The afternoon breeze catches your hair and sifts through the golden meadows of grasslands that surround you. There isn’t a cloud in the sky, and the blue above you seems to blend into the blue of the Great Salt Lake. Bison are scattered about, grazing the day away as their neighbor, the bighorn sheep, trots along on a faraway ridge. A strong, unidentified smell fills the air. Is that salt…or sulfur?
You’re on Antelope Island.
Hop in your car and head forty miles north of Salt Lake City and you’ll arrive in Utah’s Antelope Island State Park. Drive across the narrow causeway towards the park entrance, pay the $10 entrance fee for one vehicle, and keep going until you’re on the island. That smell punching you in the nose will be a bit overpowering at first, but you’ll get used to it the more you explore the island. There are many ways to enjoy the park, so grab your island map and take your pick!
About Antelope Island
Antelope Island is the biggest of the ten islands that can be found within the Great Salt Lake. It got its name from early explorers of the 1800’s who found its pronghorn antelope and made one their first meal on the island. (We didn’t spot any antelope while we did our own exploring, though.) The island itself is 28,022 acres of scenic wilderness beauty.
American bison were introduced to Antelope Island in 1893 as a preservation effort, and are the most commonly seen wildlife on the island. We saw quite a few on our hike, and even ran into a bighorn sheep that didn’t stick around long enough for a photo op. There are many other animals that inhabit the island, such as the porcupine, badger, coyote, bobcat, and mule deer. Not to mention the large amount of birds and waterfowl that enjoy eating tiny brine shrimp out of the lake.
There are several easy-to-moderate backcountry trails you can hike, bike, or horseback through on the island. We decided to hike to the island’s highest point, Frary Peak. It is the most strenuous hike that exists here, and it has the absolute best views on the entire island. Standing on its peak, you will be able to see the whole island with a complete 360 perspective that you just can’t get anywhere else on Antelope Island.
Additionally, you can choose to take a nice stroll along the white sand beaches or take a swim in the salty water (not sure how gross that would be though). There is nowhere for the water to escape the lake, so the minerals continue to build and remain there unless evaporated. It is three to five times saltier than our oceans and is the second saltiest body of water in the world, so you’d most definitely float.
Maybe you’d like to go camping and sleep under a serene, starry sky? How about do a bit of bird-watching or animal spotting? Take a kayak onto the lake? You might even want to check out the nearby Historic Fielding Garr Ranch. You can do your little dance now, because all of those options are available to you! Or choose from any of the peaceful trails to wander on to your heart’s content.
Summit Frary Peak
I ventured with Tyler, his older brother, and his dad up the long, winding trail to Frary Peak. Starting at the trailhead, we hiked our way across the rolling hills and craggy mountains that span the island. The hike takes roughly five hours to complete and is 6.6 miles long, out and back. We came across really smooth dirt paths as well as some pretty rocky, gravelly ones. Once we reached the summit, we had gained 2,100 feet in elevation.
We made this trek in the fall of October. I would recommend doing the same. You should really choose to do this hike in the fall or spring. Summer would be way too brutal because there is barely anything to lend you any sort of shade on the whole island. And it would be freakin’ HOT.
The trail is a steady, uphill climb with several convenient spots to sit and rest. Much of this rest will be spent sitting on some of the oldest rocks you can find in the United States. They date back 2.7 billion years, making them older than the rocks found at the base of the Grand Canyon. That’s pretty neat-o, if you ask me.
You’ll come across several gorgeous overlooks and reach what appears to be the rocky summit as you spot the radio tower that sits atop the island. Be sure not to take the dangerous, rocky route that has you narrowly following the tops of the mountains. Instead, you’ll take the safe route and lose some elevation before gaining it back as you reach the peak.
We did it! The views on all sides were incredible. We took several minutes to relax, refuel, and check out the fun things we discovered at the top. We found a mailbox built into a fairly-sized cairn of rocks, a geochache with some interesting (weird) and sweet items placed inside it, a notebook we decided to sign, a round stone inscribed with an eerie message, and an arrowhead! That was my favorite find. Straight up treasure in my book. I’ll be keeping that, thanks.
Coming back down the mountain was equally challenging for me, mostly because hiking downhill is hard on one of my knees. It really made me think about investing in some good hiking poles for our next hike! We ended up running halfway down the switchbacks to beat the impending darkness that the evening sky began blanketing us with. I took the rest of the trail slower than the others because golden hour was just begging to be photographed. The sunset eventually caught up with me, and it was the perfect reward for completing this rigorous hike.
What to Pack
Make sure you come prepared for this hike! We ran out of water (as usual) because we only brought 2 liters of water for both of us. Oy vey. Don’t be like us.
You’ll definitely need to bring each of these items:
- Hiking boots
- Bug spray
- 3 liters of water per person
- Energy bars / snacks
- Small packed lunch
- First aid kit
Packing smart makes for a better hiking experience. So keep it light and bring everything you’ll need. You never know if your allergies will decide to cause a wild sneezing fit, triggering a nose blast every ten seconds for literally two minutes straight. Maybe think about bringing some allergy meds in that first aid kit, friend.
What a perfect day!
Have you ever been to Antelope Island? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂