It’s a good question!
A blogger friend from California asked me a few years ago if it is a good idea to swim in the Great Salt Lake. Having lived just a few miles from the Great Salt Lake for most of my life, my initial response was, “You can, but why would you want to?”
Many Salt Lake City locals have waded into the Great Salt Lake at least once in their lives. However, many don’t try it more than once because the lake can be smelly and loaded with brine shrimp and flies. That’s hardly enticing for those of us who live near enough to take this unique place for granted.
So, I was surprised when another blogger from New York told me how much her family enjoyed swimming in the Great Salt Lake on their trip to Utah. I decided to give it another chance. When my sister called me a few days later and suggested that we visit Antelope Island with our kids, I brought swimsuits and towels.
We had fun! Floating in the Great Salt Lake is a bucket list kind of experience. It’s not something I want to do every weekend, but it was unusual and fun enough that I happily returned to the Great Salt Lake on a hot day in 2017 with 18 aunts, uncles and cousins from my husband’s family.
Little had changed since our 2012 visit, and once again we had fun. We were all amazed at how easy it was to keep our heads out of the water. Some of us paddled just beyond our depth and found that the water was much cooler. We just hung out there for at least an hour, bobbing effortlessly in the calm water.
The Great Salt Lake is a unique place. It is the largest U.S. lake west of the Great Lakes and the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere. The salinity of the lake is much higher than that of the ocean, making it easy to float on the water.
If you want to swim in the Great Salt Lake, do it! Here’s how:
Go to Antelope Island
Antelope Island State Park is located in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. It is about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City and is accessible by car via a seven-mile causeway. Take exit 332 (Antelope Drive) from Interstate 15 and drive west until you get there. The entrance fee is $10 per car.
Antelope Island is just a few miles away from the most densely populated part of Utah, but is wonderfully undeveloped itself. There are no hotels, cabins, or condos – just campgrounds. The island’s few structures include a visitor’s center, the historic Fielding Garr Ranch, and a small restaurant. Bison, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep roam freely on the grassy hills.
Check the park’s website before you go
When we have visited Antelope Island in the spring, we were eaten alive by invisible biting gnats that were unaffected by insect repellent. The Antelope Island website posts warnings about such things to help you plan for or avoid them. The website will also have information on special events on the island such as stargazing parties and concerts.
Leave most of your things in the car
The Great Salt Lake is shallow and water levels have been low in recent years. You may walk at least a quarter mile from your car to the water. The parking lot is right next to the showers and picnic tables, so it is easy to get what you need when you need it.
You can carry umbrellas, chairs, coolers and other beach gear down to the water, but most people don’t. On our most recent trip, it was very hot and we walked straight into the water, floated for an hour or so and then walked straight back up to the showers. I was grateful to have a cold water bottle before I hiked back uphill through hot sand, but could have left my towel and pretty much everything else in the car.
Bring a picnic
There are several covered picnic tables at the beach on Antelope Island. Leave your cooler on a table or in the car. On our 2012 visit, we hauled our picnic out to the water’s edge and then hauled it all back because the flies were too thick near the water.
If you’d rather buy lunch or dinner on Antelope Island, the Island Buffalo Grill is located on the beach. This restaurant specializes in buffalo burgers and is open seasonally.
Bring sand toys
Utah.com promotes the “clean, white sand beaches” of Antelope Island, but that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The beach is okay, but it’s a little rocky, and I’ve seen much nicer beaches in California and the Caribbean. That didn’t bother my children when they were younger and they had a great time playing in the sand. Great Salt Lake sand is oolitic sand. The grains of this unusual calcium carbonate sand are smooth and round.
The sand near the picnic area is best for play. The sand near the water is packed and buggy.
Get past the negatives
You’re likely to encounter “lake stink,” flies and brine shrimp on this adventure. However, the lake odor on the island is not nearly as strong as on the causeway. The flies on the shoreline cleared as I walked through them into the lake. The brine shrimp will not hurt or stick to you – though you may find a few stuck in your swimsuit afterward.
Swimming in the Great Salt Lake is not for the squeamish. If the bugs and brine shrimp keep you out of the water, I won’t judge. However, they really weren’t a big deal once I decided to just enjoy it.
BONUS: Brine shrimp and flies keep the crowds away. We visited on a Saturday afternoon in July and there was plenty of space for everyone.
Kick up your feet
You made it this far. Enjoy! I really did float like a cork in the salty water. I didn’t even get my hair wet. When my daughter asked me to get her a rock on the lake bed, I had a hard time reaching it because the water kept pushing me upward.
The water at the beach is shallow and I had to wade out before the water was deep enough to sit back and float. My children loved playing in the waveless water and the depth was perfect for young children. They learned quickly not to splash the salty water in their eyes and mouths.
Skip some rocks
There were many round, flat rocks near and in the water. I was impressed when my daughter, who had never skipped a rock before, skipped one four times. Flat rocks and calm, briny water make the beach on Antelope Island a great place to skip rocks.
You’ll want to rinse the salt water off before you go. There are free outdoor showers and a hose outside the bathrooms for a quick rinse, or private coin-operated showers for a more thorough clean.
The bathrooms at the Bridger Bay are better than most beach bathrooms I’ve seen. They have flush toilets, tile floors and marble counter tops.
Try some of Antelope Island’s other activities
You can easily spend a full day on Antelope Island. Learn about the lake at the visitor’s center. Hike to Buffalo Point and watch one of Antelope Island’s exceptionally beautiful sunsets. Bike the island’s roads and trails. Rent a kayak. Watch for wildlife on a scenic drive.
We had a good time swimming in the Great Salt Lake, and would do it again. There are many freshwater lakes in Utah that are much nicer for swimming and boating, but nobody puts swimming in Pineview Reservoir on their bucket list.
Not everyone can say they’ve floated in the Great Salt Lake. Will you?
How else can I help?
Need a place to stay? The hotels in Layton are closest to Antelope Island, but this is an easy day trip from Salt Lake City or Ogden. Click the button to check rates and availability for local hotels now on TripAdvisor.
Need a rental car? You will need your own vehicle to get to Antelope Island. Find the best rates from dozens of agencies at RentalCars.com. Read my tips for getting the best price on your rental car HERE.
Packing list: Swimsuit, towel and sun protection are necessities. Water shoes and a good water bottle are nice to have. You can bring a sun umbrella, beach chairs and cooler, but most people don’t. You can park right next to the bathrooms, so most people leave everything except the necessities in their car.
Looking for more fun things to do in Salt Lake City? Get my Salt Lake City Summer Fun Plan when you sign up for my newsletter. Learn more HERE. Both are completely free and require no commitment or obligation. The Summer Fun Plan features all the activities from my popular post 25 FREE Things to Do in Salt Lake City.