The largest of Great Salt Lake’s islands, Antelope Island is also the most exciting. With stunning scenery all throughout, it’s worth the visit just for the views. Salt pans, reflective waters, wildlife, and beaches round it out as an amazing outdoor destination for adventurers. About 45 minutes away from Downtown Salt Lake City, it’s a nearby outdoor escape from the hustle and bustle of Utah’s capital. Despite it being an island, a road connects it from the mainland, making it accessible by car.
I visited Antelope Island only with the expectation of seeing some buffalo, but was blown away by its incredible scenery. Some stretches of the drive made me feel like I was back in Chile’s altiplano, or Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni. Antelope Island and Great Salt Lake are yet another testament to the incredible diversity that Utah offers. As a travel destination, few states come close to matching what Utah boasts. From its various national parks, numerous ski destinations, and the Great Salt Lake, Utah is truly blessed with some of the best natural beauty in the country.
Here’s the scoop on a day trip to Antelope Island State Park.
Is Antelope Island State Park Worth Visiting?
The entrance fee to get in to Antelope Island State Park is $15 per vehicle. I initially thought that was a bit steep, which is why we had put it off for so long. However, we had a few hours to kill between check out and check in at different Airbnbs so we just decided to go for it. We didn’t even reach the island before we took our first stop for photos. The first 30 minutes of the drive from Salt Lake City were monotonous and dull. Then, out of nowhere, you get transported to another planet. As close as it is to Salt Lake City, this is an absolute gem of a park to visit.
I wouldn’t call it a hidden gem necessarily, but for many out-of-state visitors like myself, it definitely goes under the radar a bit more. You won’t run into too many other people here. The only time when it ever feels crowded are the stretches of road where the herds of buffalo graze near. Everyone comes and stops for photos, although the island is super spread out that it often feels like you’re the only one around.
What To Do At Antelope Island State Park
Antelope Island has no shortage of hikes. Unfortunately, my sister twisted her ankle twice the previous day on the hike up to Sunset Peak near the Brighton Ski Resort. We stuck mostly to the road as she hobbled around awkwardly on her swollen left foot. A quick browse through the map given to you at the entrance will give you plenty of ideas for hikes. The hikes can vary from a few minutes to several hours long.
There’s no doubt that one of the main attractions to Antelope Island is the wildlife that roams freely. I mean, it’s called Antelope Island for a reason, hey? The first non-native visitors to the island named it Antelope Island after hunting a pronghorn antelope. Buffalo, deer, and a menagerie of birds make Antelope Island a highly biodiverse state park. While the buffalo are definitely the highlight of the island, other wildlife that you might see on the island include bobcats, bighorn sheep, coyotes, badgers, porcupines, and mule deer.
As a photographer, Antelope Island State Park felt like paradise. Mountains, surreal landscapes, and herds of buffalo roaming freely made it so that you would never run out of things to snap. I had been lugging my heavy 75-300mm lens with me in the hopes of seeing a moose, and Antelope Island finally made the extra weight worth it. Sure, I didn’t see a moose, but there was plenty of wildlife and plenty of otherworldly landscapes to play around with.
There are quite a few campsites to choose from at Antelope Island State Park. The campsites are pretty primitive, but are also cheap. Some of them start as low as $20 a night, which includes the $15 entrance fee to the park. Here’s a full list of campgrounds from Utah State Parks’ website. Availability doesn’t seem to be a problem, unlike some of Utah’s other popular destinations.
Antelope Island can be a high energy adventure or a more laid-back one. If you need a break from hiking, Antelope Island State Park’s got some more relaxing options. One can spend the day by the beaches, although some parts of the lake are quite stinky. There are picnic areas and gorgeous viewpoints where one could spend the entire day.
Other Activities At Antelope Island State Park
You’ll inevitably run into a number of cyclists throughout the park. Off-roading is also a popular adventure, with some people opting to see the park via ATV.
What To Bring To Antelope Island State Park
It really depends on the time of year that you visit. If you’re visiting in the summer, prepare for some overwhelming heat, and even more overwhelming bugs. We made the mistake of leaving our car windows open while we stopped for some quick photos by the salt pans. We came back to hundreds of flies buzzing around in our car. We initially planned to camp at Antelope Island State Park but decided against it after reading about the wind, heat, and bugs. We were on the third week of our camping and hiking trip, and our tired selves couldn’t do with another windy, sleepless night inside our flimsy tent.
In the summer, bring sunscreen, bug spray, and lots and lots of water. It can get very hot, and you’ll be half an hour away at the very least from the nearest facilities. In the winter, it’ll be quite cold, although worth enduring to avoid the hordes of bugs that swarm you in the summers. Dress warm. And of course, bring your camera. There are a seemingly infinite number of photo opportunities at Antelope Island, and you’ll want to be prepared to capture them.