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Paddling the Great Salt Lake

Author: Jason Nelson

July 29, 2013

Many have driven by it. Few decide to swim in it—especially once they inspect it closely. And even fewer seem to paddle it.

The Great Salt Lake must be one of the best-known lakes in the world, but nobody I talk to seems to ever go out on the lake. This is peculiar to me, since Utah is so generally lacking in other bodies of water, and the lake’s so close to the city. Since I need to justify the boat I keep in the backyard, I take it out once in a while on the big salty lake.

Being out on the Salt Lake has been a powerful and solitary experience for me. Everything is so vast. It’s like being between two worlds—you can’t tell where the sky ends and the lake begins. It’s like you’re dipping your paddle into a cloud and pushing it across the sky. Behind the boat, the reflected clouds sway in the breeze, or is it the waves from the boat? 

Sometimes, I swear, there must be sea monsters out in the lake. It’s so big and mysteriously quiet,  you wonder what might be watching from underneath. I’ve read that folklore supports this theory, though I’m not comforted by that thought when I’m out there next time, miles from shore without a soul in sight. 

The southern part of the lake has a post-apocalyptic feel, partially due to the large smokestack of the nearby smelting operation. Once I’ve left shore, I sometimes imagine the world has moved on and bandits roam the land dressed in 80s punk clothing. 

In the summer, the brine flies hatch, supporting a wide variety of waterfowl and crawling all over any potential visitors. There’s no escaping them, even away from shore, unfortunately. But they don’t bite, making them merely an annoyance, compared to what I grew up with in Maine.

All oddities aside, I’ve enjoyed some of the best sunsets out on Salt Lake. With the reflection so clear, it’s like you get double sunsets! 

If I’ve convinced you to check out the lake, easy access points to put in a boat are the Salt Air Marina off of I-80 west of Salt Lake City. It’s about a twenty minute drive from downtown. It’s right across from the smokestack of the smelting operation, so you can’t miss it. Parking is $2. Another easy way to access the lake is at the Antelope Island Marina, reached by the Antelope Drive exit off 1-15 in Layton. Antelope Island also has hiking trails and a museum. The entrance fee is $9.  

Fun Facts

Jason Nelson

Artist, writer, route developer, guidebook author, and self-described Norse God, Jason’s climbing style is not exactly gentle. But if you need someone to check for loose holds, he just might be your guy. He’s a lousy boulderer, but a great spotter. He has limited patience for a redpoint project, but endless passion for an adventure. His fingers are too big for the little holds and thin cracks, but give him a pair of ice axes and watch gravity cease to exist. Jason’s wife Lisa is often nearby and has a fondness for desert cracks. You may have in fact seen or met this motley duo roaming the Southwest or at some of the climbing festivals where they often teach clinics and compete.