Antelope Island State Park in Utah is a unique environment. Located north of Salt Lake City, this is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake. While the surrounding water is some of the saltiest on Earth, this island is home to several species of animals and humans have lived here on and off for 6,000 years.
Antelope Island is named after the native pronghorn antelope but, perhaps, the most famous residents are the bison, which were introduced in 1893 in an effort to save the species. The herd on the island is only about 700 animals but that is about all the island will support. Indeed, like Custer State Park in South Dakota, Antelope Island State Park holds a yearly buffalo round-up.
Visiting this park gives you the opportunity to see bison while exploring this rugged wilderness on foot and by car. Just remember to give bison plenty of room if you run into them on the trail (and, of course, turn back if you just can’t get around them). While we didn’t see bison while hiking in Antelope Island, we did run into bison on the trail at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and that was quite an adrenaline-pumping encounter.
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Check Out the Visitor Center
As always, we made a point to check out the visitor center as soon as we got to the park and we are glad we did. There are a ton of exhibits on the geology and wildlife of the island, as well as an excellent film on the island.
We also found a map posted by the help desk that had animal sightings marked, much like the one in Custer State Park. That was quite handy. While the information desk was vacant, we did find pamphlets with information on hikes, which is what we were looking for.
Antelope Island Hikes
Antelope Island State Park offers about 15 trails to allow you to explore the island of various lengths and elevation gains. Being that we were hiking on a particularly hot summer day, with high temperatures ranging over 100 degrees, we opted for the Lakeside Loop Trail.
The Lakeside Loop Trail is a 5-mile loop on the north end of the island. It is rated as an easy hike and we agree, considering it only has about 250 feet of elevation gain. That said, it is completely exposed. There is no shade on the hike whatsoever.
Still, we really enjoyed the hike. It was fun to see such a rugged landscape up close and the views of the Great Salt Lake are terrific. If we had it to do over again, I might suggest doing the hike counter clockwise to leave all of the really good views for the end of the hike.
One other note: on the north end of the hike, we ran into a LOT of flies. None of them were of the biting variety but they were a bit annoying.
Enjoy the Beach and Grab a Bite
The northwest section of the park is geared more towards recreation than anything else. Here, you will find a couple of beaches and a couple of campgrounds. The water in the lake was low, so you had to walk out quite a ways to get to the water. A symptom, no doubt, of the drought plaguing this area.
The Bridger Bay Campground looked nice enough as we walked by but there are currently no connections for RVs. That would be fine in milder months or if you had enough solar capacity to power your air conditioning. When we were there, we were very glad our campground had electricity.
Nearby, you will find the Island Buffalo Grill, which serves burgers and other assorted lunch fare. We both got buffalo burgers and they were tasty. It was certainly worth a stop. It is also the only place at the park to buy food.
Drive Antelope Island
While we did spot a little bit of wildlife on the northwest side of the island, including a couple bison bulls and a few mule deer bucks, there is not much in the way of freshwater on that side of the island.
If you are looking for wildlife, head south on the Antelope Island Road to the Fielding Garr Ranch. On the east side of the island, we found several herds of bison hanging out along the shore of the lake, taking advantage of the cool mud and munching on the green grass.
We also found several trees on this side of the island due to natural springs. It is no wonder this is where the main herds of animals were.
As you drive along, you will also find several roadside exhibits going over the history of the area.
Explore the Fielding Garr Ranch
Located at the south end of the Antelope Island Road, you will find the Fielding Garr Ranch. This ranch was founded in 1848 by Fielding Garr. In addition to his own herds, the Mormon Church assigned Garr to watch over the church’s large tithing cattle herd.
Eventually, the Mormon Church took over the ranch and used it for both cattle and sheep. John Dooly purchased the ranch in 1870. He turned it into one of the largest sheep ranching operations in the country.
It was Dooly who purchased 12 bison which formed the basis for the herd on the island. He attempted to raise the animals as game animals. Regardless, his actions preserved some of the last remaining bison in the US.
Ranching continued on Antelope Island until 1981 when Utah formed the state park.
You can do a self tour of the historic buildings of the ranch, including the old ranch house, a sheep camp wagon and several other buildings. There is also a museum going into the history of the ranch.
Final Thoughts on Antelope Island State Park
We came to Antelope Island State Park primarily to see the bison. We love these majestic mammals and do not consider any trip West complete until we see them! There weren’t a lot of expectations beyond that.
What we found is an interesting state park with plenty of hiking opportunities and a beautiful, rugged landscape. We particularly enjoyed the historic ranch, which gives a look into what life was like on this island.
Were it not summer during a heatwave, with temps easily climbing into the 100s, we would have certainly spent more time hiking here, enjoying some of the other trails. For that reason, we recommend visiting during one of the other seasons.
Still, we had a great visit and really enjoyed seeing the herds of bison. Whether you have a few hours or a full day, Antelope Island State Park is certainly worth a stop.
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