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Bike of the week: Antelope Island

Published: Thursday, June 23 2005 4:12 p.m. MDT

White Rock Bay is in the foreground, the mountains of Antelope Island in the middle and the Oquirrh Mountains in the background.

Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

DIRECTIONS: Take exit 335 off I-15 past Kaysville and head west to the fee station and causeway to island. Trailhead is near park offices/buffalo pens.

RIDE: A lot of people are aware of the bike ride across the causeway and along the eastern shoreline to the Fielding Garr Ranch, but often overlooked is the backcountry trail system. For starters, there's the Lakeshore ride, a level trail for families and novice riders. There are two separate loops — White Rock and Split Rock Bay — and one out-and-back ride from the upper trail down to Elephant Head, which is about 2 miles one way. The White Rock loop is about nine miles. The trail, going east, is rather flat at the start, but then goes into a climb toward Beacon Knob. This trail also is the access point to Split Rock and Elephant Head. On the uphill climb, riders encounter a single tree, which can give riders a little shade before they resume the climb. A little south of the Knob, the trail flattens out and stays relatively flat with only a few smaller dips and climbs. The rides to Elephant Head and Split Rock require a steep climb down and back up, so riders should plan accordingly.

FACTS: This is a good ride to take before the hot months of July and August hit. No water along the trail, so riders need to take plenty along with them. One of the benefits of this ride is the opportunity to take in some of Utah's most fascinating geological formations. A collection of the rocks along the trail are some of the oldest on earth — 2.7 billion years. The rocks are, in fact, older than those found at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The lake itself is the largest natural body of water west of the Mississippi. It is 75 miles long and 28 miles wide, and view of the lake from the upper levels of the biking/hiking trails are spectacular. Nearly 80 percent of Utah's wetlands surround the island, making it a natural holding area for more than 250 species of birds. One of the most alluring features about the island is its wildlife. It is nearly impossible to ride the island trails and not encounter big game animals, which would include buffalo, bighorn sheep, antelope and mule deer. There are more than 750 head of buffalo on the island. The island also holds bobcats and coyotes.

The 2-mile Lakeshore Trail is a good starter. Riders start at the White Rock Bay campground and pedal around the base of Buffalo Point along the shore of the Great Salt Lake. Turn around where conditions get too rocky and watch the sun set from a trailside rest bench.

Intermediate riders can take the 9-mile White Rock Bay Loop, which follows Antelope's backcountry trails. Beacon Knob, at the loop's high point, offers sweeping views in all directions. The descent back to the trailhead goes through wide turns on fast-paced doubletrack. Add still more miles by climbing up to Split Rock Bay Overlook and following the 3.3-mile Elephant Head Trail out and back. It ends at a cliff edge viewpoint of crescent-shaped Split Rock Bay below. The 5-mile Split Rock Bay Loop follows the terraced shoreline of ancient Lake Bonneville — predecessor to the Great Salt Lake. The trail then weaves through massive boulders and cliffs exposing rocks that are 2.7 billion years old — a time long before the first bugs inhabited the premedical seas. The path drops dramatically on hand-built trail through switchbacks to the lake's shore then rises steeply to the loop's beginning.

NOTES: There is an admission fee to the Island. Among other things, the island offers camping, picnicking, a museum and access to the buffalo pens. Along the eastern shoreline is the restored Fielding Garr Ranch, which includes a ranchhouse, well house and blacksmith shop.


Antelop Island

Location: Antelope Island

Trail: Backcountry Trail System

Distance: 20 miles of trails

Difficulty: Intermediate-Advanced

Open to: Biking, hiking, equestrian

Type: Out-and-back and loops