We had an awesome day at Antelope Island State Park today. As avid birders, we are really excited to visit the island every spring. There are a lot of activities there, including the beach, hiking, a Visitor’s Center with a Junior Ranger Program, camping, bird watching and other wildlife viewing, and a historical ranch.
I’ll start with the animal viewing and bird watching, because that is our favorite part of Antelope Island. The lake is really low this year due to the drought, but you can still see many birds along the causeway as you drive out to the island. We saw geese, sandhill cranes, and long-billed curlews right where you pay your fee ($10 per vehicle). A little farther along we got really lucky and saw a coyote running alongside the van about 25 yards away. We rolled along with him for probably a mile, and he (or she) was absolutely gorgeous– usually coyotes look about as raggedy as Wile E Coyote from the cartoons.
Later we saw several other mammals, including cottontail rabbits, jack rabbits, pronghorn antelope, and the island’s specialty, bison. These are a major attraction, and there are 500-700 on the island. They also claim deer and the more rare bighorn sheep, which were transplanted to the island in the late ’90s. We haven’t seen the big horns, though.
We were super-excited for all the birds we saw. Here is a list:
Great Blue Heron
White Crowned Sparrow
We were especially excited about the burrowing owls, because it was a first for us. They are hanging out near the Visitor’s Center. (Take a left as you leave the Visitor’s Center and go toward the RV dump station. There are a few burrows built on the left side of the road. You might be as lucky as we were!)
We ate at the Island Buffalo Grill, which has really good food. Our family of 5 ate for $35. They even serve a real buffalo burger, but I am partial to their BLT! This restaurant is only open Spring through Fall, and they are only open from 12-4 pm, so don’t plan on dinner on the island. You can check their Facebook page before you go to make sure they are open because sometimes weather will even close them up. Sorry we didn’t snap photos of our food, but it is really delicious.
Next we headed down to the beach. With the water level so low this year, we had to walk almost a half-mile one way to get to the water, but the boys loved throwing rocks and wading. At the wrong time of the year, the midges and brine flies will carry you right off the beach, but we didn’t see a bug today. You could easily spend a couple of hours just down by the water. It’s amazing how shallow it is, too. You could probably walk out into the Great Salt Lake for miles without it getting above your waist (you’d likely be up to your ears in mud, though!) Lots of people love to wade in the Great Salt Lake or like our boys…taste it!
There is tons of sand near the restaurant and on the entire walk down to the water, so bring some sand toys for young kids. We always forget ours, but all that our kids want to do, other than throw rocks in the water, is dig in the sand.
We also hiked a few hikes near the Visitor’s Center. There is a short 1/4 mile hike that takes you to an overlook for Egg Island. It is a simple trail but there are a few rocks to climb. You can walk out and look over the Great Salt Lake. There is a small parking lot just before the Visitor’s Center where this trail starts.
We also walked a small trail right behind the Visitor’s Center (I don’t think it has a name on their trail map). If you walk out the back of the Visitor’s Center to the end of the paved trail, there is a small information sign. If you go slightly to the left you will see a trail leading down into the rocky terrain surrounding the Visitor’s Center. The trail is simple and easy. You can hear the people back at the Visitor’s Center the whole time, but we did see a jack rabbit and a cottontail, as well as many birds on this trail.
The other hike that we tried was Buffalo Point. This trail climbs up a small peak and then you can walk across the peak to an viewpoint for the Great Salt Lake on both sides. Our boys loved this hike because there were lots of rocks that they could climb. The trail is steep on the way up, but across Buffalo Point it is flat and relaxing. This trail is .6 roundtrip. At the trailhead for this hike there is a deck that has picnic tables if you bring your own lunch.
Fielding Garr Ranch
The Fielding Garr Ranch is also located on the island. It is a bit of a drive from the Visitor’s Center because it’s all the way at the southern end. The ranch is no longer a working ranch, but you can still see the old buildings and the farm house. We always love seeing old pioneer relics, and the old farm equipment is very interesting. Our boys have two favorite activities here: one is ringing the old bell, and the other is trying to rope the wooden cattle. Even grandpa loved this activity. As far as animals, there are a few horses, and we always see deer here for some reason. Supposedly there are Great Horned Owls that live up in the silo, but we have never seen them. There is a huge grassy area where you can picnic or let the kids run wild for a little bit.
The Visitor’s Center is very small, but they do have a Junior Ranger program geared for ages 4-12. The small museum has information on the brine shrimp and the salt in the lake. There is also a table with different animals bones or horns that is always fun because it’s a hands-on activity. You are allowed to touch and hold anything on the table.
Our favorite part of the Visitor’s Center is the bird feeder. There is a large window where you can watch the birds. We even saw big chukars coming to the feeder. The ranger told us that there is a rabbit that lives in the rock behind the feeder so if you are there early you can see him. We did not, but we watched for a long time.
You can also watch the movie which is 15 minutes long and is filled with interesting facts about the Island. If you decide to do the Junior Ranger program, make sure to bring a small bag to collect garbage as that is one of the activities for all ages to complete.
Antelope Island is accessed via Antelope Drive in Layton. Take exit 332 from the 1-15 and head west. Antelope Island State Park is about 7 miles west of the freeway.