Boating on the Great Salt Lake

The Great Salt LakeBy Chad Booth, author of the Utah Boating Guide

The Great Salt Lake is Utah's largest body of water, with almost twice as much surface area as Lake Powell.

Before the reservoir building boom that started in earnest after WWII, the Great Salt Lake (GSL) was a powerboat haven. The old GSL Yacht Club (along the south shore near Black Rock) had nearly as many powerboats among its ranks as it did sailboats. The boaters started to abandon the lake for the smaller freshwater reservoirs being built in northern Utah. As the lake level dropped during the 50s and early 60s, I remember predictions that the lake would eventually dry up. Yet the lake has recovered to near record highs.

The sailboats returned, but the powerboats didn't - until now. There are a handful of cruisers and motor yachts starting to make residence at GSL. With the high volume flushing station placed at the GSL Marina, and talk of a freshwater rinse tank (for rinsing salt off the boat and trailer) at both GSL and Antelope Island, the GSL makes for a great cruising destination. According to a few brave souls, it also makes an excellent waterskiing venue.

The Great Salt Lake is a worthwhile boating destination. It has a variety of islands that you can explore, each with their own history. Some of the long beaches are the best in the state. Everybody should get on this water at least once.

How to Get There

There are two major access points to the Great Salt Lake:

Antelope Island-take the Sunset exit (335) off I-15 near Hill Air Force Base. Head west on SR 108 and continue west on SR 127 over the causeway. The marina is to the north of the road as you first come onto the island. In addition to the day-use fee charged by the State Park, there is an additional $2.00 fee charged by Davis County that is used to help maintain the causeway road.

Great Salt Lake State Park-take the Great Salt Lake exit (102) off I-80 west of Salt Lake City and turn to the north, then to the west along the causeway road. Follow that road 1.2 miles to the marina at the north end.

There is also access for air boats and canoes near the Farmington water treatment plant, and another access to the lake just to the north of Willard Bay off I-15. There is also access to the north arm of the lake, north of the railroad causeway at the north end of Clyman Bay.


Antelope Island-a nice marina with slips that can be rented on a transient and seasonal basis. The marina offers a pump-out station. There is camping nearby and a very nice beach area on the island at Buffalo Point. During the summer months there is a snack bar at the beach that is operated by a concessionaire. There is no fuel on the lake and the causeway is nearly seven miles long, so fuel up.

Great Salt Lake Marina-the State Park offers a well-developed marina with water, electricity, and a pumpout station.

Notes on the Water

The salty water requires that you flush out your engines when you leave the lake and rinse off your boat hull and trailer before you hit the road. Salt can rust metal very quickly.

It should be noted that the "lake stink" that we often smell in Salt Lake before a rainstorm, is not a result of the water or the mud under the lake as many people think. It is actually caused by decaying algae washed up on shore. When you are out on the water, you don't smell any thing but the same smell as the ocean.

Keep an eye on the weather. GSL is shallow and with a sustained wind it is easy for waves to reach 10 feet. When you see bad weather heading towards the lake, that is the time to head for safe harbor, not after the weather is over the water. From north to south the lake is over 80 miles long. It can take hours to reach safe harbor depending upon where you are. If you are going to explore the wide-open waters of this lake, a GPS is a must! If you get stranded or lost, it helps if you can give rescuers coordinates.

Stuff Ya Gotta Do

Cruise the shoreline of Antelope Island and look for the bison herd. Sometimes they will be close to the water and you'll get a great view. But don't try to approach the animals. I have heard tales about them swimming out in the water to attack boats that venture too close!

One of my favorite spots is Carrington Island. It was used as a gunnery range during WWII. Some of the targets and relics of the war are still on the island. Please enjoy, but do not disturb or remove things.

Information Courtesy of Utah State Parks and Recreation and Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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