Antelope Island State Park is a 42-square-mile island located in the Great Salt Lake, just west of Ogden, Utah. It was first established as a Utah State Park in 1969, and it has become a popular outdoor recreation area for Utahns as well as a refuge for antelope, bison, nesting birds, and other animals. In 2017, Antelope Island was designated an International Dark Sky Park (Bronze Tier) by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). Popular activities at at Antelope Island include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, stargazing, photography, saltwater swimming, and wildlife watching.
Antelope Island is still relatively unknown, and is thus free from the hordes of tourists that descend on nearby Bear Lake every summer. If you arrive in the early morning you may have the island practically all to yourself. Even at its busiest it is large enough that you will still have the chance to feel very much one with nature.
The islands of the Great Salt Lake were first mapped out by John C. Fremont in 1843. From 1848 until 1870 the island was used by pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for breeding horses and cattle. In 1884, John Dooly and Frederick Meyers purchased the land and founded the Island Improvement Company, which owned the majority of the island until the late 20th century. In 1893 and 1894, 12 bison, 12 elk, and a number of mountain sheep and pheasants were purchased by ranchers George Frary and William Walker, and brought to the island. Towards the turn of the 20th century, the Antelope Gold and Copper Mining company began activities on the island, under the leadership of George Frary and others.
In 1911, 100 buffalo were counted on the island, at the time one of the largest buffalo herds in the U.S. In 1915, John Dooly Jr. took over the Island Improvement Company and brought sheep to the island as well. In 1955, the Island Improvement Company became the Island Ranching Company.
In 1967, the "Road to Nowhere" was started, and completed three months later connecting the north shore of the island with what is now Syracuse. This road to nowhere later became the causeway that is used today to get to the island. The State of Utah purchased 2000 acres on the northern half of the island in 1969, and the Antelope Island State Park opened to the public on January 15, 1969.
The remaining 26,000 acres of the island were purchased from the Island Improvement Company in 1981, and the cattle and sheep were removed from the island. The company's ranch is still maintained by Utah State Parks as the oldest building built by European-Americans still on its original foundation. It is called Fielding Garr Ranch and is one of the highlights of the island.
Antelope Island is a year-round destination, with winter temperatures in the 10s and 20s Fahrenheit and summer temperatures hovering roughly between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Because there is very little shade on the island, it can be rather suffocatingly hot during the summer. The temperatures are most pleasant in the fall and spring. However, from late March through June there are hordes of biting gnats ("no-see-ums"), which can make a tourist's life truly miserable if they are not adequately prepared. Therefore, although the island can be enjoyed to varying degrees throughout the year, the best times to visit are during autumn and winter.
Antelope Island is connected to the mainland by a causeway that crosses the Great Salt Lake to the northern tip of the island. To get to the causeway, take exit 338 from Interstate 15 in Syracuse, just north of Salt Lake City, and head west on Antelope Drive for seven miles to get to the state park tollbooth. From there, continue on the causeway for an additional seven miles to get to the island. Antelope Drive is the same as 1700 S in Syracuse, and is also UT-127.
The Clearfield station of the FrontRunner train is at Antelope Drive, just west of the freeway. From there, you can rent a car, bike, or use ridesharing apps to access the island by heading west on Antelope Drive.
From the Salt Lake City International Airport, it is just an hour's drive to the northern tip of the island. The Salt Lake Airport has direct connections to many cities throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada; there are also direct connections to a few cities in Europe.
The Ogden-Hinckley Airport is only a half-hour's drive from the northern tip of the island. However, currently the only commercial flight into Ogden is from Mesa, Arizona. There is, however, a large general aviation community that uses the Ogden airport.
The main road going through the island is Antelope Island Road, which comes in at the northern tip of the island and roughly follows the eastern shoreline. There are several other roads, mostly on the northern half of the island, for access to campsites, the visitor's center, and the beaches on the western shoreline. To get onto Antelope Island Road, turn left when you arrive on the island.
Hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are all popular ways to explore the island's many roads and trails.
To get to Fielding Garr Ranch, turn left once you reach the top of the island. Turn left again to follow the eastern shoreline. The drive is about 11 miles.
Antelope Island is covered with trails branching off in different directions, and they all provide wonderful opportunities for wildlife watching and endless photo opportunities. Some of the most popular trails are listed below.
The Antelope Island Marina lies at the northern tip of the island, and is an excellent point for launching watercraft into the Great Salt Lake. As the waters are relatively shallow, the GSL is not a good destination for motorized equipment. Sailboats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards, however, are very much at home on the lake. Sunsets as seen from the middle of the lake are incredibly beautiful, and diverse waterfowl abound in their native territories. Egg Island, just north of Ladyfinger Point, is closed to access year-round to protect nesting birds, but you can paddle around it and admire the wildlife there.
The following nearby agencies offer watercraft rentals:
The Antelope Island Visitor's Center has a gift shop where you can buy souvenirs.
Bring your own water and drinks.
Drink out of the Great Salt Lake.
All reservations for campgrounds at Antelope Island State Park can be made at Reserve America. Camping is available year-round, and can be reserved up to 4 months in advance (or 11 months in advance for the group site.)
None of the campgrounds have shade or drinking water, so come prepared. Flush toilets, hot showers and drinking water can be found at Bridger Bay, approximately 1 mile from each campground.
Exit the island via the causeway at the north tip of the island.
For more fun on the Great Salt Lake, consider visiting the following:
Although Utah State Parks notes that there have only been five visitor-bison encounters in the past 10 years, there are several things you can do to increase your bison safety:
If you do get charged by a bison, play dead. Trying to outrun a bison is futile, as they can run very fast, up to 35mph (56 km/h). Once the bison is no longer paying attention to you, slowly and quietly make your escape.
There is very little shade anywhere on the island, and in the summer it can get quite hot, with highs in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit. As there is also very little drinking water available on the island, you must bring in your own water, especially if you plan to go hiking or do other strenuous activities.
March through May make up the infamous "No-See-Um" season. These practically invisible biting gnats will go after you like a bunch of kids go after ice cream. Head-nets, or at least a hat, are advised. Note that insect repellent is ineffective.