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Great Salt Lake

Antelope Island State Park   |  Nicole Morgenthau
  • Weather: Clear, 43F
Utah’s Great Salt Lake is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere and the eighth largest in the world. Sure, it’s a geographical masterpiece, but for locals, the capital city’s namesake inspiration is most noted for bison-spotting, bird-watching, Instagram-worthy photo backdrops and the boost it sometimes offers snowstorms called the “lake effect.”

Lake visitors revel in its diverse ecosystem and abundance of wild animals. Home to both the Great Salt Lake State Park and Antelope Island State Park, Great Salt Lake is a popular destination for boating, swimming, hiking, camping and wildlife viewing. Brine shrimp inhabit the saltwater, bison roam the lake’s Antelope Island and millions of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl take refuge in the 400,000 acres of surrounding wetlands.

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When to Visit

Northern Utah experiences dry, sunny summers typically peaking around 90 degrees Fahrenheit in July or August. Spring and fall are incredibly pleasant times to visit. Overnight temperatures in winter drop below freezing, but the state park visitor centers are open year-round. During the warmer months, insects are present on Antelope Island. Insect repellent is not effective on biting gnats, and visitors should be prepared with fine mesh head nets. Call the visitor center for current conditions. 

Utah Weather

Where to Stay

The Great Salt Lake State Park Campground is open year-round and offers RV sites that can accommodate up to a 40′ RV. Campsites have water and electricity. There are primitive beach tent only sites, no hookups or vehicle access on the beach. At Antelope Island State Park, Bridger Bay Campground and White Rock Bay Campground are also open year-round. There are no individual hookups, but throughout the warmer months, you'll find shower facilities, drinking water and concessions, including Buffalo Grill.

Find a campsite

Antelope Island State Park

Photo: Nicole Morgenthau

The Great Salt Lake never freezes over.

Photo: Wei

Getting There

The best access points to Great Salt Lake are via Antelope Island State Park or Great Salt Lake State Park. 

Antelope Island State Park rests on the lake’s east side and is the most popular place to experience the lake, due to its easy-to-spot wildlife and variety of activities. There is a day-use fee per vehicle, check with the park for current pricing. Utah State Park passes are accepted. Visitors can hike, bike, camp or ride horseback to explore the island’s habitat and wildlife. 

Great Salt Lake State Park sits on the south shore. There is a day-use fee per vehicle, check with t​​he park for current pricing. Utah State Park passes are accepted.  Here, you can visit a small visitor’s center, book a boat tour or stroll along the marina dock. Whatever you decide, beautiful views of Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island State Park and Black Rock are a guarantee.

Willard Bay State Park is another option for access, though it’s the least traveled for guests of Great Salt Lake. Willard Bay is a freshwater reservoir on the flood plains of the lake. Both its north marina and south marina are popular for boating, waterskiing and year-round fishing for crappie, walleye, wiper and catfish.

a-year-round-guide-to-great-salt-lake-state-park-01-wei

A Year-Round Guide to Great Salt Lake State Park

Written by Matcha

5 minute read

Great Salt Lake State Park is easy to access from Salt Lake City and makes for a great spot to get out on the water, with unbeatable sunset views.

Northern

Read More

Highlights

Great Salt Lake History

Once upon a time — 30,000 years ago during the Ice Age to be exact — a freshwater Lake Bonneville inhabited much of Northern Utah. Over time, increased evaporation and a warming climate caused the lake’s water levels to rise and fall dramatically. 

The Great Salt Lake we know today emerged about 10,000 years ago. Local Native American tribes knew about Great Salt Lake, and records from the U.S. Geological Society show that explorer Jim Bridger became the first non-native person to see the lake in 1824. Another explorer, John C. Fremont, explored the island further in 1843. Then in 1847, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in the area and used the islands for grazing cattle and recreating in the lake.

Facts About Great Salt Lake

  • Great Salt Lake is not just salty — lake waters range from freshwater to supersaturated with salt. It’s one of the most diverse places on earth in terms of salinity (how much salt is in the water), which creates different habitats and supports biodiversity.
  • There are more than 11 feet of salt on the bottom of the lake in some places.
  • The lake is separated by a railroad causeway that has created two separate ecosystems.
  • There are 338 species of birds that visit the lake.
  • The lake is thalassohaline, which means its origin is from the sea and it has the same ratios of salts that the ocean has, just in much higher concentrations.

Learn more from ecologist Jaimi Butler.

Antelope Island State Park

Help Keep Great Salt Lake Forever Mighty

The Great Salt Lake is essential to Utah’s environment and ecology – 10 million birds visit the lake annually as an essential stopover and breeding ground. But the lake has lost half its water due to human usage. According to the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council, 871 billion gallons of water is diverted annually before it enters the lake and anticipated water demand could lower the lake another 10 feet. Discover simple ways you can conserve water from the Utah Governor’s Water Conservation Team – visit slowtheflow.org.

Be Prepared

  • The Great Salt Lake is the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere. Always check the weather before heading out on the water – storms can be rough and waves can reach 8 to 10 feet.
  • Be sure to check the latest fire restrictions before lighting a campfire, and always know the fire safety rules
  • Metal detecting is by permit only at Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island state parks. Drones are prohibited at Antelope Island State Park from March-November, and by recreational permit only on weekdays December-February. Drone use at Great Salt Lake State Park is year-round by permit only.
  • Everything in the state parks is protected by law. Removal of any natural or cultural resource is prohibited.
  • Respect the health and safety of wildlife. Always maintain a respectful distance, approaching any animal can be dangerous to you and stressful to the animal. 
  • Swimming or floating in the lake is allowed. The best place to experience the lake’s highly saline waters is Bridger Bay Beach. 
  • Great Salt Lake supports several types of bacteria whose byproduct is rotten-egg-smelling hydrogen sulfide. The smell is noticeable along the Davis County Causeway, but resolves once you reach Antelope Island. 
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