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5 Reasons to Avoid Swimming in Great Salt Lake

5 Reasons to Avoid Swimming in Great Salt Lake

The Great Salt Lake is one of Utah’s most instantly recognizable locations. Resting amid soaring mountains and arid salt flats, it offers fantastic recreation opportunities for locals and visitors. But can you swim in the Great Salt Lake? The answer may not be as simple as it seems. Read on to learn more!

Where Is Great Salt Lake?

The Great Salt Lake is in Utah, in the western United States. It’s one of the defining features of the state’s northern half, alongside the numerous mountain ranges that surround it.

The lake is northwest of Salt Lake City, which took its name from the lake. While it may appear vast, it’s only a fraction of an ancient lake that occupied much of the Great Basin region we now know as Lake Bonneville

Floating in Utah's Great Salt Lake

What Is Great Salt Lake Known for? 

The Great Salt Lake is a terminal lake, meaning it has no outflows, only inflows. As rainwater and meltwater rushes down from nearby mountains, it brings significant amounts of minerals and other substances.

As water evaporates from the lake, these minerals remain, leaving the ultra-salty body of water. Some have compared it to the Dead Sea, another extremely salty body of water where swimmers commonly float due to the buoyancy the salt content creates. 

Can You Swim in Great Salt Lake?

Legally and biologically, you can swim in the Great Salt Lake. At least you can swim in the less salty southern arm of the lake. Several spots allow adventurous bathers to take a dip. However, it may not be the swimming experience of your dreams for various reasons.

Pro Tip: We uncovered What Are The Best Utah National Parks to help you decide where to go first!

Couple sitting together on a rock looking out at Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake is great to look at but not great to swim in.

5 Reasons Why You Want to Avoid Swimming in Great Salt Lake

Even if you can swim in the Great Salt Lake, you may not want to. There are some significant downsides. We’ll provide the most notable in the list below. 

It’s Saltier Than the Ocean

The lake’s saltiness shouldn’t be surprising since it’s in the name. Nevertheless, many ambitious swimmers are shocked at how salty the lake is.

With water significantly more saline than the ocean, a swim in Great Salt Lake is effortless, but you’ll deal with some painful stinging on any exposed cuts or scrapes. Plus, don’t even think of opening your eyes! Afterward, you’ll need to shower off immediately or risk developing an uncomfortable salty crust! 

It Smells Awful

There’s no avoiding the odor that can emanate from the lake. It’s so notable it even has a name; “lake stink.”

It results from dead and decaying organic matter breaking down on the lake’s bottom. When this matter stirs for any reason, bubbles of foul-smelling gas reach the surface. This rotten egg smell can put a damper on a relaxing dip. 

Scenic view of mountains surrounding the Great Salt Lake
As its name suggests, the Great Salt Lake is saltier than the ocean, making it a poor choice for swimming!

It’s Full of Brine Shrimp 

Don’t hop in the Great Salt Lake if you’re squeamish about creepy crawlies. The lake is brimming with brine shrimp, which thrive in the salty water.

These tiny crustaceans are primarily harmless and provide a crucial food source for birds and other wildlife. However, they may not be everyone’s idea of a fun swimming companion. 

The Flies, Gnats, and Mosquitoes Are Overwhelming

You may still be wondering if you can swim in the Great Salt Lake, and a reasonable response might be to ask whether you can deal with some severe bug swarms. The Great Salt Lake offers the perfect environment for various flies and gnats that survive on the algae that grow there.

Unfortunately, the shallow pools left by the lake’s rising and falling levels can also be ideal breeding grounds for mosquitos, one of nature’s most dangerous pests. Bug spray and other repellents may help, but many still find the bug situation enough to keep them far from the water. 

Dog sniffing around on the beach in front of the Great Salt Lake.
While it is not advised to swim in the Great Salt Lake, there are still many amazing beaches around it.

It’s More Fun to Explore Antelope Island 

With this in mind, why would you struggle to swim in a lake unsuited for swimming when you could explore another significant part of the landscape?

Antelope Island is sometimes an actual island, sometimes more of a peninsula, and offers some of the best ways to see the lake. It’s a Utah state park and includes miles of hiking trails, scenic drives, beaches, and more. Visitors come for the unparalleled views of the Great Salt Lake and the island’s famous bison herds. 

Pro Tip: After exploring the Great Salt Lake, head to one of these 10 Best Slot Canyons in Utah That Will Transport You to a New World.

Winter time at the Great Salt Lake
You might want to stick to swimming in a pool instead of in the Great Salt Lake.

Are There Beaches Around Great Salt Lake?

Even if you don’t find too many swimmers using them, there are beaches around the Great Salt Lake. Antelope Island includes Bridger Bay Beach, and there’s a beach available at Great Salt Lake State Park west of Salt Lake City. Few other spots exist that offer a beach for the Great Salt Lake.

However, beach lovers shouldn’t despair. Utah is home to numerous freshwater lakes, reservoirs, and other waterways that are excellent for swimming and relaxing. Many are even within driving distance of Salt Lake City!

The Truth About Swimming in Great Salt Lake!

Will You Be Swimming in Great Salt Lake?

Can you swim in the Great Salt Lake? Yes, if you’re careful and swim in the right spots. Will it be the best beach experience of your life, or even in Utah? Very likely not. While it will undoubtedly be a memorable experience, it’s not for everyone. Consider all this when planning a dip in the Great Salt Lake!

Not keen on swimming? Head to southern Utah for some epic hiking in Zion National Park. We’ve got the scoop here: 7 Easy Hikes in Zion to Experience the Red Rocks

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