This is not a New Year's resolution. This is a must-do part of living in Utah: getting outdoors. As you know from having an active lifestyle, the more you explore Utah, the longer your "must visit" list becomes. Here is a roundup of nine state park destinations to add to your "life list."
To be sure, many of Utah's national-park quality state parks have great events scheduled throughout the winter. Five took part in America's State Park's annual First Day Hike program by inviting the public to join in a guided tour of some of Utah's most unique landscapes: Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Dead Horse Point, Snow Canyon, Yuba and Antelope Island.
Antelope Island By The Numbers
Take the Antelope Drive exit in Layton and head west. It's 12 minutes to the park's entrance, where day-use fees apply, then a 7-mile causeway across the lake accesses the island. Visit the state park's site for information on upcoming guided hikes and events, including a full moon hike and an astronomy presentation.
Keep in Mind
Depending on snow levels and outdoor temperatures, winter hikers will encounter a range of trail conditions. While bison can weight up to 2,000 lbs, they can also run up to 40 mph. Keep your distance.
Ice Fishing in Four State Parks
The Wasatch Back Quad-fishalon is an ice-fishing tournament being held across Utah's East Canyon, Deer Creek, Rockport & Jordanelle state parks beginning later in January and continuing into February. Register to participate in the fishalon at one reservoir or signup to try all four!
Leading the way in Utah — if not nationally — was the Antelope Island 5-mile round tour of the north end of the Great Salt Lake's largest island. The state park's heritage and outdoor education coordinator, Justina Parsons-Bernstein, said that this year's 176 people (141 adults and 35 children) and 22 canines eclipsed their best year, the park's inaugural First Day Hike in 2012.
"I'm just amazed to see how many kids and adults made it out for the hike," said Parsons-Berstein. While she noted the thirteen lucky hikers who attended the Snow Canyon sunrise hike saw two shooting stars, conditions for the Antelope Island hike, given the time of year, could not have been much better.
Hikers took in otherworldly views of the Great Salt Lake from the northeastern shore with crystalline snow, unique rock outcroppings and dormant flora creating dimension among the shore plains.
Rays from the sun broke over ridge to the immediate west. Shielding the eyes revealed a silhouette of a patient pronghorn antelope, marveling at the size of the single file, upright herd of humans shuffling along the bench.
A scattering of the island's famous bison herd stand still among the boulders, four impressive animals likely weighing in at nearly a ton within several yards of the trail, one close enough to warrant caution to excited children from wary parents, and to spark energized curiosity among the leashed-canine crowd.
Once the crowd of hikers spread out, the First Day Hike allowed people to go at their own pace and turn back whenever they wanted, or complete a 5-mile loop. The park's enthusiastic and knowledgeable naturalist, Wendy Wilson, also provided a little context. Thanks to some tumultuous happenings several thousand years ago — and over the course of several thousand years — Antelope Island's topography is comprised of distinct strata of ancient shorelines interspersed with fascinating geology dating from tufa limestone deposited by Lake Bonneville 10,000 years ago to 1.7-million-year-old rock as ancient those found deep in the Grand Canyon, and among the oldest found anywhere in Utah. The island's surrounding lake is the deepest part of the eastern Great Basin, which any Utah school kid will tell you was once the bed of the massive inland freshwater Lake Bonneville.
All this background is to say that Antelope Island represents one of the most unique state park experiences in the nation, no matter the season. In fact, while 176 outdoor enthusiasts of all ages took to the trail near Bridger Bay Campground on the 2014 First Day Hike, several trucks with horse trailers populated an area near the park's second camp area. In addition, five kayakers could be seen in the middle of the afternoon gliding across the lake's placid waters on the west side of the island while several amateur ornithologists photographed birds from the causeway. And in the distance the snowcapped Wasatch Front Range hovered like floating islands through the atmosphere.
"I talked with one of the employees at the visitor center who was pleasantly surprised by how many people were on the island, and not just for the hike. It truly is a great resource, and the First Day Hike was a great way to introduce a lot of people to it," said Eugene Swalberg, public affairs coordinator for Utah State Parks. Over 1,000 combined miles were logged by hikers in this year's event statewide.