Can you swim in the Great Salt Lake?

Posted By Allison on Jul 9, 2017


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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 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:

Can You Swim in the Great Salt Lake? | tipsforfamilytrips.com | Utah | summer vacation

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.

Swim in the Great Salt Lake

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.

Swim in the Great Salt Lake

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.

Clean up

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.

Swim in the Great Salt Lake

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?

Swim in the Great Salt Lake

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. Compare rates for dozens of top agencies at CarRentals.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.

Need a water bottle that will keep your drink cold all day? I love the EcoVessel Boulder so much, I bought two as Christmas gifts last year. It is available on Amazon.com.

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.

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Allison
Hi there! I am the founder of Tips for Family Trips. I am a married mom of two children, ages 10 and 12, living near Salt Lake City, Utah. We took our first child on a two-week road trip when she was four weeks old and we have been traveling as a family ever since. We love to get out of the house to see and do fun things, both far away and in our own neighborhood.

47 Comments

  1. I have great memories of visiting Antelope Island (one of them being the smell)! I visited when I was volunteering for Americorps (we had a project in Salt Lake City). Great tips for enjoying the day there!

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  2. Thanks for the information, Allison! I do still want to float in the Salt Lake someday but, you’re right, the flies, gnats, shrimp and stink don’t sound all that appealing. A one-time visit should do for me!

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  3. Alright you have convinced me to do this just once! Lived here almost 5 years and never done it!

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  4. Thanks for the great article and tips. We hope to make it to Salt Lake as a family soon, and this just increased our interest to try. Thanks again.

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  5. This is the kind of review I love: short descriptions that are useful. Nice pictures. Warnings. Upbeat. Great job!

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  6. This blog is great, I have been asking to go to the Salt Lake with locals from the time that I moved here. All I heard was the cons of the lake, now with you new positive look I am planning a trip with my family.

    Thanks

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  7. Swam with my 9 year old many years ago and it was something we all still remember, especially my daughter. It is a once in a life time experience. Now some 20 years later I plan to be there again this summer and hope to do it again with my sister’s 13 year old grandson.

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  8. If you want to take a bath in salt water…you need to go to the Dead sea Israel.
    I have done it many times you can not get sun burn since it is the lowest place on earth and the uv do not go that far,it will also fix all kind of skin disorders.

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    • Thanks Izzy. The day we swam in the Great Salt Lake, we visited with a couple from the Netherlands who had also visited the Dead Sea. They told us that the two are quite different. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to compare the two myself someday!

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  9. Swimming in the Great Salt Lake was the best fun I ever had as a nine year old way back in the summer of 1951. I’ll never forget the feeling of floating effortlessly with no worry of sinking. I had always been terrified by water and was assured that it was impossible to sink in this great lake.
    Give it a try. You will not be sorry you did.
    6/2/13

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  10. Just “swam” in Salt Lake on June 3, 2013. Water was very cool and bugs were flying around the ground but fly away as soon as we approached. Had to wade out a LONG ways just to get up to mid thigh. Because it was so cool, it was tough to bend down and test the floating, but I did it. Yeah! It did keep me up floating quite well. Another checked off of the bucket list.
    Brine shrimp and other water critters were not even around. Just cold, salty water.

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  11. are there other lakes or places you can swim in Utah I ask because I am from San Diego and I am moving to Utah I kno that there wont be anything like my beloved Pacific ocean but is there anywhere we can swim?

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    • Yes, there are a many lakes and reservoirs where Utahns enjoy swimming, boating and fishing. It’s true that there’s no place that compares with the ocean, but most Utah lakes are surrounded by the Wasatch mountains and have a beauty of their own. Lake Powell in southeast Utah, Bear Lake in northern Utah and Flaming Gorge in eastern Utah are favorite vacation destinations for many locals. Many of our lakes are state parks. Here is a link to Utah’s state parks. http://www.utah.com/stateparks/index.htm

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  12. I stumbled on your article while researching our recent trip to Salt Lake City. Your information was so helpful and really prepared me for what to expect. The only thing I wasn’t totally prepared for was the bugs at the Great Salt Lake. Ewwwwww. When we emerged from the water our flip flops and towels appeared brown because they were covered in bugs. My feet were covered in dead bugs. Rather than make it a negative, it became a funny story from the trip. (“Remember how many bugs there were when we went in the salt lake?”) It was a great experience. I was disappointed that we didn’t see the brine shrimp you mentioned, but on closer inspection we found them! I didn’t expect them to be so little. My daughters thought it was fun to scoop up a handful of water and see the shrimp up close. My recommendation is that people park in the lot next to the restaurant on the beach. The sand was really hard for us to walk in because it is so soft but there is a ramp by the restaurant which makes the trek to the water a little easier. Thanks for such an informative article!

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    • Thank you! I am so glad you had a good experience, despite the bugs. It sounds like they were thick on the day you visited. It can be a tiring walk through the sand to the water. Thanks for the tip about parking near the restaurant!

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  13. I went to the beach at the Great Salt Lake today and was chased away by a swarm of brine flies…

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    • Should have stuck with it. The go away after you get in the water. They just flew away from us when we walked near them.

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  14. I had a GREAT time today at the Great Salt Lake.

    No bugs, no smell, fun looking shrimp, WARM WARM water, great heated showers, the sand was really nice to walk on in the water (a bit rocky on the way out but not bad at all).

    I fell asleep floating effortlessly in the water for about 20 minutes, I would have stayed longer but was afraid of getting a sunburn on my face.

    Fun fun fun, apart from seeing antilope and buffalo all around. Totally recommended

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  15. I remember swimming the the Great Salt Lake when I was 9 years old. I remember it well because my brothers ran and jumped in the lake with their eyes open as we did in fresh water. Boy, did that sting!!!!!! It was a great adventure and I always have fond memories of that trip. The odor was a bit strong, but we got used to it quickly. Also remember to use the bathroom BEFORE you go in the lake as that stings too!!!!!! LOL

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  16. I have a good friend who has severe staph acne and body hair folliculitis. Will swimming in the salty water help to cure or give relief to this skin ailment ? I have been told by some that it can help.

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    • I too have heard stories about the healing effects of salt water, but I cannot verify whether or not they are true. I recommend consulting a medical professional.

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      • My 2 cents here, but this is really a question for the family doctor and not a general forum on visiting the lake.

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  17. Since I don’t know when I’ll make it to the Dead Sea-swimming in Great Salt Lake is on my Things to do before I die list. We passed the lake on every family vacation but dad would never stop. Next time, I WILL STOP AND SWIM AND SMELL THE WATER.

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    • I am sure that Greece is a lovely place to swim. I doubt that most people spend enough time in the Great Salt Lake for it to affect their health either way. Floating in this salty lake a unique and memorable experience that many enjoy, but do not repeat often.

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  18. Where is the beach on the island?

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    • It’s Bridger Bay Beach on the north side of Antelope Island. You’ll be given a map at the fee station, and there should be signs to direct you at the end of the causeway.

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  19. Great tips, thank you! My son is headed out to The Great Salt Lake with his grandparents. I will be sure to forward this blog to them so they have the inside scoop!

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  20. Love your site! Went with my family today to the lake and had a fabulous time. We were a bit skeptical of all the flies, but were grateful they didn’t bite. We didn’t realize that we should have left our stuff in the car bc of all the flies but it was still okay. Floated for two hours and skipped rocks with our three boys. Fun drive around the island and saw a few animals. Wished the restaurant was open but we had packed a picnic.
    Thanks for the great tips and things to do in Utah! We are not from here so it’s great to see ideas of fun things to do with our family.

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    • I’m glad to know that you enjoyed your day at the Great Salt Lake! Thanks too for your tip about leaving everything in the car until you need it.

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  21. We were there in July, and the biting insects made it a challenge to spend time near the water. Also, the water is very shallow near the shore.

    Nonetheless, it is still a neat feeling only floating and not sinking. However, if you can make it to the Dead Sea, the swimming experience there is much better because there are no bugs and the bottom gets deep in no time.

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  22. Has anyone ever heard of anyone being baptized in the Great Salt Lake? Seems like an appropriate place.

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    • I haven’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it’s been done.

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  23. It should be nice to visit The Great Salt Lake in Utah. I have just visited The Dead Sea in Israel and it was really a great experience.

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    • I’ve heard that visiting the Dead Sea is a great experience. The Great Salt Lake is unique, which makes it all the more worthwhile. Thank you for your comment!

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  24. I went swimming in the Great Salt Lake in 1975. I remember lots of birds, but no flies. I’m really surprised that nobody mentioned actual SWIMMING in the lake; not just floating. When I swam in the lake, I almost felt like Superwoman! I went SO fast that it was unbelievable and exhilarating! That’s what stands out in my memory after ALL of these years.

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    • Perhaps I didn’t think to swim because it was so shallow, but now I want to try it! Thanks for sharing this great memory.

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  25. I was surprised that you didn’t mention that some of the oldest rocks on earth can be found on antelope island.

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  26. We loved Antelope Island. I just wrote a post about our time there. We were there in Winter though and I totally didn’t know you could swim there in Summer!

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  27. Exactly the information I was looking for….THANKS!

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