ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK — With the unseasonably warm temperatures and little snowfall this winter, many hikers are jumping from cabin fever to spring fever in a heartbeat.
A good place to stretch out the legs, hit the hiking trail and get the heart and lungs working again is Antelope Island's South Island Trail.
The South Island Trail starts near the Garr Ranch. The trail is really an old service road that follows the mostly flat terrain on the east and south side of the island. If you start at the ranch parking lot, the trail is approximately 5.50 miles out to Unicorn Point, which is the end of the trail on the south end of the island. This makes the hike out and back about 11 miles.
This is a pretty decent hike even though the trail is flat. Plan on taking about four hours to accomplish the out-and-back hike to include a rest here and there to take in the scenery and wildlife, and to have a snack or two.
The Utah Division of Natural Resources website has a map that shows three different trailheads for hikers. The one near Garr ranch is an equestrian trailhead which would make the hike closer to the 5.50 miles to Unicorn Point. Up the road a little less than a mile is the Sentry Loop Trailhead with signs and information about trails, mileage and what you might observe. Farther up the road, about 1.5 miles, is the last trailhead. From this last trailhead, the mileage to Unicorn Point would be closer to 4.1 miles. Be prepared to hike from Garr Ranch or contact the park rangers to find out which trailheads are currently open.
The South Island Trail is a great trail to use as a winter and early spring training trail to get you in shape for summer hiking. Even in a normal winter or a winter with greater snowfall, the trail would be hikeable in the snow. If you are trying to get in shape and do not want to hike to the point and back, you can turn back anywhere along the trail and get the miles your legs and feet are capable of handling.
The trail is also used by mountain bikers, equestrians and people walking their dogs. There is a 6-foot maximum leash regulation for those walking their dogs. Be sure to follow trail protocol and yield as instructed. Since the trail is wide, issues of who has the right-of-way are seldom an issue.
South Island Trail does not have very many resting places. A couple of large rocks along the trail and a large rock at the end of the trail are the only places suitable for sitting. The only available restroom is at Garr Ranch. There are no water spouts or restrooms along the trail. Be sure to take a water bottle even in the winter. Even if you don't feel like drinking, be sure to take occasional sips of water to ensure hydration.
Along the trail you might encounter buffalo, mule deer, coyotes, hawks and other birds. If you are lucky, you might see pronghorn antelope or California bighorn sheep. A small pair of binoculars is handy for scanning the hillsides for wildlife.
As always, remember to be prepared for inclement weather. Utah winters are tricky to predict. Changes in wind and cloud formation can be abrupt. Wear layers so you can regulate body heat as needed.
The end of the trail gives a great view across the south end of the island and Great Salt Lake. You can see across the lake to snow-covered Farnsworth Peak in the Oquirrh Mountains, named after Philo Farnsworth. The peak is the home to radio and television transmitters for Utah radio and television stations. Also visible is the 1,200 foot Kennecott Garfield Smelter tower.