. But the driving is pretty cool and you may see a bison!

Getting around Antelope Island State Park

Antelope Island is pretty large and getting from different popular spots can take a little bit of a drive, so we highly suggest having a car to get around. That way you can freely explore the different activities that make the park so unique and fun!

Uber and Lyft do operate in Salt Lake City and are a good option for getting around the city, but having a rental car to explore the areas outside of the city will make your trip so much more enjoyable.

Where to Stay when visiting Antelope Island State Park

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There are quite a few options of where to stay when visiting Antelope Island State Park. Below we’re sharing some of the different options to consider, whether you want to stay on the island, stay close by, or drive in from Salt Lake City!

Antelope Island Camping

Want to get an early start while on the island or just experience a quiet night of nature? We’d recommend camping on Antelope Island!

When we visited Antelope Island State Park, we camped the night before exploring. We wanted to do a sunrise hike, but since sunrise was before the park gates were open, our only option to do the hike that early was to stay the night before. And we are so glad we did! Not only did we have a cool campsite view, but we were able to beat people to the trail. We were the first ones to start our hike and didn’t see anyone until we were leaving the summit.

There are three main campgrounds on Antelope Island, two of which are car campgrounds and the third being a hike-in campground, where you have to park away from your site and then walk a specific distance to get to your actual site.

All of the campgrounds are dog friendly and the price includes the entrance fee to the park, which makes them all really affordable options! Here’s a quick rundown of each campground, its cost, and its amenities. Once you pick the right spot for you, you can make your reservation here.

Bridger Bay
Campground type: Car campground
Cost: $20
Group size: 8 people or less
Amenities: Covered picnic table, fire pit, pit toilets

White Rock Bay
Campground type: Car campground
Cost: $40
Group size: 14 people or less
Amenities: Covered picnic table, fire pit, pit toilets

This is where we stayed and it was great! Although we were just a group of 2, we loved how spacious the sites are and the views of the lake. There are no trees, so there is no privacy, but the sites are spread out.

Ladyfinger
Campground type: Hike-in campground (you have to hike in about 230 feet to get to the campsite)
Cost: $20
Group size: 4 people or less
Amenities: No campfires allowed (only charcoal or propane), pit toilet

Accomodations near Antelope Island State Park

Just want to visit Antelope Island for the day? Here are some good options of places to stay both in Syracuse, UT (the closest city to the park) and in Salt Lake City before or after your Antelope Island adventure!

Airbnbs

  • Option #1 (Salt Lake City): 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom
  • Option #2 (Salt Lake City): 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
  • Option #3 (Salt Lake City): 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom
  • Option #4 (Syracuse, right by Antelope Island): 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom

PS: If it is your first time staying at an Airbnb, click this link to get $40 off your first stay!

Hotels

Things to do at Antelope Island State Park

There are so many things to do at Antelope Island State Park! From hikes of all levels of difficulty, to seeing wildlife, swimming in the Great Salt Lake, and stargazing, there is a little something for everyone. Whether you have a day or a little longer, here’s a list of the best things to do at Antelope Island State Park!

Hike one of the trails

There are about 45 miles of trails on Antelope Island ranging in mileage and difficulty, but all with great views of the Great Salt Lake and surrounding area. We specifically visited Antelope Island State Park to hike up the Frary Peak Trail, which is the highest peak on the island, but the other trails on the island look great as well, especially if you don’t have as much time or aren’t feeling like exerting as much energy. Oh and bonus, especially for the dog lovers out there: all trails are dog friendly (on a leash)!

Some tips before your hike:
Wear plenty of sunscreen and bring lots of water! There is no tree cover on Antelope Island, so if it’s a sunny day, you will get a bit warm and are at risk for a nice sunburn.

We’d also suggest bringing some bug spray! Although the biting gnats, called no-seeums, that call the park home between April and June are unaffected by bug spray, the bug spray will help during other times of the year where there may be mosquitoes.

Frary Peak

Frary Peak is the highest point on Antelope Island at 6,596 feet and to get to the top you’ll hike up Frary Peak Trail, which is 6.9 miles and 2,335 feet of elevation gain. This hike was all uphill and pretty steep at the beginning, but the views the whole way are spectacular! It took us about 5 hours round trip, including lots of stops to film and enjoy the views.

The scenery on the way up is super unique. It’s dry, dusty, and rocky, but with beach views, and kind of reminded us of a less green Isle of Skye with the rocks jutting out of the hills. From the trail you see the Wasatch mountains, the towns on the opposite side of the lake and if you’re lucky, some wildlife!

When we visited on a Sunday morning (starting at sunrise) in June, we had the trail to ourselves until shortly after we reached the summit and only saw about 6 people heading down…that’s our kind of hike!

Buffalo Point

If you’re looking for an easy hike on the island, check out Buffalo Point! Buffalo Point is a 1 mile trail with 219 feet of elevation gain located on the northwest side of the island. Despite its lower mileage and elevation gain, you still get great views of the Great Salt Lake and have the chance to see some wildlife, like bison!

Dooley Knob

The Dooley Knob trail starts on the same trail as Frary Peak, but eventually splits off, and is 2.4 miles with 705 feet of elevation gain. At the end of the hike you will reach a rock formation and have views of the lake, Wasatch mountains, and the grassy plain below.

Bike around the park

If biking is your jam then you’re in luck on Antelope Island. Biking is allowed on the road and as well as on most of the trails except, Frary Peak and Dooley Knob.

A popular trail for biking is the Mountain View Trail which runs most of the east side of the island for 11.4 miles one way. There are several bike stations with pumps and tools around the island as well!

Don’t own a bike? We suggest renting an eBike from Antelope eBikes. You’ll be able to ride the bike like a normal bike or get a little boost to make your trip a bit quicker. They also offer guided tours throughout the day including sunrise, afternoon and sunset, if you want someone to show you around!

Stargaze

Something we are wanting to enjoy more of is experiencing a truly dark sky. We’ve only had a couple opportunities, but each time it was freaking awesome. If you’ve ever seen the Milky Way with the naked eye you will know what we mean!

While we didn’t have the chance to do it ourselves, stargazing on Antelope Island is something we definitely recommend. The park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park so the chance to see tons of stars, the Milky Way galaxy, and Orion’s Nebula are high!

If you are camping then you will be able to stargaze from your tent or vehicle, but if you just want to go for the evening, make sure to get into the park before the gates close, which varies depending on the time of the year. While you cannot enter the park after hours, the gate will automatically open when you try to leave the park after hours, so you won’t get trapped.

A few good spots to view the dark sky are: the visitor’s center, Buffalo Point, Bridger Bay or Ladyfinger Point. White Rock Bay also has Star Parties one Saturday a month throughout the year, hosted by the Ogden Astronomical Society, which would be fun too!

Swim in the Great Salt Lake (Will you float?)

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Our original plan when visiting the Great Salt Lake was to just see it from Frary Peak, but then we learned something super cool: you can effortlessly float in the Great Salt Lake!

As soon as we learned this, it quickly became a bucket list item for us. And the experience did not disappoint!

If you want to float or swim in the Great Salt Lake, the best spot to visit is Bridger Bay Beach. This beach is huge and when we visited it was not busy at all, so there was tons of space to spread out and enjoy it without others.

When you arrive at Bridger Bay, you’ll park in the parking lot and then make a decent walk out to the beach along sand. At first the sand feels like normal sand, but as you get closer to the water, it gets more and more hard and crusty like dried up salt. Be sure to wear some sort of footwear to get out to the water!

Warning: If you go between April and July know that there will likely be tons of flies near the water and brine shrimp in the water. It also smells a bit…funky. But don’t let that or the smell keep you away! The brine flies clear as you walk through them and the brine shrimp in the water won’t bite or bother you.

As we mentioned above, the salinity ranges from 5%-27% depending on the water level. The water seemed lower when we were there, so we had high hopes to float. And we did!

Floating in the Great Salt Lake was one of the coolest experiences we’ve had in a while. We were amazed when we were in the water, we leaned back and our first reaction was to start paddling your hands and arms, but we quickly learned you don’t need to! You sink for a second but then you bob right back up! It was one of the craziest feelings!

After you float or swim in the Great Salt Lake, you can wash off the salt in one of the free outdoor showers or paid indoor showers. There are restrooms and if you’re hungry, you can grab a buffalo burger at the Island Buffalo Grill.

While we don’t recommend hanging out at the beach and swimming in the Great Salt Lake all day like a normal day at the beach, it is definitely a unique experience you need to try!

Watch for wildlife

One of the coolest things about Antelope Island State Park is all of the wildlife you can see! When we first found out there were 550-700 free roaming bison on the island we were so surprised—we had no idea bison lived that close to Salt Lake City!

Beyond bison, you have a good chance of seeing mule deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn. On top of that there are bobcats, coyotes, and badgers! We saw a few bison from afar, a handful of deer, and a coyote!

As tempting as it may be to get close to the bison to get that awesome photo, keep your distance because they don’t like to be bothered and can run pretty fast. We don’t think you’d like to experience their horns either. 🙂
There really is no “best” place to view wildlife, as they roam all over the island, so keep your eyes open when driving around and hiking!

Visit the Fielding Garr Ranch

Want to go back in time? The Fielding Garr Ranch gives you the opportunity to experience life in the old American West. This ranch, built in 1848, was the first permanent residence on the island and passed through different owners’ hands until 1981 when the park was sold to the state of Utah.

Today you can experience the ranch hands on! You can touch everything in the ranch, rope fake animals, pump the water pump, pet the bison hides, handle the old tools, and sit in a saddle!

If you have extra time…

One of the best things about Antelope Island State Park is that it’s close to many other fun things to do in Northern Utah! Here are a couple other activities we did during our weekend in Salt Lake City that are worth checking out if you have extra time!

Get a dirty soda

Dirty soda, which is soda with syrup and/or cream added, is a Utah staple. You’ll find soda shops all around the Salt Lake City area serving up these sugary, carbonated drinks, as well as other sweet treats.

We went to Thirst for our dirty soda experience and boy, it did not disappoint! We got the “Yer Killin’ me Smalls” (Root Beer, marshmallow syrup, and vanilla cream) and the “Dr. McCreamy” (Dr. Pepper, raspberry puree, and coconut cream) and both were SO good! We have never been big soda drinkers, but we had to stop ourselves from getting another the next day.

Beyond the drinks, most soda shops have cookies, but Thirst takes it even farther by offering a ton of different sweet treats, like orange cinnamon rolls, beignets on Wednesdays, pretzel bites, and crazy cookies like s’mores and Muddy Buddies. But if you REALLY want your life changed get a Scotcharoo…my goodness! These peanut butter, rice krispie, chocolate bars are heaven and there are two distinct eras of Adam’s life now, life before the Scotcharoo and life after.

PS: if you go inside they have complimentary popcorn while you wait…score!

While Thirst stole our heart, here are some other soda shops in the area to check out:

Visit the Bonneville Salt Flats

While the Bonneville Salt Flats are not super close to the Great Salt Lake (1.5 hours from Salt Lake City and closer to 2 hours from Antelope Island), if you have the extra time, visiting them is a MUST DO!

The Bonneville Salt flats are located on the Utah and Nevada border and are the remnants of Lake Bonneville, making up 30,000 acres! We have seen photos of the salt flats, and people driving on them, for years and always wanted a chance to visit them.

So after we visited Antelope Island State Park, we made the trek to the Bonneville Salt Flats to experience them for ourselves. A storm was coming in and the drive out there was crazy windy, by far the scariest wind we have driven our very tall van in. And it was no different when we arrived at the salt flats. We barely could get our van door open because it was so windy, which made the experience extra memorable!

We had planned to drive the van on the salt flats, but got nervous, so at first we just ran around on the salt, but after seeing a few vehicles drive without issues, we decided to give it a go. And it was worth it…Adam had so much fun driving the van on the salt flats!

Hike more amazing trails near Salt Lake City

One of the coolest things about the Salt Lake City area is how close the mountains are. It feels like everywhere you look there are mountain views, which means tons of epic hikes around!

When we visited, we hiked to Stewart Falls, which is 3.4 miles and a 646 ft elevation gain, making it a great hike for all ages. If you venture on this hike you will be rewarded with mountain views along the way and a tall, beautiful waterfall at the end! If you go early in the morning you may see some wildlife. We ran into a moose and saw some elk and deer!

There are so many other trails we didn’t get to check out that we’d love to hike next time:

  • Lake Blanche: 6.9 miles, 2,706 ft elevation gain. This is the #1 hike we wanted to do, but it’s not dog friendly 🙁 The view from the lake looks incredible though!
  • The Living Room Lookout Trail: 2.3 miles, 980 ft elevation gain. This popular trail is a great overlook of SLC and is dog friendly.
  • Mount Olympus Trail: 8 miles, 4,192 ft elevation gain. This hike is very steep and difficult, but has great views. Make sure you bring lots of water!
  • Lake Catherine: 4.4 miles, 1,243 ft elevation gain. The views are beautiful and the name is pretty cool too 😉
  • Grandeur Peak East Trail: 6 miles, 2627 ft elevation gain. This difficult rated trail provides great views of the lake, Salt Lake City and the surrounding mountains
  • Twin Lakes: 2.3 miles, 757 ft elevation gain. This trail can be combined with Lake Solitude for an epic lake loop.
  • Lake Solitude: 3.3 miles, 495 ft elevation gain. This trail starts from the same area as the Twin Lakes hike. It can be done by itself or as a loop with Twin Lakes.

Ready to explore the Great Salt Lake?

Pin this list of the best things to do at Antelope Island State Park!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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