Folks have been swimming in the Great Salt Lake for hundreds of years. This unique saltwater pool is the only landmark of its kind in the U.S. It’s best known for its beautiful desert surroundings and the high salt content that makes floating easy.
But there are a few drawbacks to this one-of-a-kind body of water. Some of them might be enough to prevent you from visiting.
Ready to learn if it’s safe to swim in the Great Salt Lake?
Let’s dive in!
About the Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake formed in prehistoric times. It was once part of Lake Bonneville, a much bigger body of water that covered nearly half of Utah. It’s the largest saltwater body in North America and the eighth-largest in the world. You’ll see dozens of birds and other animals in their natural habitats.
Multiple sources feed it, but while lots of water flows in, it doesn’t flow back out. Since there’s no outlet, all the minerals and salt collect and stay there. So, the water contains much more salt than the ocean.
The lake is less than 15 feet deep at most points and quite warm year-round. Thanks to the temperature, the surrounding area experiences lake-effect snow in winter. The water contributes to about ten percent of all annual precipitation in Salt Lake City and is a critical part of the local ecosystem.
What Is Unique About Swimming in the Great Salt Lake?
Swimming in the Great Salt Lake is a unique experience. Because of the water’s high salt content, most people find it very easy to float. It’s also very calm, with no strong currents or big waves. This makes it a fantastic choice for kids and folks who aren’t strong swimmers.
Unlike some lakes, the water here is crystal-clear and very clean. You can see the bottom at almost any point.
It also stays warm throughout the year, so it’s comfortable enough to swim even in the early summer months.
You’ll notice other differences too. Few creatures are in the water except for brine shrimp, which are tiny and harmless. You won’t see fish or mussels, although you might run into water birds or a patch of algae.
Where Is the Best Place to Swim in the Great Salt Lake?
You can swim the Great Salt Lake at any available access point. But one of the best, most accessible spots is Antelope Island State Park, just 25 miles north of SLC. The park is home to wild herds of bison and, of course, antelope. There are tons of deer and even some coyotes here too.
Antelope Island is an ideal place for swimming. The park has many clean beach areas where you can sunbathe or relax, too. It also offers showers for rinsing off afterward.
There are dozens of other activities here too. Any adventure is possible with 36 miles of trails, kayak rentals, and paved biking routes. Reserve a campsite and enjoy a beautiful sunset before bed. Or take advantage of the park’s dark sky designation and do some stargazing! Primitive campsites and sites with full hookups are both available.
Why You Might Not Want to Swim in the Great Salt Lake
Swimming in the Great Salt Lake is perfectly safe. Since few places like it exist, it could even be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, there are some drawbacks to consider.
The water gives off a distinct smell thanks to its extremely high salt content. It can be slightly unpleasant, but it’s also totally harmless. Try a swim on the northern side of the lake if you want to avoid the odor. That’s where most of the freshwater flows in, and the smell is much less noticeable.
The salt content also affects your skin and other body parts. Your skin may feel dry after a dip. Plus, any water in your eyes will probably sting pretty badly, as will any scrapes or cuts. Ensure you rinse your body and clothes really well after you’re done.
Bugs are another downside to swimming in the Great Salt Lake. Some areas attract a specific species of biting gnat that can be really annoying. Brine flies are another issue at various spots. Bring plenty of insect repellent to keep these obnoxious creatures away. You might even consider bringing a hat with netting to protect your face.
What Other Fun Things Can You Do at the Great Salt Lake?
If you’re going to swim there, why not take advantage of all the available activities? Swimming isn’t the only way to enjoy this unique piece of nature. In fact, the area stays pretty busy throughout the year.
In addition to Antelope Island State Park, you can explore Great Salt Lake State Park. This protected area features self-guided tours, hiking and horseback riding trails, and a visitor center where you can learn about the area. There’s also plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scenery on and around the lake.
Both parks are ideal spots for wildlife watching. Visitors can spot more than 250 species of waterfowl, flightless birds, and migratory birds. You can also spot badgers, bighorn sheep, and big cats alongside the resident antelope and bison.
When planning your trip, watch for special park events throughout the year. Antelope Island’s Moonlight Bike Ride attracts thousands of cyclists every summer. Arachnid lovers will have a blast at Spiderfest, an event celebrating the spiders that visit the park each summer. But the most significant event is the October Bison Roundup, which is open to the public.
Is It Worth It to Take a Dip in the Great Salt Lake?
Swimming in the Great Salt Lake is an experience you can’t get anywhere else. This massive body of water is an ideal vacation spot for nature lovers of all ages. Plus, being in salt versus fresh water is very different, so why not try it?
Even if you don’t like swimming, the Great Salt Lake has plenty to offer. With great camping and recreation options and fun events throughout the year, there’s something here for everyone. This majestic natural wonder is absolutely worth the trip.
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