At 120 Kilometers long and around 45 kilometers wide, the Great Salt Lake is the largest natural lake in the western hemisphere. It’s often regarded as America’s Dead Sea due to its extreme salinity. Although only a few fish can survive the lake’s high salinity, it still serves as an important habitat for millions of native migratory birds. Keep on reading to learn 46 facts about the Great Salt Lake.
Fact 1: The Great Salt Lake is located in the northern part of the U.S. state of Utah.
Fact 2: The lake is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere.
Fact 3: It’s the eighth-largest terminal lake in the world. A Terminal lake is defined as having no known river, streams, or other outlets to drain the body of water.
Fact 4: The Great Lake does not freeze because there is too much salt in the water. Salt, of course, prevents and decreases the likelihood of water freezing over.
Fact 5: The Great Salt Lake is typically bigger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Fact 6: The lake’s highest surface elevation is 1283 meters above sea level. In the dry season, the lake’s lowest surface elevation is 1277. A difference of only 6 meters.
Fact 7: The average water depth of the lake is only 4.9 meters. This is very low compared to other bodies of water of similar size.
Fact 8: Like the Dead Sea, the Great Salt Lake exists within an arid environment and is saltier than the oceans. At its saltiest, it’s 27% salt. This makes is 7.7 times saltier than the oceans of the world.
Fact 9: It has much greater salinity than the other oceans since natural evaporation exceeds the supply of water from the rivers feeding the lake.
Fact 10: The Great Salt Lake is the largest of the lake remnants of the prehistoric freshwater Lake Bonneville.
Fact 11: Formed late in the Pleistocene Epoch about 30,000 years ago, Lake Bonneville at high water covered almost 58,000 square kilometers of present-day western Utah and also extended into modern-day Nevada and Idaho.
Fact 12: The first non-native explorers whose accounts of the lake are fully credited were the trappers Étienne Provost and Jim Bridger.
Fact 13: Étienne Provost and Jim Bridger came upon the lake independently in 1824–25. More detailed scientific investigations were made by Captain John C. Frémont in 1843 and 1845.
Fact 14: The present-day Great Salt Lake emerged about 10,000 years ago. It was around that time that the huge pre-history Lake Bonneville started to break up and form a series of smaller lakes. This includes The Great Salt Lake.
Fact 15: Local Native American tribes knew about the Great Salt Lake, of course. Local tribes had two names for the lake. The first was Pi’a-pa which means “Big Water”. The second name was Ti’tsa-pa which means “Bad Water”.
Fact 16: On May 10, 1869, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed on the Promontory Peninsula on the north end of Great Salt Lake.
Fact 17: A total of 55,685 km² of the surrounding land drains its water runoff, such as rain, into the lake.
Fact 18: The Bear, Weber, and Jordan rivers carry more than 1.1 million tons of salts annually into the lake.
Fact 19: The total dissolved mineral accumulation in the lake basin is some 5 billion tons, mainly sodium and chloride, though sulfate, magnesium, and potassium also are abundant.
Fact 20: It’s too salty for most fish to survive.
Fact 21: However, it’s home to several types of algae that live in the lake. Brine shrimp and brine flies can tolerate the high salt content and feed on the algae. Brine shrimp eggs are harvested commercially and are sold overseas as prawn food.
Fact 22: The total volume of water in the lake is 18.92 km3. However, it can be more than half that amount in dry years, and can more than double in particularly wet years.
Fact 23: At the Great Salt Lake Marina you can launch a kayak or boat, go on a sunset cruise, or take in the spectacular view.
Fact 24: Its marshes and mudflats are home to numerous waterfowl including pelicans, herons, cormorants, terns, and gulls.
Fact 25: There are 8 permanent Islands on the lake with a further 7 becoming visible above the water’s surface depending on the depth of the water. Determining the size of any given island can be difficult as the water level changes rapidly throughout the years. However, it is generally accepted that Antelope Island is the largest island.
Fact 26: The Lake has the nickname of “America’s Dead Sea” because of its similar salt content to the actual dead sea near the country of Jordan.
Fact 27: Bridger Bay Beach on the north end of Antelope Island is a 3.2 kilometer, 90-meter wide expanse of white oolitic sand. Oolitic sand is actually formed in the lake and is made up of concentric layers of calcium carbonate (lime).
Fact 28: The northwest arm of the lake, near Rozel Point, is the location for Robert Smithson’s work of land art, Spiral Jetty. He created the land art in the year 1970.
Fact 29: The land art, created by Robert Smithson, is only visible when the water level of Great Salt Lake drops below 1,280.2 meters above sea level.
Fact 30: Legend has it that two whales live in the lake.
Fact 31: Local legend maintains that in 1875, entrepreneur James Wickham had two whales released into the Great Salt Lake, with the intent of using them as a tourist attraction. The whales are said to have disappeared into the lake and subsequently sighted multiple times over a number of months.
Fact 32: In the 1980s, the Lake was filled by record high water levels. The Lake was 14 meters deep at it’s the deepest point. 4 meters deeper than the historical average. This caused a problem, however, as the shores of the lake have a very shallow angle of descent. This means that a 1-meter increase in the depth of the water can flood hundreds of meters inland. This caused many of the buildings to start to disintegrate quickly because of the massive salt content in the water.
Fact 33: The lake also has a resident lake monster. Witnesses have claimed to see a large monster with a body like a crocodile and a horse’s head in the lake. They claimed this monster attacked the men, who quickly ran away and hid until morning. This creature is regarded by some to have simply been a buffalo in the lake.
Fact 34: According to the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program, more than 7.5 million birds in 257 species make a stop at the Great Salt Lake on their migrations.
Fact 35: By April, early breeders including gulls, pelicans, Canada Geese, egrets, and herons are active in wetland areas. Early nesting season is a great time to look for birds, in their breeding plumage, displaying mating behavior.
Fact 36: The lake is cut in two by the 32km long Union Pacific Railroad Causeway. The causeway’s importance for local commerce and industry is underlined by the 15 trains that cross the causeway every day.
Fact 37: The lake is sometimes half brown, and half greeny-blue. This differentiation is caused by the Union Pacific Railroad causeway that crosses the width of the lake. The red hue of the North Arm comes from a type of bacteria, called halophilic bacteria, that just flourishes when the salt level rises. In recent years, the Union Pacific Railroad company breached the causeway in an effort to allow water to flow between the two arms.
Fact 38: The Garfield Beach Resort was established by Captain Thomas Douris in 1881.
Fact 39: It was originally called Garfield Landing the main attraction of the resort was a huge pavilion 130 meters from the shore. It covered a total area of 50 by 122 meters, 90 meters of which was covered decking.
Fact 40: The lake has high concentrations of the toxic metal Mercury. There is so much of the metal in the lake that mercury is found in all animals and plants throughout the local food chain. It is thought that if Mercury levels continued to rise, the water would become unsuitable for people to bathe in.
Fact 41: Willard Bay is a human-made freshwater reservoir on the northeastern flood plains of Great Salt Lake. Willard Bay is a man-made freshwater reservoir in the Great Salt Lake. The bay was separated from the Great Salt Lake in 1964 and has since served as a source of irrigation, drinking water, and recreation for the northern Wasatch Front metro area.
Fact 42: In an average year, the lake covers an area of approximately 4,400 km². But this total surface area varies widely both from year-to-year and from month-to-month.
Fact 43: The highest historic recoded surface area of the great salt lake was 8,500 km2. This is nearly 4,100 km2, or 93% more surface area than what the lake currently is. Additionally, this would move the lake from its current place of the 33rd largest lake by area in the world, up to 18th place, above Lake Titicaca.
Fact 44: The Great Salt Lake is not the Saltiest lake on Earth. That Prestigious title is held by the Dead Sea near Jordan. The Dead Sea is nearly 25% saltier than the USA’s Great Salt Lake.
Fact 45: The lowest ever recorded Surface area for the lake was just 2,465 km2. This is a 1635 km2 or 40% decrease in overall surface area.
Fact 46: Antelope Island, the largest island on the Great Salt Lake, has a total area of 109 km2. The highest peak on the island is 2,008 m above sea level, which places its peak 731 meters above the surface of the lake.