Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere and the largest natural lake in North America west of the Mississippi, is the setting for some of the state’s best outdoor recreational opportunities; sailors and kayakers ply the waters, while sunbathers bask on sandy beaches and swimmers float in the high-saline waters.
Seeing the Great Salt Lake typically means visiting one of two Utah state parks, Antelope Island State Park or Great Salt Lake State Park. Guided tours of the vast inland sea give visitors an opportunity to see the Great Salt Lake State Marina, catch brine shrimp (aka sea monkeys) in the salty water, swim in the lake, and spot some of the 250 species of nesting and migratory birds that spend part of the year in this wetlands habitat. Hikers and mountain bikers head to wildlife-rich Antelope Island or the lake’s long shoreline. At 75 miles (120 kilometers) long and 35 miles (56 kilometers) wide, the lake is all that remains of Lake Bonneville, an ice age lake that covered much of the region some 30,000 years ago.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Great Salt Lake is a must-see for outdoors enthusiasts and first-time visitors.
- Bring insect repellent plus sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water; the climate here can be hot and dry.
- The lake is quite shallow; the maximum depth is 35 feet (11 meters). Swimming is allowed but be prepared for flies, lots of brine shrimp, and an odor caused by the high salinity of the water.
How to Get There
The Great Salt Lake sits northwest of Salt Lake City. Exits on interstate 80 and 15 will take you there. Most visitors explore the various points of interest around the lake by car. A causeway (via Interstate 15 to State Route 127) gives automobile access to Antelope Island.
When to Get There
There’s no bad time to visit the Great Salt Lake—timing largely depends on what you want to do. Swimmers and sunbathers should visit during the warm summer months when the lake offers a refreshing break from the heat.
Bonneville Salt Flats
To get a sense of how big the Great Salt Lake was when it was a vast inland sea, pay a visit to the Bonneville Salt Flats just outside of Salt Lake City. The land here is among the flattest places on the planet, stretching across 30,000 barren acres (12,140 hectares).