“What about that lake?”
Visitors to Salt Lake City always want to know.
The Great Salt Lake (GSL), which is the largest saline lake in the Western Hemisphere, is enigmatic and extraordinary. The ever-changing body of water shapes life along the Wasatch Front and prompts curiosity from all who visit. Here are answers to some of the most common questions.
FAQs About Our City’s Namesake
#1 Why is it so salty?
The GSL is a small remnant of a MUCH larger freshwater lake. During the last Ice Age most of Utah was covered by an inland ocean known as Lake Bonneville. This enormous lake receded over thousands of years, leaving minerals (mostly salt) behind. The eastern shoreline of Lake Bonneville left an indelible mark on the foothills of the Wasatch Range. This terrace now provides more than 40 miles of interconnected trails that offer fantastic views of the valley.
The water level continues to drop and the remaining water keeps getting saltier. The lake’s salinity has ranged over time, from a little less than 5 percent to nearly 27 percent, far higher than the ocean’s 3.5 percent. Floating is effortless and skipping rocks is a breeze.
The lake also helps produce Utah’s world famous snow. As storms move over the shallow, warm water, it quickly evaporates. That water then condenses into extra-light snow which gets dumped when the clouds hit the mountains on the other side of the valley. A recipe for heavenly ski days known as “the lake effect”.
#2 What can live in the salty water?
The Great Salt Lake is not a first-class fishing destination. In fact, other than a few fresh water inlets, there are no fish in the 1,700 miles of water. There are only four organisms that can survive the high saline content: algae, bacteria, brine shrimp and brine flies. While the water itself is not especially hospitable to life, the wetlands surrounding the lake provide respite to birds from around the world. Millions of migratory birds stop to feast on the brine flies and shrimp in the wetlands along the lake.
#4 What is there to do at the lake?
If bobbing like a cork in the salty water or strolling through the brine flies doesn’t sound enticing, don’t be discouraged. There’s something that will float your boat at the Great Salt Lake. We’ve put together a guide for experiencing the best of the Great Salt Lake and the other-worldly land surrounding its shores. From boating to concerts, and hiking to high-speed races, there’s something for everyone. Read 10 Things to See and Do at the Great Salt Lake.