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Monday, February 3, 2020

Antelope Island State Park - Utah Day 1

antelope island

Somewhere along the way, I started ditching the typical warm-weather winter getaway.  

Instead of heading out on dive trips to the Carribean or sneaking south to soak up some sun, I started doing the exact opposite.  I started booking trips during the winter here to go somewhere with well, more winter.  Useful winter if you ask me.  

Because one thing you need to know is this: winter in Connecticut is not useful.  No mountains to ski or snow to play in.  Just some often bitter cold wet windy weather that makes playing outsider harder, not better.  So instead of heading south to the warmth, I started heading northwest towards the copious amount of white fluffy powder.

Dogsledding Banff Canada
Dogsledding in Banff Canada

It all started with my 30th birthday and my need to get away from the crowds and do something a bit different.  Okay okay, a lot different. 

Instead of going somewhere warm in February as most people do, I decided to head somewhere where the temperatures reach negative digits that time of year.  I went to fricken Canada, Banff, Canada.  I wanted to ski and snowshoe the Canadian Rockies, I wanted to do something on my bucket list like dogsled on my 30th birthday and I really wanted to see this National Park in it's snowy-less-crowded-state.   Huge emphasis on less crowded. 

The trend continued when last year I headed to Colorado for an affordable girls ski trip using our Epic passes.  We loaded up our ski bags and left New England behind for the mountains of Colorado.  It was an insane snow year and there was so much snow that avalanches were closing down the highway.  We skied Beaver Creek, Vail and Breckenridge and spent a week playing in the snow and enjoying time together (huge ankle sprain and limping around base  lodges included).  

This year I did it again - I headed northwest but this time to Salt Lake City, Utah and Jackson, Wyoming to take full advantage of my Ikon pass.  So here we are, another ski pass inspired vacation, another winter trip spent somewhere where winter is celebrated instead of dreaded.  Today is day 1 of this awesome trip and it all starts in Utah on Antelope Island. 

Antelope Island
Hiking the Frary Peak Trail on Antelope Island

Our first day in Utah was a slow-paced one, recovering from 3 am alarms to beat the traffic to NYC to catch a 6am flight.  This recovery also included a 2 hour time difference and a hassle at the car rental agency (Fox Car Rental, don’t do it).  We finally landed in Salt Lake City and picked up our Jeep Wrangler with some time to kill before we could check into our AirBnB in the city.  We were starving but ready for adventure so we did two important things.  1) We stopped at Spitz for my favorite casual lunch in the city (street cart fries and street cart doner, amazing Mediterranean street food) followed by 2) a trip to Antelope Island State Park on the Great Salt Lake. 

If you find yourself in Salt Lake City -and you should- promise me you will do these two things right here.  Eat at Spitz (in the city) and take a drive over to the beautiful Antelope Island (about 45 minutes from downtown SLC). 

Spitz - Salt Lake City 

Antelope Island is one of those hidden away gems known to the locals but largely unknown to those who come to Utah to play in her mountains.  Because the park and the trails sit at a lower elevation than Utah’s mountain ranges and famous hikes, it is a great place to go for a hike when the snow starts to fall in the canyons (you can find a trail guide to hike the highest point here).  It's just a genuinely amazing place to explore, a place that makes you feel like you are in New Zealand.  It's a great place to ride your bike along the island roads, hang out at the marina in the summer or see some wildlife year-round on the island (and the Great Salt Lake of course).   Living in Utah, I was lucky to visit this island often - it was one of my favorite places to bring out of towners who came to Utah to visit. 

I've hiked the highest peak, drove around looking for wildlife at least 5 times, and even had a chance to to go on a five-hour trail ride on the island right by its famous bison residents. 

Antelope Island
Riding on Antelope Island

Our plan this trip was to go for a little hike on one of the trails and find Adam some wildlife.  We drove all the way down to the ranch (the end of the island in that direction) with zero wildlife sightings and I was starting to get nervous for all the talking up I did about this island.  Sure the views were insanely beautiful and Adam was happy to soak in the mountains and the views, but I knew he had bison on the brain. 

Previous Antelope Island Trips 

Antelope Island
Antelope Island Trails

Antelope Island
Antelope Island Trails

We eventually stopped by the Frary Peak trail to get a quick post airport hike in.  Adam was amazed by the landscape as we made our way up to the ridgeline to finally see a herd of bison on the other side of the island.  We covered about 3 miles, enjoying the fresh air and the opportunity to move before heading back with one far away bison sighting. 

Antelope Island
Antelope Island Visitor's Center

Back in the car, we spotted three more herds of bison (up close) and pronghorn where Adam continued to squeal like a small child at the zoo before heading to the Visitor’s Center to learn more about the animals that call the island home.  The Visitor’s Center was well put together and we learned about the wildlife and the ecosystem on Utah’s famous salty lake.

Antelope Island
Antelope Island Trails

Need To Know Before You Go

Island Access - Open Daily 6:00 am - 6:00 pm
Visitor Center Hours:  9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Fielding Garr Ranch Hours: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm (closed in winter)
Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas

Entrance fees (includes causeway and wildlife fees):
Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle up to 8 people
Senior entrance fee (62 years of age): $5 per vehicle up to 8 people
Bicycles, Motorcycles and Pedestrians: $3 per person
Commercial Groups (including over 8 people per vehicle): $3 per person and $5 per bus
Educational Groups: $1 per person with prior reservation

Scenic drives, bike tour, run, camp, horseback ride (ranch or bring your own), hike, boat/swim, birding, wildlife viewing. 

You can drive over to the island on a two-lane causeway

 - Elevation:  4,200 feet at the shore. Frary Peak is the island’s highest point at 6,596 feet.
 - The island and ranch passed from owner to owner until 1981 when the State of Utah purchased the 28,000-ace island for a State Park.
 - Antelope Island has over 40 freshwater springs producing enough water to support the islands abundant wildlife.
 - Bison are the most famous residents. Twelve animals were brought to the island in 1893 and were the foundation for today’s herd of 550 – 700. An annual bison roundup is held each fall to assess the health of the herd and sell extra animals.
 - Pronghorn antelope are native to Utah and to the island.  They are the fastest animals in North America and can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.
 - Mule deer and bighorn sheep are the other large herbivores on the island. Predators include coyotes, badgers, bobcats and numerous birds of prey such as owls, hawks and falcons.

Antelope Island
Bison on Antelope Island

Antelope Island
Wildlife infographics

Antelope Island
Antelope Island Summer 2015

We ended the day with a quick drive to the University of Utah (where I received my Master’s degree in Environmental Science) and my favorite grocery store before making dinner at the AirBnb and calling it an early night. 

To sum it all up, Utah is known for its mountains and its mormons, its strange drinking laws and insane outdoor recreation and yes, its over-the-top film festival.  But Utah has a lot of gems beyond the Wasatch and Temple Square.  

Utah impressed Adam from the start.  He was smitten with this sense of wildness, of seeing a place where bison roam among mountains next to a famous lake with the faint outline of a city in the distance.  He fell for the mountains and the trails and the beauty of life elevated here in the west.  If you have spent any time out in Utah, you know how easy it is to fall in love with those mountains I suppose.

Thanks, Utah for showing off just like I knew you would.  Check back in to read all about our week of skiing, surviving the flu on vacation and a road trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  

Antelope Island
Causeway to Antelope Island 

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