Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Utah - Great Salt Lake Country - Ogden & Northwest -

Also known as:  America's Dead Sea

Sometimes called “America’s Dead Sea,” the Great Salt Lake occupies approximately 1,700 square miles of Utah’s real estate. It is the second largest lake (by surface area) that is wholly contained within the USA; only Lake Michigan is larger. Great Salt Lake boasts the USA’s longest lake shoreline – about 10,000 miles.

Great Salt Lake is the largest remnant of the prehistoric Lake Bonneville, and has a salinity much higher (saltier) than ocean water. Despite its nickname, however, the lake is home to many species of flora, fauna, and lake life, and welcomes many tourists to its shores every year.

The ancient Lake Bonneville was a huge mass of water, about as large as Lake Michigan and much deeper at about 1,000 feet. During the climate change after the Great Ice Age, the lake began to dry up and create smaller lakes, including today’s Great Salt Lake, which today averages a maximum depth of about 33 feet. The lake is fed by three major rivers — Bear River, Weber River, and the Jordan River — but has no outlet except evaporation. This great aquatic wonder has long been a major feature of the region, and lent its name to what is now known as Salt Lake City.

Water levels in the Great Salt Lake vary by the amount of rainfall and the rate of evaporation, reaching a high depth of 45 feet in 1987 and a low depth of 24 feet in 1963. Many islands dot the lake, although the exact number depends on the water level. According to the Utah Geological Survey, there are 11 islands with 7 in the southern part of the lake and 4 in the northwestern portion. The whole of Gunnison Island is the Gunnison Island State Wildlife Management Area. Public access is prohibited because the island is an important rookery for the American White Pelican. Antelope Island, the largest, is home to Antelope Island State Park, which is accessible by a causeway. Pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, American bison, and waterfowl make their home on Antelope Island.

The Lucin Cutoff is a 30-mile railroad causeway operated by the Union Pacific Railroad that crosses the center of the Great Salt Lake, connecting Ogden and Lucin. The high water levels during the 1980s threatened the causeway, highways, and sewage treatment plants around the lake. The State of Utah built the West Desert Pumping Project to drain excess water into the Great Salt Lake Desert to the west, creating the Newfoundland Evaporation Basin. Although the pumps are not currently in operation, the state maintains them for future use.

One of the lake’s greatest attractions is its wildlife, which is varied and vast. Though the lake itself cannot support many species due to its high salinity, it is home to brine shrimp, brine flies, and several forms of algae. Off-water, freshwater and saltwater wetlands offer refuge to millions of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl each year, including phalarope, avocet, stilt, gulls, falcon, bald eagles, swans, pelicans, and many more. Bird watchers will enjoy the lake’s offerings, scouting out familiar species and those unknown to their eyes. In fact, there are 27 private duck clubs, seven state waterbird management areas, and a federal bird refuge at the Great Salt Lake, allowing for hunting as well as waterfowl protection.

When at the Great Salt Lake, you owe to yourself to go for a swim. Since the water averages about 12% saline, floating is easier than almost anywhere else on earth, and entire afternoons can be spent watching fluffy clouds pass by. White-sand beaches sprinkle the lake’s shores, and families, sunbathers, and picnickers often flock to these beautiful spots for a bit of sun and refreshing swimming.

Antelope Island State Park offers a great starting point, with a beautiful beach and access to the sparkling lake waters. Head out sailing from Antelope Island Marina or Great Salt Lake Marina, taking advantage of healthy winds and nearly perfect days. Investigate Antelope Island’s diverse wildlife, and enjoy excellent bird watching and island’s colorful indigenous flora.

Boating on the lake is another favorite pastime, and during the summer months, the lake’s blue acres are populated by speed boats, pontoon boats, sailboats, kayaks, and canoes, all sharing in a bit of Great Salt Lake fun. Wakeboarders, water skiers, kneeboarders, and tubers all trail behind motorboats, indulging in one of lake lubbers’ classic favorites. Parasailing is another growing trend, and if you care to test your balance and bravery, parasailing lessons may be just up your alley. But not matter what your preference, getting out onto the lake should be high on your priority list.

Summer at the lake is filled with hiking, mountain biking, sightseeing, golf, and any activity you can dream up. During winter, the lake’s focus shifts to downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling, and old-fashioned snowman construction. Year-round, the area offers delicious cuisine, several museums, art galleries, luxurious spas, and wonderful shopping, all promising to fill your time here with many amusements.

The Great Salt Lake is a beautiful blue jewel cut into the Utah landscape, offering visitors and residents miles of coastline to explore and a beautiful landscape ripe with quiet spots for enjoyment and award-winning photo ops. A visit here will enliven your senses and relax your mind, making you wish you could stay forever.

Things to do at Great Salt Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Parasailing
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Ice Skating
  • Biking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • Museum
  • Shopping

Great Salt Lake Photo Gallery

Great Salt Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Saltwater Lake, Not Dammed

Water Level Control: State of Utah

Surface Area: 1,088,000 acres

Shoreline Length: 10,000 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,200 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 4,185 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 4,212 feet

Average Depth: 14 feet

Maximum Depth: 33 feet

Water Volume: 28,000,000 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 21,500 sq. miles

At LakeLubbers.com, we strive to keep our information as accurate and up-to-date as possible, but if you’ve found something in this article that needs updating, we’d certainly love to hear from you!
Please let us know about it on our Content Correction form.

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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