Bison grazing on grassy plain, Antelope Island_stock - A bison stares into the camera while grazing on a grassy plain on Antelope Island, Utah.

Get Wowed by Western Wildlife on an Antelope Island Tour

By Melinda Rhodes
August 14, 2023

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There’s more to this state park on the Great Salt Lake than saline scenery.

Once upon a time, Utah’s northwest corner was covered with about 5 trillion tons (no exaggeration!) of water known as Lake Bonneville. As the Ice Age ended and the massive lake evaporated, it left behind concentrated amounts of salt in a body of water with a much svelter shape — the Great Salt Lake. 

Once it shed all that water weight, the Earth’s crust rebounded and the area was transformed. The glow-up included jagged mountain ranges that circle the ancient lakebed and 17 islands contained within the Great Salt Lake. The largest is named Antelope Island, all 28,000 acres of which are a stunning state park abounding with wildlife. 

You could visit Antelope Island State Park on your own and get a glimpse of its history, geology and zoology, but consider a guided tour for a closer look at what makes this place so unique.

Bison? Yes. Buffalo? No.

“See those all those things that look like rocks over there? They are actually bison,” the Southwest Adventure Tours guide told our small group on a pleasant August morning. He pulled out some binoculars for the eight of us in the Sprinter van to share and, sure enough, we’d spotted our first wildlife of the day. It wasn’t long before we saw more bison scattered about, some right off the side of the road. 

Antelope Island is home to an average of 600 head of American bison. You might see a few as you drive to the Buffalo Point trailhead during this Antelope Island tour. Though the trail is poorly named (it should really be called Bison Point, as buffalo only inhabit Africa), it is rich with beauty. A short half-mile hike takes you to a rocky outcropping boasting 550-million-year-old quartzite and offering 360-degree views of Utah’s “inland ocean” and those aforementioned jagged mountains. 

Later in the tour, as you drive to historic Fielding Garr Ranch, you are likely to spot herds of bison rather than single heads. Yellowstone ain’t the only place populated with these majestic creatures. But the same rules apply wherever you are:

  1. Don’t pet the “fluffy cows.” 
  2. Keep a safe distance when taking photos — no selfie is worth getting gored for.

Deer and Antelope at Play

Unlike Buffalo Point, Antelope Island itself is aptly named. It is home to a couple hundred prong-horned antelopes. You might spot them grazing on the grassland, amidst the bare wallows created by the bison. Or if you get lucky, you’ll see them gracefully running at 60-70 mph. Guess they don’t have to obey those speed limit signs on the side of the road. BTW, be sure to ask your guide why there are rocks around the base of all the signs on the island.

You might also spot some mule deer on this Utah tour. Antelope Island’s wildlife population includes roughly 250 of ‘em. The fawns arrive in late summer. And by fall, the male mule deer’s forked antlers have grown to full size. If you see any of those, feel free to sing “I like big bucks and I cannot lie!” You won’t annoy anyone. But impressive as a mule deer’s antlers are, the bighorn sheep on Antelope Island might just take home the prize for best headwear. 

Briny Buddies and Feathered Friends

On this day tour of Antelope Island, your guide will also give you the opportunity to walk down the edge of the Great Salt Lake where you’ll certainly see some brine shrimp … and the gazillions of birds that (gasp!) feed on the tiny aquatic crustaceans. You can wade in the water with your briny buddies if you’d like. Or keep your feet on dry land and simply soak up the scenery here. As she stood on the sandy shore, a midwesterner on our tour commented, “It’s much bigger than I thought it would be. It’s amazing!” 


Don’t be scared. It’s not like Aragog's Lair in “Harry Potter.” But when the tour van stops at a barn to see its resident owls or you walk into the visitor center, you’ll likely see some big webs crawling with arachnids that — dare I say? — have attractive abdomens. (That is quite the compliment coming from someone who usually shudders at the sight of such creatures.) Antelope Island celebrates its spider citizens with poems on bathroom doors and shirts in the gift shop.

Faux Animals

Even if the real animals are feeling shy or antisocial (we all have our days, amiright?), there are some must-see statues around the island. Visitors are initially greeted by a painted bison installation next to the park sign, which is the first stop on Southwest Adventure’s Antelope Island tour. There’s another painted bison with unique cutouts at the visitor center, as well as a metallic mule deer.    

Sure, you’ll find the oldest Anglo building in Utah as you tour Antelope Island’s Fielding Garr Ranch, and there are other historic buildings your guide will show you. But if you’re feelin’ lucky, cowboy/cowgirl, you can also try your hand at ropin’ a wooden cow or a barrel horse. It’s not as easy as you might think to lasso a stationary object, but you’ll have a heckuva fun time trying.

Book your Antelope Island tour through Southwest Adventure Tours. The expert guides will show you a good time and the company will show the landscape some love by donating a portion of the proceeds to Great Salt Lake preservation efforts. Looking for more fun things to do in Utah? Check out Southwest Adventure’s other Utah tours

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