Antelope Island is the largest of ten islands in the Great Salt Lakes and one not to be missed exploring! We’ve just spent a full week on Antelope Island, working and enjoying the abundant wildlife and scenery. This is a MUST visit location for anyone absolutely enthralled with nature at it’s rawest! While our first impression of the island steered us to think there wasn’t much to explore, we were wrong! We extended our stay past what we had anticipated to scout out the best of the Island for YOU!
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW.
Access to the Island is via a 7 mile causeway through Syracuse North of Salt Lake City. Day pass entrance to the island may seem to be a considerably steep $15, however if you reserve a campsite during your stay the entry fee is absorbed in the cost and entirely worth it. There is a gate at the entrance and access to the Island is only permitted between the hours of 6am-10pm daily, so don’t roll in too late.
Wildlife is abundant on the Island and likely to be seen rather up close and personal. Free-roaming bison, pronghorn antelope, coyote, badgers and barn owls to name just a few. Always remain respectful of their space and view at a distance.
WHAT’S THAT SMELL?
The most alarming and unexpected experience on the Island is the sulfa smell you are greeted with near the end of the causeway as you make your way onto the Island. If you must know what that unpleasant sewer smell is, it’s simply decay in process. Within the vast surrounding lakes, wastewater (which is rich in nutrients) is drained in the process of mining the salt from the lake. The nutrients feeds the algae blooms that then feed bacteria after they die. The Great Salt Lake supports several types of bacteria with nowhere to escape. As bacteria work to decompose organic matter, hydrogen sulfide is expelled and emits an unpleasant smell. So in other words, it’s the natural process of nature doing it’s thing! It is strongest around mid morning and during high eastern wind gusts, but you won’t even notice it the majority of your stay. I know it sounds rather disgusting and possibly a deterent in wanting to explore the Island…but trust us, you’ll get used to it in no time and it is not a continual smell. So know before you go, but STILL DEFINATELY GO!
WHAT TIME OF YEAR IS BEST TO EXPLORE THE ISLAND?
Fall is a great time of year to experience the Island. The majority of the irritating bugs, the summer heat and crowds have diminished and the cooler evening temps are welcome by warm but comfortable days. If bugs are a deciding factor in your visit to the Island, know before you go.
Spring/Summer: Biting gnats emerge in the spring (April – June). Know that insect repellent is ineffective.
Summer/Fall: Mosquitos are present throughout the summer and early fall. Though insect repellent IS effective. Brine Flies emerge during mid-summer and stick around for months, covering the shorelines. These non-biting flies are entirely harmless, moving out of the way when approached. It is truly amazing to witness due to the sheer number moving in harmony. They were not a nuisance for us at all and should not hinder you from exploring the incredible shorelines of the Island.
The month of October is popular however due to their Annual Bison Roundup, so you may want to make reservations ahead of time if planning to visit during this popular event.
DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU CAN NATURALLY FLOAT IN THE LAKE?
Swimming and floating in the lake is allowed and an incredible MUST-DO EXPERIENCE! The lake itself if a massive evaporation pool, leaving highly concentrated salt deposits behind, making it’s waters the perfect natural floating pool. While we don’t advise drinking the water even accidently, we beg you to give it a try…you won’t be disappointed! The best place to experience the lake’s highly saline waters is Bridger Bay Beach. There are exposed cold showers available next to the restrooms to wash the salt off your body afterwards, recommended after submerging in the lake. However if you prefer a pipping hot shower, private showers are available though these will cost you. $1.00 in quarters gets you four solid minutes of warm water bliss!
WITH A TOTAL OF 16 TRAILS ON THE ISLAND, HOW TO KNOW WHICH TRAIL IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
There are endless trails raging in easy to difficult for you to select from depending on what you want out of it. Antelope Island is surprisingly remote and vast at 15 miles in length. Only a small portion of it is accessible by car. There are really only two main roads on the Island, one loops all three campgrounds, beach, marina and Visitors Center while the other leads you to the backcountry trails and Fielding Garr Ranch. There is an extensive network of unbelievably beautiful backcountry trails, 16 trails in total to be exact. Which means there is A LOT of hiking opportunity, whether you only have a day or more to explore!
You need to know that the majority of the trails with access via a parking lot are one-way, with very few loop opportunities. Be cautious of one-way mileage or extending additional trails, due to this. It is always suggested to time yourself on the one-way, so that you can better gauge your capabilities on the return. The backcountry trails connect to each other through a large web of trail intersections, offering different terrain and elevation to capture the best of the Island’s allure/appeal. While there are a few natural springs on the Island, most of these are dedicated off trail for the Wildlife therefore ALL water must be carried with you. The hikes are extremely exposed with limited shade, some require significant gain and loss. Please know your limitations in desert hiking and plan your routes accordingly. If you begin a remote access trail, you will be forced to complete it in order to get back to your vehicle.
Much of the park is extremely remote, but that is what imposes the beauty. These are our favorite hike options depending on fitness level and timeframes.
If you only have a day to explore, Frary Peak Trail offers the best of everything! This 3.5mile one-way trail sits at the highest point on the Island, offering indescribable views from the top. It is rated difficult as it gains over 2000ft in elevation in a short distance to reach Fray Peak. Worth it though if you’re fit to explore it. Don’t forget to take the Dooly Knob side trail on the return to your car for Western views of the Island. An alternative sensational hike that is rated easy is the Lakeside Trail Loop, accessible from either Bridger Bay or White Rock campgrounds. This 5 mile loop trail offers incredible scenery of the bays along the shorelines on the West side of the Island. If you find it too easy for your fitness level, you can always add in a steep 1/4 mile trail to the top of a exploratory boulder field at Buffalo Point. Watch out for Bison on this trail…as you are likely to discover a few meandering about.
If you are looking for a challenge and have the time to further explore, we’d suggest combining the the Bone Road Trail with Split Rock Loop, taking the Elephant Head Spur without fail. That’ll have you walking just over 13miles, with spectacular views of the Great Salk Lake from about 700ft. The combination of trails range from moderate to difficult but mostly level elevation once you are up on the ridge. This is the most scenic of the extended hiking options on the Island, though an decent alternative is the Mountain View Trail which will assure you up close and personal viewings of large herd of the free-roaming bison. You will want to either only do a portion of this trail before heading back to your car, or secure a shuttle vehicle as this one-way 11mile trail navigates the entire East side of the Island with views of Salt Lake City across the bay.
If hiking isn’t your thing, don’t fret…you can still experience the Island in an impactful way! Guided horseback rides and electric bike rentals are available. Call before you go to ensure their hours of operation, varying seasonally.
IS IT WORTH IT TO CAMP ON THE ISLAND?
Yes, we think so! That is where you have more up close and personal viewings of the wildlife, ranging from early dawn past dusk at all campgrounds. The sunrises and sunsets are spectacular, illuminating the still water and creating amazing reflections…a photographers bliss!
Camping is only allowed in designated camping areas. They have three campgrounds to select from, if you are wanting to have a bit more time to explore the Island, or even make the most of your wildlife experiences. Two campgrounds are set up for larger trailers – Bridger Bay and White Rock Campgrounds. Lady Finger Campground is tent only. Costs range from $20-40/night and there are currently no water or electrical hookups at any of these. Potable water and a dump station is located down the hill from the Visitors Center with easy access. The park is currently building the first electrical hookup campground anticipated to be complete in 2022. Please note, if you reserve a campground, your entrance fee on the island is paid for through the cost of your reservation making it extremely cost effective for your visit.
In our experience during a 6 night stay most RV’ers make it a brief overnight stop, packing up and leaving on the early side. They have a 3pm check-in time, though we would encourage you to get there much earlier as your reserved site will likely be available for early arrival. If you find that it isn’t…there are still plenty of places to park your rig while you continue onto explore the Island.
Bridger Bay Campground is superior to the other options, mainly for it’s beauty from every site. No site is better than the other, as the campground is built on a natural “amphitheater” on the hill with views of Egg Island – a protected bird nesting site. It is nestled on the slope of an incredible 5 mile hiking trail with easy access to the beach. It is a prime location where small herds of bison graze.