It’s a good question!
A family travel blogger from California recently asked me 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?”
Most local residents, including myself, have taken a swim in the Great Salt Lake at least once in our 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 taken by surprise when a blogger from New York responded that her family enjoyed swimming in the Great Salt Lake during their trip to Utah. Seeing the Great Salt Lake through a visitor’s eyes, 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.
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 from I-15 and drive west until you get there. The entrance fee is $9 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 a campground. 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 and we might have postponed our trip had we known about the spring gnat-hatching season. The website will also have information on special events on the island such as stargazing parties and concerts.
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. We hauled our picnic out to the water’s edge, about a quarter-mile away, 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 near 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 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.
Get past the negatives
As I mentioned before, 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, bother, or stick to you.
If you don’t want to swim in the Great Salt Lake because of these things, I won’t judge. However, they really weren’t a big deal once I decided to just enjoy it.
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 a dozen yards before the water was deep enough to lay back and float. My children loved playing in the water and the depth was perfect for young children. They learned quickly not to splash the salty water in their eyes.
Skip some rocks
There were many round, flat rocks near and in the water. I was impressed when my daughter, who has never skipped a rock before, skipped one four times. I don’t know if it’s the rocks, or the water, or a combination of the two, but the beach on Antelope Island is a great place to skip rocks.
You’ll want to rinse the salt water off before you go. There are free outdoor showers outside the bathrooms for a quick rinse, or private coin-operated showers for a more thorough clean. The bathrooms at the beach are surprisingly nice. They have flush toilets, tile floors and marble counter tops.
Try some of Antelope Island’s other activities
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?
Planning a trip to Salt Lake City?
You may also enjoy
- Lagoon Amusement Park
- Hill Aerospace Museum
- Eccles Dinosaur Park
- Temple Square
- Natural History Museum of Utah
- The Leonardo Museum
- Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort
- Our Utah destination page
- Our Utah for Families Pinterest board