Everyone knows the capital and largest city of Utah is Salt Lake City. It earned that name because it is situated on the Great Salt Lake - the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere. The Great Salt Lake is the eighth-largest terminal lake in the world and has a substantial impact on the local climate around it (e.g. it produces lake-effect snow).

It is one of Utah's greatest attractions and can be an other-worldly experience. Some of the popular pastimes around here are horseback riding, camping, sailing, sunset cruises, swimming (or otherwise floating), and more.


Science Behind The Great Salt Lake

In the past, much of western Utah was covered by a prehistoric lake called Lake Bonneville. For those who really want to travel back to prehistoric times, see here for 10 places that every dinosaur fan needs to visit.

Today the Great Salt Lake is a remnant of this massive lake. The lake is very shallow with an average depth of only 16 feet or 4.9 meters - this means that its area can fluctuate substantially. It is one of the most asked-about tourist destinations in Utah and is the largest lake in the United States between the Great Lakes and the Pacific Ocean.

  • Average Size: 1,700 Square Miles (Historic High 3,300 Square Miles In The 1980s, Historic Low 950 Square Miles In 2021)

The lake is a terminal lake - meaning there is no outlet and the water evaporates. The lake is mostly fed by the Jordan, Weber, and Bear rivers. As there this no outlet, these rivers deposit around 1.1 million tons of minerals in the lake annually. As the minerals accumulate, the salinity rises - so the lake is much much saltier than seawater.

Related: These Are The Clearest Lakes In The World, And They're Photography-Worthy

  • Minerals: The Lake Is Salt And Mineral Rich As There Is No Outlet And Minerals Are Left Behind From Evaporation
  • Swimming: Due To The High Salinity, One is Much More Buoyant and Swimming Can Feel Like Floating
  • Legends: Reminiscent of the Loch Ness Monster, Some Indians And Early Settlers Thought The Lake Was Inhabited By a Terrible Monster
  • Salinity: Averages Around 12% (Oceans Are Around 3.5%, the Dead Sea Around 31%)

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Activities On Great Salt Lake

Some of the popular activities on this lake are swimming and sunbathing. One of the best spots is on the clean and white sandy beaches found on Antelope Island State Park (check out their hiking trails too while there). See here for a full list of what to do while at the Great Salt Lake.

Sailing is another favorite pastime on this lake and there are marinas at Antelope Island and Great Salt Lake State Marina. Caution though for those sailing on the lake, as the water is shallow, even moderate winds can cause quite a chop and the waters can get rough. Kayaking is also popular on the lake.

  • Tip: If One's Outboard Engine Is Not Rated For Saltwater - Flush It Out Carefully After Use

The lake is also the home of wildlife. While it has been termed America's "Dead Sea" it isn't quite as dead as the one in Israel. It is the home of many bird species and brine shrimp (bird watching is also popular). The shoreline marshes and Antelope Island are also the home of bison, antelope, deer, bobcats, coyotes, and even elk. So keep one's eyes peeled! When it comes to fish, the story is a little more complicated. Fish do live in the freshwater marshes and inlets, but no fish species and survive the lake's dense salinity.

  • Tip: Be Prepared for Brine Flies, The Don't Bite, But Often Swarm Annoyingly Around People

Antelope Island State Park And Great Salt Lake State Park

There are two Utah State Park on the Great Salt Lake: Antelope Island State Park and Great Salt Lake State Park. They offer differing attractions to each other. Whereas the Great Salt Lake Park offers a marina with boat launching facilities, Antelope Island is the home of clean beaches, a visitor center, another marina, a historic ranch, camping, recreation, and even bison.

  • Showers: At Antelope Island State Park There Are Freshwater Showers So One Can Wash Off All That Salt

Another must on the lake is to embark on a sunset cruise. Sunsets are magical on this great lake and one can enjoy dinner while out on the cruise. One company offering rentals is Gonzo Boat Rentals, they have a 53-foot yacht (appropriately named Sunset) that offers gourmet and romantic sunset cruises.

Related: Zion National Park: When To Visit, And Why It's Definitely Worth The Awe-Inspiring Hype

Antelope Island State Park Entrance Fees:

  • $15 Day-Use per vehicle
  • $10 Day-Use for Utah senior residents
  • $3 Cyclists and Pedestrians
  • $75 Annual Day-Use Pass

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In winter it is another kind of wonderland. It normally doesn't freeze because of its high salt content, but it is still too cold for swimming. On the other hand, the crowds are gone and the bugs have disappeared. Visit in the early days of winter and see the migrating birds on their migration south.

Next: What To Know About Floating In The Dead Sea, Including How & Why It Works