A Guide to Recreation on Utah Lake
Utah is known for the Great Salt Lake, but there’s another impressive lake just south. Utah Lake covers an area of almost 150 square miles and borders multiple cities along the Wasatch Front in Utah Valley. This lake acted as a source of life for the native people in the area and later the pioneers as they began settling the valley in 1849.
What Makes Utah Lake Unique?
Once known as the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi, Utah Lake has an average depth of only 10 feet. There’s no other lake with such a large surface area and such a shallow average depth. Unlike most other lakes and reservoirs in Utah, Utah Lake has a silty brownish green color. This comes from the silt on the bottom of the lake when it gets kicked up by the strong winds that often blow across its surface. Utah Lake is home to an impressive number of different fish species, one of which is the June Sucker, an endangered fish found only in Utah Lake and its tributaries.
Isn’t Utah Lake Really Polluted?
It’s a very popular misconception that Utah Lake is dirty and polluted. It is true that at one time Utah Lake did have problems with local industry polluting the lake. This hasn’t been the case since the late sixties; Utah has since made great strides to clean up Utah lake and keep it clean. In fact, the cloudy water makes a better habitat for fish species, as it blocks the sun and provides a cooler water temperature for the fish. Anyone who has visited Utah Lake in the warmer months is probably familiar with the unpleasant odor coming from the lake. Because the lake’s water level fluctuates significantly throughout the year, decaying plant matter and mud from the lake bottom is often exposed to the air. The large number of carp in the lake also manage to die and wash up on the shore. Anglers also leave carp on the shore because they are extremely detrimental to the health of the other fish species in Utah Lake, often causing a terrible smell.
Warning: Algae Blooms
While pollution might not be an issue you need to worry about, algae blooms are. In the bays of Utah Lake, the water warms up in the summer and provides perfect conditions for algae to bloom. The byproducts of these algae blooms can be dangerous, especially for pets and unaware boaters. Utah Lake officials do a great job of warning visitors of the dangers and alerting everyone to the areas of the lake that should be avoided. Despite these algae blooms, fish are still safe to eat.
Utah Lake Recreational Activities
Given its close proximity to Provo/Orem, Utah Lake is a popular place to boat and jetski. Popular places to launch a boat include Utah Lake State Park, Lincoln Beach, Lindon Marina, American Fork Marina, and Saratoga Springs Marina. Utah Lake is most suited to shallow running boats because of the shallow depth of the lake. The lake has a sufficient average depth for most boats, but shallow bays and sand bars can cause trouble for larger or deeper running boats. Large sailboats and cabin cruisers may have trouble, but most other boats will be just fine.
Utah Lake is one of the most diverse fisheries in all of Utah, maybe even all of the southwest. You can catch ten pound catfish and five inch bluegill all in the same spot. Utah Lake’s most frequently targeted species include Channel Catfish, White Bass, and Walleye, but there are plenty of other fish species to target, including carp, which can grow to massive sizes and provide a fun fight.
One of the most popular times of year to fish Utah Lake is the spring. In April and May, walleye migrate to shallower waters near the shore to spawn, making them easier to target for shore anglers. In May and June, the white bass run up Utah Lake tributaries such as the Jordan River and Provo River and into bays to spawn. White bass breed prolifically, and the spawning runs allow fishermen to catch hundreds of white bass per day. If you go fishing at a popular spot during the spawn, you’re likely to see people with five-gallon buckets full of white bass.
Kayaking, Paddle boarding, Swimming
Utah Lake is especially suited to paddle boarding and kayaking because the lake is shallow and has tons of shoreline. Utah Lake is an especially good place for kids. In most places, kids can still stand up a hundred feet off shore. If you don’t have a kayak or paddle boat, Lindon Marina offers a great selection of kayaks and paddle boards for rent. Finding a place to swim can be a bit more tricky. Because the lake is so shallow, you could find yourself hundreds of yards off shore and only up to your waist.
If you are planning on swimming in Utah Lake, make sure you check for algae blooms. DO NOT swim in areas where algae blooms have been reported. Another hazard to be aware of is wind. Utah Lake is notorious for sudden and violent wind storms, especially in the mornings and evenings. If you’re going to take out a kayak or paddle board, it’s safest to stay relatively close to shore so you can safely leave the water.
Most people haven’t ever seen or heard of kiteboarding, but Utah Lake is probably the best place in all of Utah if you’re interested in kiteboarding. On windy days you’ll often see a handful of kiteboarders slicing through the water. Most people love the freedom of following the wind and not having to rely on getting towed by a boat. This sport isn’t typical, but it’s just one of the many fun things you can do if you live near Utah Lake!
Hiking, Walking, Biking
Not everyone who wants to enjoy Utah Lake wants to get in the water. Luckily, there are some great walking and hiking trails along the shores of Utah Lake! Bikers and skateboarders also love these trails. They’re also great for taking your furry friend on a walk. Here are a few of the best trails:
- Utah Lake Shoreline Trail – Running north from Utah Lake State Park, this paved trail passes through great lakeshore habitat and features a wide variety of plants and birds.
JRT Trailhead – This trail starts where the Jordan River flows out of Utah Lake. It has beautiful views of the mountains and of Utah Lake, including access to several fishing locations.
- Utah Lake Shore Trail – Covering the section of the east side of Utah Lake just several miles north of the shoreline trail. There are some great views of the mountains and of the shoreline from this trail. Great sunsets, too!
Hands down, Utah Lake is the number one spot for bird watching in all of Utah. Pelicans, swallows, ducks, geese, and dozens of different species of birds call Utah Lake home! If you’re looking to cross some unique species off your list, Provo Bay is one of the best places on the lake to look. Jordan River Inlet is also a good place to find a variety of bird species. But you’ll find all kinds of birds anywhere along Utah Lake’s shoreline.
If you live in the Utah Valley, you don’t have to go far to find great camping. Utah Lake boasts several great camping spots for both tend camping and RV camping. Here are some of the best campgrounds around Utah Lake:
- Utah Lake State Park Campground – This campground has plenty of RV spots with partial hookups (power). Campers have access to courtesy docks, restrooms, and even showers.
- Lakeshore RV Park – This private campground offers 11 full service hookups and 17 spots with partial hookups. Campers get access to the beach area, picnic tables, fishing, and sailing. There are also showers available at this campground.
- Lincoln Beach Campground – This area isn’t generally used for overnight stays, but there are great picnic areas and a covered pavilion for activities and celebrations. Lincoln Beach is a very popular fishing location and the pavilions are a great place to take a break for lunch with your family and friends.
As Utah enters the dead of winter, ice fishing becomes a popular activity on Utah Lake. Utah lake rarely ices over completely, but the more protected bays and coves often do. Lincoln Beach and Utah Lake State Park are two of the most popular places to ice fish, but anywhere tucked away from the main body of the lake should freeze over and be relatively safe for ice fishing. In fact, Utah Lake State Park provides a webcam and ice report to give visitors an idea of the conditions. White bass are the species primarily targeted under the ice, but pan fish such as crappie, perch, and bluegill are often caught.
Please be careful when walking onto the ice. 4 inches is the minimum ice thickness needed to safely walk on the ice, even if other anglers are pushing their luck by walking on thin ice. Conditions can change quickly based on weather and wind conditions.
The Bonneville School of Sailing operates out of Utah Lake and provides groups and individuals with the opportunity to learn to sail. They provide the boat, instructor, logbook, and everything else you need to have a fun and educational experience. They offer classes for beginners to experts and everyone in between. The basic course is composed of six three hour lessons for a total of 18 lesson hours of instruction and practice. This course costs $635 per student, but group discounts are available for groups of 4+ people.
During hunting season Utah Lake and the surrounding marsh areas are full of hunters looking to bag a few ducks or other waterfowl. The fall and early wintertime is when duck season generally runs in Utah, but each area can be different and season dates are always subject to change. Be sure to check the latest Utah Regulations before going hunting.
The general consensus is that the southern half of the lake is usually more productive than the north end, likely due to the fact that the southern half is largely unimproved and still wild compared to the areas near larger cities. Mud bay is a popular place to hunt; you’ll likely see multiple different cars and trucks lined up along the access road while their owners are out hunting.
This activity is dependent on the weather, but when the conditions are right, ice skating on Utah lake can be incredibly fun. When the stars align and conditions are perfect, thick, clear ice forms in certain places around Utah Lake. Here’s a video that shows what ice skating on Utah Lake can look like. Ice conditions are variable and change frequently, so be sure to verify that the ice is safe before lacing up your skates!
Because of their speed, maneuverability and shallow footprint, jet skis are a Utah Lake favorite. In fact, several outfitters around Utah Lake offer jet ski rentals for use on any of Utah’s bodies of water. As always, be careful of underwater obstructions and sandbars. A jet ski’s high speeds can make these hazards even more dangerous. Luckily, jet skis float in such little water that it is usually safe.
Utah Lake Festival
The Utah Lake Festival is a celebration of Utah Lake and an opportunity to educate residents and visitors about what’s being done to improve Utah Lake and what new recreational activities are available. There are plenty of fun things to do and experience at the festival. Some of the activities are the sailboat regatta, food trucks, live music, educational booths, free fishing instruction, craft and game stations, a rock climbing wall, sailboat rides, and paddle boarding. Date changes each year, but the festival usually takes place in June. Check the Utah Lake Festival page for updates on this year’s festival date and details.
Utah Lake truly is one of the underappreciated gems of Utah state. For those who live nearby, Utah lake is an amazing recreational resource right in their backyard! If you’re looking for a place near Utah lake, check out Jordan View Towns, luxurious townhomes in Saratoga Springs, UT. Call today to learn more and schedule a tour!