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Great Salt Lake

Salt Lake City, Utah

Utah's Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere and the largest natural lake in North America west of the Mississippi, is the setting for some of the state's best outdoor recreational opportunities; sailors and kayakers ply the waters, while sunbathers bask on sandy beaches and swimmers float in the high-saline waters.

Seeing the Great Salt Lake typically means visiting one of two Utah state parks, Antelope Island State Park or Great Salt Lake State Park. Guided tours of the vast inland sea give visitors an opportunity to see the Great Salt Lake State Marina, catch brine shrimp (aka sea monkeys) in the salty water, swim in the lake, and spot some of the 250 species of nesting and migratory birds that spend part of the year in this wetlands habitat.

Hikers and mountain bikers head to wildlife-rich Antelope Island or the lake's long shoreline. At 75 miles (120 kilometers) long and 35 miles (56 kilometers) wide, the lake is all that remains of Lake Bonneville, an ice age lake that covered much of the region some 30,000 years ago.

  • The Great Salt Lake is a must-see for outdoors enthusiasts and first-time visitors.

  • You can join a park ranger for a morning stroll along Silver Sands Beach on a bird-watching tour around the Great Salt Lake; tickets should be purchased in advance.

  • Bring insect repellent plus sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water; the climate here can be hot and dry.

  • The lake is quite shallow; the maximum depth is 35 feet (11 meters). Swimming is allowed but be prepared for brine flies, lots of brine shrimp, and an odor caused by the high salinity of the water.

The Great Salt Lake sits northwest of Salt Lake City. Exits on Interstate 80 and 15 will take you there. Most visitors explore the various points of interest around the lake by car. A causeway (via Interstate 15 to State Route 127) gives automobile access to Antelope Island.

There’s no bad time to visit the Great Salt Lake—timing largely depends on what you want to do. Swimmers and sunbathers should visit during the warm summer months when the lake offers a refreshing break from the heat.

To get a sense of how big the Great Salt Lake was when it was a vast inland sea, pay a visit to the Bonneville Salt Flats just outside of Salt Lake City. The land here is among the flattest places on the planet, stretching across 30,000 barren acres (12,140 hectares).

There are numerous ways to tour the Great Salt Lake. For those with limited time, bus tours departing from Salt Lake City make exploring the lake easy. For those after an immersive experience, boat tours with swimming stops are another option, while tours of Antelope Island offer a different vantage.

The cost depends on the experience you want. The most budget-friendly way to see the lake is to drive yourself, and then embark on a short boat tour—tickets can be US$40 or less per person. Round-trip tours from Salt Lake City or longer boat tours are available, too.

Yes, it's usually a good idea to book Great Salt Lake tours in advance. Some boat tours depart multiple times a day—making last-minute booking easier—but for day trips from Salt Lake City, hikes, and more limited boat tours, it's advised that you book in advance.

The best time to visit the Great Salt Lake is in spring and fall. In winter, it can become too cold to explore comfortably, while summer brings clouds of insects and high temperatures. You can enjoy more comfortable conditions during the shoulder seasons, plus chances to do a bit of migratory bird watching.

There are so many ways to experience the Great Salt Lake. The recreational area on the lake's southern edge features hiking trails, beaches, and birds. For a different view, take a boat tour or kayaking trip. And explore the lake's famed Antelope Island, which offers hiking and horseback riding.

Yes, there are public restrooms available at the Great Salt Lake. The lake's visitor center (located on its southern shore, near Antelope Island) offers restrooms, as well as foot-washing stations and outdoor showers, in addition to other amenities. Restrooms can also be found at the adjacent marina.


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