Syracuse to Antelope Island State Park

Antelope Island is the largest of 10 islands in the Great Salt Lake. Its mountain peaks rise out of the flats of the lake and can be seen from miles away. Part of the Utah State Park system, Antelope Island is annually one of the top five most visited parks in the state. People come from all over to explore the island’s many hiking trails, view the stark yet beautiful landscapes, and catch a view of some of the island’s permanent and migratory residents. The island is home to one of the largest publicly owned herds of bison in the nation, over 200 freely roaming pronghorn antelope, and 250-plus known bird species.

With a network of good quality paved roads that meander around the shores of the island and skirt the mountains, road cyclists can combine getting a workout with a nice little western wildlife tour. Be advised that insects are considered wildlife too, and there are times in the spring and early summer when midges, brine flies, and biting gnats are abundant. As long as you keep the pedals turning, they won’t bug you too much.

The 48-mile Syracuse Town Center to Antelope Island State Park out and back is the best way to tour the island on two wheels. The town of Syracuse is located west of Interstate 15 in Davis County, and is bisected by Antelope Drive. It's a straight-shot west from there.

There are several small parks in Syracuse right off of Antelope Drive for parking and shade to start your ride, such as Founders Park (North 2000 W. and Antelope Drive), or Centennial Park (South 2000 W. and Antelope Drive). It’s possible to start this ride further east from Syracuse, but traffic is extremely heavy in and around this corridor.

Causeway to Antelope Island

Head west on Antelope Drive until you reach the guard house at the start of the causeway. Alternately, you could shorten the ride by three miles each way and avoid the traffic from Syracuse to the park by starting your ride from the small parking lot near the guard house, where there is a bathroom and a small picnic area. Remember to bring $3.00 per person which is the current day use fee for cyclists.

Once you have crossed the causeway and passed the small marina, turn right. Follow the signs towards the visitor center. You will basically do a counter-clockwise loop following Antelope Island Drive, around the north end of the island. You’ll pass some campgrounds, trailheads, day use areas, and the Bridger Bay area, which is the location of the Buffalo Island Grill. The irony is not lost when you realize there are no bison to be seen anywhere on this end of the island considering the signature item on the Grill’s menu is the Buffalo Burger.

Reach for an energy bar and keep riding, there is much more to see here. There are some interesting out-and-back spurs, such as the climb up to Buffalo Point, which is worth the uphill effort just for the views that look out over the bays below.

Photo: Thomas Cooke
Photo: Thomas Cooke

As you complete the counter-clockwise loop that takes you back towards the causeway, watch for signs to the Fielding Garr historic ranch and follow them. This is about a 10-mile stretch of rolling and curvy terrain that takes you along the east shore and base of the interior mountains. This is your best chance to see the Bison grazing in the lush prairie grasses near the shoreline, or perhaps a Pronghorn or three galloping up towards the rocky mountains to the west.

Turn around at the ranch when you are ready, and head back to the causeway. If you are going to do this route, make sure your bottles are full before you head out to the ranch. There is a hose with potable water on the east side of the bathroom building at the ranch, but I wouldn’t bank on it always being turned on when when you need it!

In late July of 2016, a lightning strike started a wildfire on Antelope Island that ravaged it, burning over 15,000 acres, which is a little more than half the island. Just one week after this fire, the ride from the causeway to the main loop around the visitor center, showed no evidence of damage. There were very few signs of any scars or burned landscape after climbing the short spur to Buffalo Point and looking out over White Rock Bay either.

It wasn’t until the ride out to historic Fielding Garr Ranch, it became obvious that the fire was most severe up in the mountainous area inland from the shores. State Park officials have said they are optimistic the natural occurrence of the fire will not have lasting negative effects on the wildlife population, as native and non-native re-seeding will replace the habitat and food source that was lost.