Because of the incredible amount of attractions in the southern part of Utah (just to be clear, I am referring to the parks with red rocks), it is easy to underestimate the northern area of this beautiful state which, however, contrary to what one might think, does not cease to amaze.
The northern part, the one closest to the border with Wyoming and Montana, is often considered as a mere as land to drive through to get to Yellowstone, yet this vast geographical area boasts some great natural beauty. Just think of Bonneville Salt Flats, Flaming Gorge and, of course, Antelope Island State Park. While the first two are a little more complicated to fit into an itinerary, Antelope Island (not to be confused with Antelope Canyon, which is located in Arizona) is definitely more convenient.
So let’s take a look at all the information you need to visit it.
- How to Get to Antelope Island from Salt Lake City
- Antelope Island: What to Expect
- Things to Do at Antelope Island State Park
- Attractions and Restaurants Near Antelope Island
- Where to Stay near Antelope Island
How to Get to Antelope Island from Salt Lake City
Antelope Island State Park is an island in the Great Salt Lake and can be reached from the mainland along the Antelope Island Road, a small but scenic road that can be accessed by paying the entrance fee at the toll booth ($ 15 per vehicle. the national parks annual pass is not accepted). As it was mentioned above, the park is quite easy to add to an itinerary. Just take a simple detour on the way from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone, or take a day trip directly from Salt Lake City, which is about an hour away.
To get there, take I-15 N and turn right at Exit 332, Antelope Drive, and continue straight to the park entrance.
Antelope Island: What to Expect
What makes Antelope Island especially impressive is its surreal landscape, made of golden prairies and beaches that fade into the horizon, and its fauna, composed of bison, antelope, deer, coyotes, bighorn sheep and various species of birds. The most representative image of this natural area is a herd of bison peacefully grazing on the prairies at the foot of the mountains (for example Frary Peak, the highest peak).
Exploring the area, especially along the Davis County Causeway, you will notice at times an unpleasant smell, caused by the bacteria that produce hydrogen sulfide in the Great Salt Lake. On the island, however, the smell tends to disappear.
Things to Do at Antelope Island State Park
You can either drive around the park, stopping at viewpoints to admire the beauty of the views and wildlife, or you can hike the many trails available. Many people also swim here, taking advantage of the high salinity of the lake, which seems to enable you to float without too much effort, although the strong smell could make you want to pass this up…
How long does it take to visit the park?
The park is not big and if you want to visit it by car you could manage to do it even in 2 hours. Obviously, things change if you decide to walk the trails. Here are some tips on how to plan an itinerary for either option:
Visit by Car
If you are looking for an itinerary that allows you to enjoy the best of the park in about 2 hours, follow this route:
As soon as you start driving along the Antelope Island Road,you will immediately realize you are in an unusual place. The spectacular road leading to the island (Davis County Causeway) is like a thin layer of land skimming over the salt lake. On your left you will be greeted by the majestic Frary Peak reflected in the water, while flocks of birds will fly alongside you as you drive.
Near the Antelope Island State Park sign (and its unsightly blue bison), I suggest you turn right and head towards the Visitor center, where, in addition to picking up the map and requesting information, you can enjoy a wonderful view of the road you have just driven.
From the Visitor center, heading south, you’ll come across a number of trails and viewpoints. You’re free to explore the whole area, but whether you’re a hiker or just a visitor on the road, you don’t want to miss Buffalo Point, a scenic spot with picnic tables that gives you a beautiful view of the western side of the island. You can simply enjoy the view or walk along the trail, which we will talk about in a moment.
At this point, go back to the blue bison statue and this time take the road along the east bank of the lake, at Farmington Bay. This is the best area to sight the bison, which you will encounter along the way in large numbers and probably also up close (Here and in Yellowstone, they have the habit of crossing the road). In this area, if you’re lucky, you’ll also see some antelope, one of the fastest land animals in the world, and is more difficult to spot than bison, which move in large herds. Below you can see some photos of the fauna of this area:
The road from the painted bison to the Fielding Garr Ranch is about 11 miles long and, if you want to travel all the way, it may take you even 1 full hour to complete round trip. Along the way, after almost 6 miles, you will find the junction to Frary Peak Trailhead Road, which leads to 2 of the park’s most popular trails: Frary Peak Trail and Dooly Knob Trail.
Antelope Island Hikes
- Buffalo Point Trail: if you want a quick glimpse of Great Salt Lake and the most views with minimal effort, it’s hard to pass up Buffalo Point. The trail is easy to spot, and the hike, just under a mile round trip, is short and easy to walk, also great for children. The parking lot, which also has remarkable views, has restrooms, a large panoramic patio with benches and even binoculars to see things more closely. This trail is an excellent place for watching bison grazing. The short hike leads to a rock from which you can enjoy splendid views of the lake and some smaller islands.
- Dooly Knob Trail: this trail, 2.8 miles round trip, to Dooly Knob is a bit more challenging, mainly because of its length, because the terrain is fairly smooth and can also be walked with children. The viewpoint is located at a higher elevation than Buffalo Point and offers spectacular views of the Great Salt Lake, the Wasatch Mountains and the valley below. During the walk along this trail, you can admire bison, antelope, deer mules and bighorn sheep. To access the trail, you can park in the rest area on Frary Peak Trailhead Road.
- Frary Peak Trail: Frary Peak, the highest mountain on Antelope Island, is also the most spectacular viewpoint on the island. The hike, about 7 miles round trip, is quite tiring, especially the final part, but the views are absolutely worth the effort. The Frary Peak Trail and Dooly Knob share the first half mile or so and then they split and after this point, the Frary Peak Trail becomes progressively steeper. Near the radio antenna (mile 3) take the path to the right and continue to the summit. The walk will be even more demanding and in the last part there are some wooden wall supports to help guide you. Obviously, the effort will be well rewarded, with the most beautiful view Antelope Island has to offer.
Can You Swim at Antelope Island?
The smell of hydrogen sulfide coming from the water is not exactly inviting, so personally, I didn’t feel like going for a swim. However, many locals who are attracted to Great Salt Lake’s high salt concentration don’t mind diving in its waters and if you are interested, you’ll have to go to Bridger Bay Beach, where you’ll also find restrooms, showers and a snack bar (Island Buffalo Grill).
The lake area is populated by mosquitoes and other insects, so save yourself from dealing with the insects and take the mosquito repellent with you. Of course, you must also respect the local fauna, and most importantly, do not get too close to bison. In the summer, if you go for a walk, take a good supply of water with you.
Attractions and Restaurants Near Antelope Island
The island is conveniently located close to the Hill Aerospace Museum, a fascinating aviation museum displaying a remarkable collection of warplanes. If you are looking for a place to stop for lunch, I recommend Crown Burgers in Layton, a characteristic American diner. I ate a hamburger here and it was excellent.
Where to Stay near Antelope Island
The best place to stay overnight near Antelope Island is, of course, Salt Lake City. For detailed advice on where to look for accommodations in and around the city I recommend you read my guide to visiting Salt Lake City. If you are planning to visit the island as a stop between Salt Lake City and Yellowstone, I would like to refer you to our in-depth guide about the best places to stay in Yellowstone.