Sometimes wildlife is just outside our door
By Kathleen Curry & Geoff Griffin
Whether venturing to the far corners of Utah, or just taking a short drive from the urban Wasatch Front, those wishing to view wildlife have a variety of options. More distant national parks or wilderness areas can offer wonderful opportunities to see birds, fish and mammals, but you can also find numerous options within 100 miles of Salt Lake City. Here are four to check out:
Antelope Island State Park
Twelve bison were brought to Antelope Island in 1893. More than a century later, the free-ranging herd is now 550-700 strong and can be seen throughout the island. The year 2019 marks Antelope Island’s 50th year as a state park, and to celebrate, they’ve created the “50 Miles for 50 Years Challenge.”
Whether hiking, biking or driving, you’re likely to encounter bison on a 50-mile journey around the island.
For a close look at the bison, mark your calendar for Oct. 26, 2019, to attend the annual Bison Roundup. Get there early and go to the White Rock Bay viewing area. Between about 10 a.m and 2 p.m., the herd passes by the area to go to corrals where they will be counted and evaluated. It will also be a place for education, activities and food.
Directions: Located west of Syracuse, 41 miles from downtown SLC. Travel north on Interstate 15, take Exit 332 and drive west on Antelope Drive to the park entrance gate. The park is 7 miles west of the entrance gate across the Davis County Causeway. For more info, visit StateParks.utah.gov/parks/antelope-island
Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area
A giant meadow located about 15 miles east of the town of Hyrum in northern Utah is a spot where the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources does two things to help maintain a habitat for the Rocky Mountain elk. During the summer, the meadow at Hardware Ranch is a place to grow about 300 tons of grass hay. During the winter, wild elk are fed that hay and guests can watch from a visitor center with 180-degree views of the meadow.
The annual Elk Festival, generally held in early December (check the Elk Festival Facebook page), kicks off the start of the season. The list of activities includes elk-calling lessons and contests. Winter is also the time to take a wagon ride through Hardware Ranch to get a closer view of these gigantic animals.
Directions: Located east of Hyrum, 95 miles from downtown SLC. Travel north on I-15 to the Brigham City/Logan exit and take U.S. 89/91 for 17 miles over Sardine Canyon into Cache Valley. Turn right (east) at the Wellsville light onto State Road 101. Follow the State Road 101 signs and the Hardware Ranch WMA signs through the city of Hyrum and up Blacksmith Fork Canyon. Hardware Ranch WMA is at the end of the road, about 18 miles up the canyon and 22 miles from the light in Wellsville. For more information, phone 435-753-6168 or visit Wildlife.utah.gov/discover/hardware-ranch.html
Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter
This 1,200-acre nature preserve is conveniently located just off Interstate 80 after taking the Kimball Junction exit to Park City. A program of Utah State University Extension, Swaner offers 10 miles of trails to explore while experiencing a wetland ecosystem either on your own or as part of a tour. Depending on the time of year, hikers might see elk or nesting sandhill cranes along with many species of birds. After experiencing the outdoor preserve, there’s more to learn at the indoor visitors center, where exhibits, shows and even live animals can take the experience to a new level.
Directions: Located in Newpark Town Center near Park City, 25 miles from downtown SLC. Travel east on I-80 and take Exit 145. Continue south on UT-224 and take West Ute Boulevard to Highland Drive. Turn right, then left, then right toward North Park Lane. For more information, phone 435-649-1767 or visit Swaner.Ecocenter.org
Rock Cliff Recreation Area
Rock Cliff sits on the eastern shore of Jordanelle Reservoir, part of Jordanelle State Park. While Jordanelle Reservoir is a popular draw for boaters and other water recreationists, the Rock Cliff area is a place where visitors can get a more up-close view of what makes up this ecosystem.
Open during the summer, the Rock Cliff Nature Center is a place to learn about the area’s wildlife through a series of interactive exhibits. Outside the center, an elevated boardwalk lets guests move through the wetland and view where the Provo River enters Jordanelle Reservoir. Wada Way, Keetley Loop and Three Rocks Trail are all under 2 miles and can be hiked or biked. For a more challenging adventure, try the Perimeter Trail that runs 15½ miles from Rock Cliff to Crandall Point.
More than 200 species of birds and mammals can be found around Rock Cliff, including golden eagles, hummingbirds, deer and moose.
Directions: Located near Heber, 50 miles from downtown SLC. Travel north of Heber on U.S. Route 40 to the junction with Utah State Route 32, then follow UT-32 toward Francis. Rock Cliff is on the left side of the highway about 2 miles west of Francis. For more information, visit StateParks.utah.gov/parks/jordanelle