Antelope Island State Park

Antelope Island, the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, proved to be a fun surprise in my park quest. No, it didn’t smell; yes, it was full of bugs but not as bad as you’d expect. There were also a few buffalo herds, great hiking and biking trails, and yes, even antelope.

Antelope Island is easy to access by taking the Antelope Drive exit on I-14 in Layton and heading west until you run out of road. There’s a marina; a few campgrounds; a historic ranch; a visitors’ center with restaurant; and plenty of trails for hikers, bikers, and horses. I’ve gone twice now and still haven’t experienced it all.

Antelope Island Bison
A buffalo grazes a few feet away from the main road. Saves a drive to Yellowstone.

During my first trip, we parked the car at the marina and biked to the ranch. The roads are a bit rough but traffic is scarce. The bugs weren’t bad on the actual island and the sunset over the water was beautiful. We could see the buffalo without the tourist traffic jams of Yellowstone. Each time I’ve gone, the herds have been camped out on the east side of the island.

The bugs didn’t come out in full force until I crossed the causeway at dusk. I had to stop at the gas station on the other side to squeegee — not just my windshield — but my headlights. Fall and spring are the best times to visit to avoid the bugs.

My second trip, I hiked up to Frary Peak Trail. This trail climbs 2,100 feet in just three miles. Apparently they don’t believe in switchbacks up there because the path goes straight up. There are several trails on the island that either take you around the edges or up to the highest peaks. Perfect place to watch the sunrise.

Cool Facts

  • Each October the parks hosts the annual Bison Roundup. Volunteers on horseback team up with the park to round up all the bison on the island and bring them into the corrals for annual checks and inoculations. If you don’t have a horse, the public is invited to watch and can get up close and personal with the bison while they’re corralled for a few weeks. Once all checks are done, the bison are released.
  • The bison were introduced in 1893 when the current ranchers wanted to build a herd for private hunting. The island can support about 500 head.
  • By the 1930s, antelope had been completely wiped off the island. In 1993, 24 antelope were reintroduced and the animals now number around 150. A few years later bighorn sheep were transplanted and now count around 100.
    • What we call antelope aren’t technically antelope. Antelope live in Asia and Africa. American antelope are called pronghorns and are more related to cattle than deer. They can run up to speeds of 60 mph and, while cheetahs are faster, pronghorn can hold their speed longer.
    • The island is home to the Fielding Garr Ranch, which is the oldest Anglo home in the state of Utah (built in 1848 and operated until 1981).
Antelope Island Ranch
The ranch was built next to one of several springs on the island, converting the desert landscape into something livable.

Here’s a list of more parks to be explored.

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