SYRACUSE — Many find that winter is the best time to hike the trails on Antelope Island.
Most of the island's trails have little to no snow throughout the winter, with the exception of Frary Peak Trail, which can have a few feet of snow right after a snowstorm. And one of the best reasons to hike the island in winter is the pesky biting buffalo gnats are not around.
Elephant Head is a rocky outcropping on the west side of Antelope Island. From certain spots on the island (and with a little imagination) this rock outcropping looks like the head of an elephant with two large ears on the sides and a trunk that extends out toward the Great Salt Lake.
The 8.2-mile out-and-back trail from White Rock Bay to Elephant Head Overlook is a great winter hike. This hike starts at the trailhead near the Whiterock Bay campgrounds. It begins heading south with the first part of the trail flat. You come to a large open valley within a few hundred yards. The trail through the valley, called Bone Road Trail, is quite wide, which suggests that it was once used by motor vehicles. You can see most of the 2.7 miles that lay in front of you.
It's a nice walk through the valley, and you can focus on the lone tree toward the end of the valley trail. There is a slight incline as you near the tree. As you look back, you realize that you have actually been going ever so slightly uphill.
The trail splits at the end of the valley, where a trail sign designates White Rock Loop to the left and to the Elephant Head Spur and Split Rock Loop to the right. Follow the trail sign to the right. You will start climbing a little more as you pass the lone tree with a horse hitching post near it. At this point, the trail climbs through some rock formations on a north-facing slope. This area is shaded from the sun and you may encounter some snow in the winter.
As you come around the corner through the rocks, another trail sign indicates the Elephant Head Spur, which takes you in a west direction. You can pause here and look to the southwest, where you will see the 5-mile Split Rock Loop trail leading down through another open valley. Be sure to check out the south-facing slopes, as mule deer often graze these sunlit areas. If you carry a pair of binoculars, you might even spot a few of the big mule deer bucks in the area.
Follow the Elephant Head Spur for 1.4 miles through rocks and boulders. Look closely at the rocks and try to find conglomerate boulders called diamictite. These are large, dark boulders with smaller rocks embedded in them. As you hike Elephant Head Spur, look out to the north; you’ll be able to see down to Bone Road Trail and marvel at how far you've come.
The trail turns to the south at the farthest western point of Elephant Head Spur. Continue south for a few hundred yards and you’ll come to the end of the spur. The panoramic views are wonderful from this vantage point. You can look south down on the Split Rock Trail, east toward some of the island's highest peaks, and west over the Great Salt Lake and the Stansbury mountain range. Fremont Island and the Promontory mountain range are to the north.
You can plan your hike so you are at the spur overlook just in time for lunch or some trail snacks before heading back, or you can get out early or in the evening and spend some time listening for the howl and yips of coyotes before turning back.
This trail is open to hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and equestrians. Be courteous.