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Filed under: Historic Places & Landmarks, Nature & Wildlife, State & National Parks, Tent Campgrounds

Sleepless in Salt Lake

March 20, 2011 by · 2 Comments 


A few years ago we realized our annual summer road trip would take us right through Utah and we would literally drive right past the Great Salt Lake. Never having been there and always on the lookout for unique aspects of our country that we have not seen, we decided that would be a great place to spend our first night out. Upon researching the matter further, we discovered that the best place to camp closest to this marvel was the campground on Antelope Island, so named for obvious reasons, part of the Utah State Park System. We reserved our site and headed off to swim in the salt water.

Our first view of the Great Salt Lake

Our first view of the Great Salt Lake

Our first sign of trouble came upon reaching Utah and attempting to get to the Island. The largest of the Salt Lake’s nine islands, it is accessible by boat or by automobile via a causeway that heads west from the Layton area. Traffic moved slowly, however, as we reached the area during rush hour and we were impatient to end our travels and go for a swim.

Kids at the lake

The kids at the lake--note their red faces from the heat

Upon first glance, the 28,022 acre island appeared barren and deserted. When we got out of our air-conditioned Durango, we nearly collapsed as the temperature at 6:14 in the evening was still 102 degrees and there were no trees on the island to provide shade. And then there was the smell. The odor of sulfur permeated the nostrils.

Our set up

Our set up

Pleading exhaustion, the kids begged to head over to the lake which was clearly visible from our campsite. We allowed them to walk over to the lake but gave them a time limit of 15 minutes, while Terry and I tackled tent set up, as we were still tent camping at the time. RVs are welcome on the island but there are no hookups. Water is available and the campground has vault toilets.

Forty-five minutes later, the tent was up, we were covered in sweat and there was still no sign of our children. As both are mediocre swimmers, we were not so much concerned about drowning as we were the heat. We were not sure they would think to keep hydrated and were expecting them back before now. We hopped in the Durango down to the day use area where they had been headed. We came upon them, hot and tired, walking down the road, never having reached the lake.

Sun setting over Salt Lake

Sunset over Salt Lake

It is an optical illusion how close the lake is, or is not. They had been walking for the 45 minutes and still had not reached the lake that seemed so close to our campsite. We drove them down to the lake, after giving them water, hiked through what seemed like a mile of sand and salt (and a salt marsh—yuk!), to finally reach the lake which was warm as bath water and very clear. We learned it is only 33 feet deep at its deepest point and eight times saltier than the ocean.

We simply snacked for dinner that night as it was too hot to cook anything. It was relaxing to sit and watch the sunset over the lake, and we took some great pictures, but after we turned in the slight breeze that had picked up completely died down so we were cooking in our tent. Combined with the smell, it was not a pleasant experience. After a largely sleepless night, we packed up and were headed out before breakfast at 6:45 am, very unusual for us! On top of that, we spotted no antelope, which had vacated the island for a while, but were reintroduced in 1993. We dubbed this part of our trip “Sleepless in Salt Lake” and have all decided that now that we have seen it, we need not pass this way again.

For more information about where to camp in Utah, browse Woodall’s listings of Utah Campgrounds.


2 Responses to “Sleepless in Salt Lake”
  1. June Morrissey says:

    Thanks Diane, great article. We too decided several years ago on one of our trips out West that we needed to see the Great Salt Lake. We decided to stay at the KOA In downtown Salt Lake City rather than drive the distance to Antelope Island. I’m glad we didn’t go there after reading your blog! I had visions of floating forever in this lake. We got directions from the park people and drove out to the marina on the lake .You would think they would have warned us about what we were about to experience! The first thing I noticed when we got out of the RV was the Smell. It was awful! The lake level was very low so I suppose the exposed ground could have added to the odor. We talked to the marina manager and learned that it is quite an ordeal to keep a boat here. Lots and lots of maintenace. He said they do ski on the lake but I cannot imagine that it would be any fun! We didn’t stick around to try it.

  2. Diane Berry says:

    Thanks for your comment June! I can still smell that smell. Skiing on the lake does NOT sound like fun to me either! Happy travels…

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