Tucked away in the middle of the Great Salt Lake in Utah is a delightful, unique state park called Antelope Island. A long, narrow island, Antelope Island is easily accessible by car, via a bridge from the mainland. It’s a pretty drive over the lake, and you can often see shore birds and boats.

Antelope Island is quiet and a little desolate in all the best ways. Originally a ranching island run by Mormons, it has supported cattle, horses, sheep, and mining, before opening as a state park in 1993. My husband and I discovered it when we spent some time in Salt Lake City several years ago, and loved it so much we took our five kids there this summer. Everyone, from our six-year-old to our fourteen-year-old thoroughly enjoyed it.

We began our day at the Visitor Center, where we learned about the fascinating history of the island, as well as about the wildlife we were to see. The island supports between 500 and 700 bison, in a relatively small area, making bison sightings a highlight. The Visitor Center has a digital map showing the location of most of the bison, so you know where to look. We also read about the antelope, birds, insects, and some of the plant life on the island, and spent a little time in the gift shop.

Although there are many hiking trails on the island, we decided to drive first. With the windows down, going slowly along the paved roads, we enjoyed looking out over the fields, rocky hills, and sea views the island offers. We stopped several times to get out and wander a little.

And then we saw the bison: a large herd, down by the beach, complete with adorable calves and massive bulls. We parked and got out at a safe distance to watch them graze and roll in the dust. Throughout the rest of the day, we saw many smaller herds, and found ourselves often having to stop in the middle of the road to let one or several bison cross in front of us. We never got tired of watching these huge, lumbering creatures.

Once a year, the park hosts a bison round up, where people on horseback round up the hundreds of bison and corral them. The bison are weighed, treated for parasites and illnesses, and microchipped for tracking. Then about 200 of them are sold off, in order to keep the population to a level the island can sustain. This event takes place in the fall and is open to the public for viewing.

Located in the southeast part of the island is the historic Fielding Garr Ranch, which turned out to be a highlight of our day. A former working ranch, it’s open to exploration and learning, with interactive displays and information. Our kids especially enjoyed seeing the old ranch house and kitchen, as well as the sheep shearing barn and blacksmith building. We spent hours exploring the ranch and loved it.

We finished our day climbing on the rocks and hiking along the beach near Ladyfinger and Buffalo Bay. There is a lot more that Antelope Island has to offer than what we had time to experience: camping, swimming, and plenty of hiking. We enjoyed every bit of our day on the island.

Written by K. Allison Brannon