Sunday Drive: Soaring above the shorelands

Tom Kelly
Sunday Drive

Standing on the top of a three-story observation tower amidst thousands of acres of vibrant shorelands, we watched the sun slowly set over the marshland. It hung onto the horizon seemingly forever before ducking down into the Great Salt Lake, casting final rays of sunshine onto Antelope Island’s Frary Peak.

All along the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake, from the Salt Lake City International Airport up to Willard Bay in the north, a series of preserves guards the lake from development. They each serve as an oasis for migratory birds and a haven for wildlife.

One of the most engaging and accessible is the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve, covering thousands of acres west of Layton. In the mid-’80s, The Nature Conservancy began acquiring shorelands to ensure protection of the unique natural resource. Today, there are 4,400 acres along 11 miles of shorelands in the preserve, with the centerpiece being a 1.25-mile boardwalk loop with an outdoor visitor center.

As I stepped onto the boardwalk, a red-winged blackbird rocketed across my path and into the cattails. In the distance, I could see a white-faced ibis soaring above. Down low, tiny wrens flitted back and forth amidst the reeds.

The Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve is immersive. Now late into the summer, the cattails reach upwards to eye level. You instantly feel like you’ve walked into a completely new ecosystem, with the hustle-bustle of the city and the roar of I-15 traffic fading from your mind.

First stop is the visitor center, an imposing structure resembling the wing of a soaring bird and built with recycled timber from the old Lucid Cutoff, an former rail line which bisected the Great Salt Lake.

Walking along the trail, you can hear the distinct sound of flowing water under the boardwalk. In the distance you can see waterways heading to Farmington Bay and the Great Salt Lake. While the marshland appears alive and vibrant, a boardwalk high water marker is a reminder that the lake is still very low.

The wetlands along the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake are vital to birds and other wildlife. The dense vegetation captures energy from the sun, and provides a rich supply of nutrients.

Benches with interpretive displays entice you to sit and absorb. And when you do, you are treated to a performance from the birds, the wind and the sky. Just sit on a bench and be still. Have binoculars at the ready.

From the vantage atop the tower, you get a panoramic view of thousands of acres of shorelands. In the distance, Antelope Island stands out prominently. What you don’t see is water. Despite the winter snowfall, the lake remains very low.

As the sun finally set over the western shore of the Great Salt Lake, I watched the environment of the preserve change once again. The silence was dramatic, punctuated by the whistling calls of birds and the distant howl of a coyote.

It’s a time when you feel completely alone in the midst of what is a very special place.


Getting There: Head up I-15 (or the Legacy Highway for a more peaceful alternative) to Layton, heading west on Gentile, less than an hour from Park City. Bring water, sunscreen, binoculars, walking shoes (it’s all boardwalk).

Hours: The preserve is open 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily.

Cost: It’s free, but consider a donation to The Nature Conservancy.

Audio Tour: Check out the very detailed and educational audio tour at

Kids: This is a fantastic family hike that anyone can accomplish. Read up in advance on birds of the Great Salt Lake and see how many you can identify on your walk. Pay attention, they’re stealthy and quick.

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