What to Expect at The Great Salt Lake in Utah

The Great Salt Lake is an important part of what Salt Lake City is known for. The salt density is so high, if you lay on your back in the water, you will just float. The Great Salt Lake is also known for having a beach, camping, and picnic areas. The media isn’t wrong, it has all those things, but it has more that may make you second guess whether or not you want to book a vacation to visit it.

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Daniel looking over one of the beaches in the Great Salt Lake
One of the monuments to greet you upon entering

Specifically for this post, I’ll be referring to the portion of the Great Salt Lake accessible from Antelope Island. Daniel and I took a trip there recently expecting beautiful white sands with crystal clear salt water to just float leisurely in, but there was more to it.

This post isn’t to bash on the Great Salt Lake,

but rather to inform you that if that’s what you envision your trip to be like, you may be disappointed. Yes, the focal point that media portrays is a relaxing, fun trip to the beach with salty waters, but there’s a lot more to it. There’s more to the Great Salt Lake in terms of nature that should be appreciated, but may disappoint those looking for a relaxing vacation.

Organism filled water in The Great Salt Lake
Brine flies and shrimp swimming around The Great Salt Lake

Organism-Filled Water

Yes, the water is clear, you can easily visibly see your feet and anything else beneath the water, but there is more in the water besides your toes and salt. There are two types of organisms that can survive in water that salty: brine flies and shrimp (also known as ‘sea monkeys’). The water and beaches are filled with the two.

Even walking on the beach, what looks like multiple small pebbles are dead larvae from the flies mixed with thousands of brine flies sitting on the sand. As you walk, you can hear and see ripples of the flies flying away. It’s quite an amazing sight. 

In The Great Salt Lake, it is filled with both, alive and dead. I can guarantee, if you have long hair, it will take a lot of scrubbing to remove everything from your hair and crevices on your body. The restroom sinks are full of them from people trying to wash it off their hands. 

Jumping into the water is a little off putting when you realize how many of these organisms will get stuck on you. However, taking the time to watch the brine shrimp swim around or watching the rare sight of the waves of brine flies fly is definitely something unique to the Great Salt lake experience.

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Shallow Waters

When you look at photos online with people floating in the water on their backs, you don’t take into account how deep the water actually is. The water stays consistently shallow for quite a distance. It never really gets deep within reasonable walking distance from the beach. We walked pretty far into The Great Salt Lake and were still only knee deep. 

Thinking about how the Great Salt Lake formed, it makes sense why it’s so shallow. The lake is formed by rivers streaming in water with small amounts of dissolved salt. Since there is no outlet for the water in the Great Salt Lake, it can only evaporate, making the salt more and more potent. 

Although the water is shallow, it’s still beautiful to look at from a distance because of how calm it is and how it reflects the surrounding environment in the waters.

A Strenuous Hike to the Spiral Beach

Antelope Island is designed so you can drive around, park, and then walk to your destination or trail. What isn’t detailed a lot online, is how the walk is from the parking lot to the lake waters in the beach area.

Walking to the beach area is a long walk. There are a lot of deep and soft sand granules that your feet will constantly sink into, with some portions of the hike consisting of flat rocks that can be sharp. The rocks are extremely painful with inadequate footwear. Wear some comfortable shoes when planning to visit the beach and try to steer away from flip flops or sandals because they provide little to no protection. I know from personal experience. 

Rocky Terrain at the Great Salt Lake

Luckily, Along the way, you will find a spiral formation of rocks, adding to the whole experience.

However, even though the hike is long, it makes the view of the calm waters and reflections rewarding once you reach it. 

Shallow waters in The Great Salt Lake
A look at how far people have walked into The Great Salt Lake, but are still in very shallow waters
Salt beds
Salt crystals
A rock structure with a pathway leading up to it in The Great Salt Lake

Salt-Crystal Beaches

The salt on the Great Salt Lake shorelines is beautiful and looks similar to snow. It’s a very unique feature that you wouldn’t find on most beaches.

Antelope seen along the drive beside The Great Salt Lake
Buffalo seen along a drive on Antelope Island
Spiders and Insects are present

Plentiful Wildlife

On the island, there are smaller freshwater springs that can support wildlife. Driving around, you can possibly see wild bison, antelope, big horn sheep, and many more. Usually, to see these, you need to go to a farm or zoo, but to see them roaming freely is a great sight to see because you know they’re not being held against their will for entertainment purposes.

Even in the waters, you’ll see a wide variety of birds flying or standing around because they feed on the brine flies. If you’re a photographer looking for nature shots, the Great Salt Lake is a fantastic place to consider for your next trip.

Long roads to drive on the island
Exquisitely calm waters in the Great Salt Lake
Humidity and heat from the weather and pavement are creating a 'wet' effect
Humidity and heat from the weather and pavement are creating a ‘wet’ effect in the distance
Calm waters showing very crisp and clear reflections of land
Birds seen in the distance in the water
Birds can be seen in the distance, in The Great Salt Lake

Mini Road Trip Simulations

If you want to get a feel for a road trip before you go on your first big road trip, driving around this island is a great simulation. Getting from one side of the island to the other is about 30-40 minutes non-stop. There are many scenic views and stop areas along the way, giving you an idea of how road trips can go. 

With everything in mind, The Great Salt Lake can be a wonderful place to visit, and quite the unforgettable experience. I learned a lot from visiting the lake, and don’t regret it one bit.

Pink Water

When we went to the Great Salt Lake, there wasn’t much pink water around as pictured on the internet. Just a tiny section along a drive around the island. However, this really depends on the season and which area of The Great Salt Lake you’re visiting. It’s best to do your research beforehand.

Sometimes, there is plenty of pink water, caused by a high density of salt, allowing many microbes to grow and turn the water pink. The microbes contain a pigment in their cells called carotenoids, like the ones found in carrots. They are what make the lake pink.

Have you visited The Great Salt Lake? What was your first impression?

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