At 28,000 acres, Antelope Island in Utah is the largest of ten islands in the Great Salt Lake near Salt Lake City. And, as an island, it's one of the best places to see the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Here are nine things you can do when you visit Antelope Island State Park.
I paid full price for my day hiking the trails, tracking bison, and otherwise exploring the Great Salt Lake’s biggest island. But you can count on me to always share my honest opinions, regardless of who foots the bill.
The Great Salt Lake’s biggest island has been on my travel bucket list for a while. Although I’m lucky enough to spend nearly 30 days a year in the beautiful, high desert community of Salt Lake City, my travels are always for work. So while I’m there, I don’t get to see or do much beyond the interior walls of an office building and eat out. When a last minute change of plans collided with an unseasonably warm, sunny Saturday in February, the universe properly aligned to give me a window of opportunity to finally explore.
Located about an hour northwest of downtown Salt Lake City, Antelope Island State Park is the largest of ten islands in the Great Salt Lake. And, as an island in the middle of the largest salt water lake in North America, it is one of the best places to see the Great Salt Lake. However, in a nod to Rhode Island’s deceptive name, the Puerto Rico-shaped, 28,000-acre state park is often a peninsula (and not an island) when the lake level is low enough.
Pro Tip: Another way to explore Utah’s Great Salt Lake via a bus tour. This guided tour from Salt Lake City provides an overview of the area, explores the wetlands habitat, and even lets you dip your toes in the salty water.
Antelope Island State Park welcomes approximately 300,000 visitors each year. To access the island, drive, bicycle, or walk across a seven-mile causeway over the Great Salt Lake’s Farmington Bay from the town of Syracuse, Utah. There is a modest fee to enter the state park, currently $10 per vehicle for up to eight people or $3 per person if you’re arriving by motorcycle, bicycle, or on foot. Visitors can enjoy the island between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Related Article: 10 Essential Biking Rules Every Cyclist Should Know
After the trek across the causeway, start your adventure with a stop at the Visitors Center. Not only will you find the best toilets on the island, but you’ll get a great overview of the Great Salt Lake and the animals that call Antelope Island home. The rangers at the Visitors Center are usually able to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the free-range bison herd (see tip #3) and other creatures that have recently been sighted in the area.
Pro Tip: If you love Antelope Island, then you won’t want to miss these seven other Utah state parks!
2. Hike the Trails
There are approximately 20 miles of trails to be explored on the Great Salt Lake’s biggest island. Antelope Island hikes range from piece of cake to pretty challenging. Easy or hard, every trail I explored offered amazing views of either the Great Salt Lake or the Wasatch Mountains.
Since my left foot was still in a post-surgery state of healing, I started with the super duper easy Lady Finger Point Trail. It’s a half-mile round trip loop with only an eight-foot elevation difference. It’s a great trail for families, especially those with younger children. Scramble around large rocks for a good view of Egg Island, home to many nesting birds like California gulls. The trails on Antelope Island also provide some of the best places to see the Great Salt Lake.
Remember that the island is 4,000 ft above sea level and surrounded by some of the most saline water you’ll ever meet. Be sure to take plenty of drinking water, apply bug repellent, and use adequate sun protection on all Antelope Island hikes.
Pro Tip: Dogs are permitted on Antelope Island and on the hiking trails provided they are on a leash.
3. Admire the Animals on Antelope Island
Although the island is named after the pronghorn antelope, you are more likely to see bison. Motivated by money, William Glassman and John Dooly dropped an initial herd of 12 bison off on Antelope Island in 1893. With native populations of American bison nearing extinction as the Federal government killed them by the trainloads to manipulate Native Americans, John Dooly thought he could create a hunting ranch and charge people to hunt the bison.
Dooly quickly realized that his idea was financially impossible, and a large hunt was organized in 1926 to eradicate the bison. While most of the herd was killed, a group of bison escaped the massacre. Left alone on the island they propagated into the hundreds. Today, the Antelope Island buffalo herd is one of the largest and oldest publicly-owned bison herds in the country.
Pro Tip: To explore more of Utah’s natural beauty, be sure to check out this Utah travel guide featuring Arches National Park, Moab, and other gorgeous destinations in the Beehive State.
Each year, in late October, the island’s bison population is rounded up and corralled in a central location. They are examined and vaccinated. Then the bison version of the Hunger Games takes place. Because the island offers the perfect prairie-like habitat for the beasts, and because the bison have no real predators here, approximately 150 calves are born each year.
Since the island can sustain no more than 700 head of bison, the excess beasts must be culled. The majority of the bison are released to once again roam freely. But those that are selected to leave the herd are sent off of the island. They might join another herd at a national park like Yellowstone. Or, they may be purchased by a farm where they are either bred or sent to the slaughterhouse.
In addition to the bison, the island is home to about 200 head each of mule deer, bighorn sheep, and, of course, pronghorn antelope. Moving on to smaller species, you may spot a badger, porcupine, rabbit, or squirrel. A few carnivores like coyotes and bobcats round out the Antelope Island ecosystem.
4. Check Out the Historic Fielding Garr Ranch
In the mid-1800s, a Mormon widower with nine children named Fielding Garr settled on the east side of the island. At the LDS Church’s request, he built an adobe house and a ranch to manage the Church’s herds of cattle and sheep.
Wait! What about fresh drinking water? As it turns out, there are several springs on the island. Garr chose this specific location for the ranch because it’s near the strongest and most consistent spring on the island.
Under the leadership of the LDS Church, Fielding Garr operated the ranch for more than 20 years. In 1870, it was purchased by John Dooly, the man with the bison hunting ranch dream. Although that didn’t work out, the ranch was continuously operated and inhabited for more than 100 years. At its peak, the Fielding Garr Ranch was one of the largest sheep ranches in the country with 10,000 head of sheep. Ranching operations ceased in 1981 when the remaining private property was sold and the Antelope Island State Park became part of the Utah State Parks system.
A visit to the Fielding Garr Ranch today allows you to step back in time. Explore the old adobe ranch house, silo, bunkhouse, and stables. Or see sheep shearing, wool processing, and the blacksmith shop in action on select days.
5. Hail a Horse to Explore Antelope Island State Park
Through R&G Horse and Wagon, horses can be rented at the Fielding Garr Ranch. This isn’t your typical face-to-fanny trail ride. Rather, this an open range experience led by an expert wrangler who knows the island like the back of his hand. Exploring Antelope Island State Park on horseback with a guide can provide you with an up close and personal experience like no other!
6. Breathe in the Salt Air (or Not)
Spoiler Alert: The Great Salt Lake is incredibly salty! The rivers that empty into the Great Salt Lake carry salt and other minerals. Because there is no outlet for the lake, the salt becomes more concentrated as the water evaporates. While the salinity varies in different parts of the lake, the entire Great Salt Lake is too salty for fish or other common lake-dwellers. What does thrive, however, are brine shrimp and brine flies. While that’s bad for fishermen, it’s fantastic for the 250 species of birds that feed on both.
Planning my day on Antelope Island, every local I chatted with complained about two things: the smell and the flies. I’m happy to report that neither was really an issue. There was a bit of a sulphury, rotten egg smell driving over Farmington Bay on the causeway, but nothing at all once I was on the island. Brine flies weren’t an issue, likely because I visited the Great Salt Lake in February.
A summer or early fall visit will likely include an encounter with a mass of brine flies along the shoreline. A cloud of black flies sounds intimidating, but apparently brine flies don’t bite and aren’t interested in pestering humans.
Fun Fact: After adult brine flies hatch, their casings often pile up along the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake. One year, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources counted seven billion cases along the Antelope Island Causeway. That’s more brine fly casings than there are people on earth!
7. Watch for Birds
With an abundance of delicious brine shrimp, the Great Lake attracts a wide variety of migrating and nesting birds. Along the shoreline, watch for mallard ducks, Canada geese, great blue herons, and ibis. On the island, keep an eye out for pheasants, quail, burrowing owls, and red-winged blackbirds. Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and great horned owls are some of the other more than 250 bird species you might encounter on Antelope Island.
Pro Tip: The Antelope Island Causeway and the Fielding Garr Ranch are two ideal locations for bird watching.
8. Photograph Your Experience
Whether you prefer wildlife, landscape, or portrait photography, Antelope Island won’t disappoint! Head to the island to capture:
- stunning sunsets,
- smooth beaches,
- free range bison,
- rugged rocks,
- mountain backdrops,
- and more!
Fun Fact: The metamorphic and igneous rocks on Antelope Island are some of the oldest in the nation, even older than those found at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
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Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Always remember you were born with gifts and talents that the world needs you to share. - - She proceeded to tell on our way out to Antelope Island that she wants to be a scientist/chemist. & all I have to say is wow. Dream big lovely lady, and do what sets your soul on fire. #seniorpictures #adventureawaits #let_there_be_delight #bedeeplyrooted #livefullyalive #alifeofintention #seniorportraits #2018senior #utahfamily #theseniorelite
Pro Tip: Take better travel photos with these seven tips.
9. Spend the Night Under the Stars Camping at Antelope Island State Park
If you want to spend the night at Antelope Island camping, there are about 50 campsites across four campgrounds. However, camping at Antelope Island is pretty rustic. Antelope Island campgrounds have neither water nor electricity, and generators must be turned off during quiet hours from 10:00 pm to 7:00 am. Although the campgrounds have pit toilets, flush toilets and showers are available at Bridger Bay Beach.
Pro Tip: Approximately once a month, Antelope Island hosts a public star party. Join the Ogden Astronomical Society to gaze at star clusters, galaxies, nebulae, and more.
To Visit the Great Salt Lake's Antelope Island State Park
Here’s all of the practical information you need to visit Antelope Island State Park in Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
Where is Antelope Island?
Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake northwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. To visit Antelope Island State Park in Davis County near Syracuse, Utah, take Antelope Island Road (also known as the Antelope Island Causeway) from Syracuse to the island.
How to Get to Antelope Island
To reach Antelope Island from Downtown Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake City International Airport, Take I-15 North for about 50 miles. Just south of the Hill Air Force Base, turn left on Antelope Island Road in Davis County and follow it west over Farmington Bay to Antelope Island.
How Far is Antelope Island from Salt Lake City?
It’s about 60 miles from Downtown Salt Lake City, Temple Square, or the Salt Lake City International Airport to Antelope Island State Park. It takes about an hour to reach the state park by car.
Are Dogs Allowed on Antelope Island?
Dogs are allowed at Antelope Island State Park and on the Antelope Island hiking trails provided they are on a leash.
When is Antelope Island State Park Open?
The park is open year round providing opportunities to visit in all seasons. Antelope Island hours are from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm March and October and 7:00 am to 7:00 pm November to February. Please note that the hours for the Visitor Center and Fielding Garr Ranch may vary. Both are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
How Much Does It Cost to Visit Antelope Island State Park?
The Antelope Island entrance fee is $10 per vehicle. Discounts are available to seniors. If you plan to bike or walk your way onto Antelope Island, the fee is $3 per day for cyclists and pedestrians.
How Big is Antelope Island?
At nearly 27,000 acres (about 42 square miles), Antelope Island is the biggest of the ten islands in the Great Salt Lake.
Can You Camp on Antelope Island?
Yes! Camping is one of several things to do at Antelope Island State Park. There are about 50 campsites across four campgrounds on Antelope Island. Be advised that Antelope Island camping is a bit rustic. There is neither fresh water nor electricity at the campsites. Additionally, generators must be silenced between 10:00 pm and 7:00 am.
Can You Swim at Antelope Island?
Yes! If you’d like to dip your feet in the Great Salt Lake or float in its intensely saline water, try Bridger Bay in the northwest part of Antelope Island.
Where Can I Stay Near Antelope Island State Park?
Have You Visited Antelope Island in Utah's Great Salt Lake?
What did you do and see when you visited Antelope Island State Park? Any tips to share? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
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