Salt Lake City, Utah and Idaho Falls, Idaho – Cross Country USA Road Trip (Part 11)

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Welcome back to Part  11 of our six week road trip across the United States! In this article, I’ll cover the trip going north and east through Salt Lake City, Utah, the Antelope Island State Park, and Idaho Falls, Idaho.

A brief recap of our trip: we set out from our home in Raleigh in early June and made it back home toward the end of July. In total we spent over six weeks (46 nights!!) on the road and drove 8,200 miles. 

Along the way, we visited 14 national parks and a ton of other interesting places. It was quite a busy trip, since we stayed in 25 different airbnbs or hotels and spent more than 100 hours traveling in the van

To cover the whole trip, I am breaking up the trip summary into thirteen separate blog posts.

Here is a table of contents for our whole trip if you want to check out other parts of our journey (once those other blog posts go live!):

  1. North Carolina to Kansas via West Virginia and St. Louis
  2. Colorado: Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Frisco
  3. Colorado: Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde National Parks plus Ouray
  4. Utah: Arches National Park and Capitol Reef National Park
  5. Utah: Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park
  6. Arizona: Glen Canyon Dam, the Grand Canyon, and Hoover Dam
  7. A Week in Las Vegas, Nevada
  8. California: Los Angeles and Long Beach
  9. California: Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks
  10. Crossing the Desert in Nevada and Utah: Hawthorne and Bonneville Salt Flats
  11. Salt Lake City, Utah and Idaho Falls, Idaho
  12. Yellowstone National Park
  13. Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, and National Museum of the US Air Force

Join me for part 11 of our trip across the country as we explore Salt Lake City, Utah and Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Our route through Nevada with overnight stops in Hawthorne and Elko. We end this segment of the trip in the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

In Part 10 of the saga of our cross-country road trip, we ended the segment by spending the afternoon exploring the Bonneville Salt Flats just east of the Nevada/Utah state border.

After visiting the salt flats, we continued east for another hour toward Salt Lake City, Utah. We drove around downtown Salt Lake City. As it turns out, everything is closed on Sunday evenings so we didn’t really get to do much in Salt Lake City proper other than a walking and driving tour of downtown.

To summarize: cool impressive Mormon church buildings, a neat library and city hall, and hey, it’s the State Capitol building!

Utah State Capitol

From the short time we were there, I felt like Salt Lake City would be a nice place to live. I didn’t observe a lot of the urban problems that we saw in other big cities on our trip out west (such as Denver and Los Angeles). The streets were clean and it felt safe walking around the mostly deserted downtown area. 

After touring through downtown Salt Lake City, we spent the night in a hotel by the Salt Lake City airport.

I enjoyed walking down the mostly deserted streets of Salt Lake City on a quiet Sunday evening. I don’t know if we would have visited Salt Lake City as a destination in itself, but it was a very pleasant surprise on our road trip!

From Salt Lake City, our trip continued north toward Idaho Falls for three hours along Interstate 15. About 30 minutes into the drive, we took a detour to the Antelope Island State Park. 

From the interstate, it’s a 15 minute drive to the park entrance where you pay the $15 admission fee. This was one of the rare admission fees we had to pay on our summer trip since Antelope Island is a state park and not part of the National Park System (for which we had a free pass). 

Another 10 minute drive west along a seven mile long causeway spanning the sometimes dry, sometimes marshy bed of the Great Salt Lake, and we arrive on the island itself.

The deserted Antelope Island Marina. The water levels are way too low for any boats to dock here.

Antelope Island is 15 miles long in the north-south direction and just a few miles wide for most of its length. Once on the island, the main attraction for us was the scenic Antelope Island Road that skirts the eastern edge of the island along the Great Salt Lake. The first 11 miles are paved.

We took our time driving down Antelope Island Road to the Fielding Garr Ranch. It is located at the end of the paved portion of the road. Soon after the ranch, the road turns to dirt and continues for another five miles to the end of the island. 

Once at the Fielding Garr Ranch, we toured what used to be a working sheep ranch established in 1848 and continuously occupied until 1981 when Utah established the island as a state park. The barns, dormitories, and houses have been preserved to show what living on a ranch looked like over the past 100+ years. It reminded me of my dearly departed grandparents’ house and farm – lots of cool old stuff and farm implements in various stages of rusting away. 

Ranch Barn
The barn at the Fielding Garr Ranch on Antelope Island

We spotted a large herd of bison approaching the road just south of the ranch, so we packed into the van and drove the short distance south to watch the bison up close. We sat there in the air-conditioned van for half an hour watching the bison graze and cross the road. This was a very neat experience to see so many free range bison up close. 

Private bison viewing at our own pace.

After leaving the bison, we backtracked north along the coastal Antelope Island Road. We looped around the beachfront areas of the park where day trippers could enjoy the sun and sand. Not many beachgoers were there when we visited. I think it’s because of the intense heat, bugs, very low water levels, and marshy smell. 

Once we finished exploring the island, we set out to Idaho Falls, Idaho where we would spend the next three nights. It’s an easy 2.75 hour drive north on Interstate 15. 

A solitary bison on the plains of Antelope Island. In the background, the declining water levels of the Great Salt Lake have receded and left behind an expanse of salt and mud. I am curious about the impact on the herds of antelope and bison. Do they get stuck in the mud on their way to the edge of the water? Can they even drink the high salinity water in the Great Salt Lake?

Our three day stay in Idaho Falls was another rest stop on our busy summer road trip. We had a very busy three days in Yellowstone planned after Idaho Falls, so we took our time to relax while we had a chance. 

We picked Idaho Falls as a place to take a break because it’s close enough to Yellowstone so that we could get in a full day of sightseeing on our drive up to our next hotel. However, the price of lodging is about a fifth of the price of Yellowstone-adjacent lodging. 

We spent one day in Idaho Falls visiting the waterfront along the Snake River. They have a riverfront trail that stretches for a couple of miles along the river in the center of town. Along the paved trail, we spent quite a bit of time admiring the waterfall created by the 20 foot tall and 2,000 foot long dam. Both banks of the river are nicely manicured and have picnic tables and benches for relaxing along with well done landscaping. 

The dam across the Snake River
Resting on the rocky bank of the Snake River in downtown Idaho Falls.

At the southern end of the dam was the impressive (and free!) Japanese Friendship Garden. Given the population of Idaho Falls is only 61,000 people, I was shocked that the Japanese garden was as large and well-kept as it was. 

After visiting the Japanese garden, we continued to the main public library in town just a couple of blocks to the east. In addition to offering comfortable seating, clean bathrooms, air conditioning, and water bottle refills, they also had a small koi fish pond in the central section of the building. 

A bridge in the Japanese Gardens in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

In addition to our riverfront sightseeing, we dined out at a couple of Mexican restaurants while in Idaho Falls. I was surprised to see so many authentic Mexican restaurants in a small town in a relatively sparsely populated part of the country not known for its large Mexican diaspora.

Our Airbnb host said the high density of Mexican restaurants is due to the large migrant farmworker population working the fields in the area. Hailing largely from Mexico, these folks miss their native cuisine. So aspiring entrepreneurs set up shop and serve a variety of baked goods, ceviche and other seafood, “street tacos”, and other Mexican and Latin American dishes. 

Well rested and well fed after three days in Idaho Falls, we packed up and headed north toward Yellowstone National Park to commence our tour of one of America’s greatest national parks. More on that next time in Part 12 of our road trip across the United States! 

We visited downtown Salt Lake City where we toured around the public area near the Mormon Temple, the State Capitol, and other parts of downtown. 

Once we left Salt Lake City, we headed north toward Idaho Falls, Idaho. On the way there, we stopped for several hours at the Antelope Island State Park just north of Salt Lake City. Inside the park, we toured a historic sheep ranch and hung out with a herd of bison. 

Upon arriving in Idaho Falls, we enjoyed a few days of rest and leisure. We walked along the waterfront of the Snake River in downtown Idaho Falls. We visited the Japanese Garden in the middle of the Snake River, then toured the rest of downtown Idaho Falls on foot.

After Idaho Falls, we continued our road trip north and east toward Yellowstone National Park. 

I didn’t really have any preconceived notions about Salt Lake City or Idaho Falls, and they were both surprisingly nice cities! Any places you’ve visited that left the same impression? 

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