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Nature and Wildlife in Salt Lake City, Wasatch Mountains, Park City, Northern Utah

Things to do / Travel Guide

Northern Utah's flora and fauna will have you maxing out your camera's memory sticks! The plethora of wildlife-watching opportunities will have you (and your camera) brimming with impressive images.

Birds and Bird Watching in Northern Utah

Binocular-bearing birdwatchers will enjoy a multitude of beaked northern Utah residents. Spring, summer, and fall are generally the best times for bird watching. Of particular interest, Golden Spike National Historic Site, in Promontory, has one of the only populations of sharp-tailed grouse in Utah (viewing is best late winter or early spring).
The seven-acre Tracy Aviary, on South Street in Salt Lake City, showcases more than 135 species from every corner of the planet, with a special focus on native Utahn birds, and is open daily year-round. At Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, osprey nest atop cliffy outcroppings, peregrine falcon ply the skies, waterfowl and shorebirds pose majestically in nearby wetland oases, and bald eagles choose areas along the Green River as their choicest winter vacation spots.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, on Forest Street west of Brigham City, is a truly outstanding bird watching site, widely considered one of the best in the country. You can expect to see more than 200 species of birds, including white-faced ibis, black-necked stilt, snowy plover, snowy egret, white pelicans, American avocet, marbled godwit, and tens of thousands of tundra swans.

In addition to its size and high saline content, Great Salt Lake is also “great” for spotting shorebirds, saltwater birds, white-faced ibis, gulls, trumpeter swans, and phalaropes. There are no less than eight waterfowl management areas stationed around the circumference of Great Salt Lake. Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, near Farmington, is a great place to peer at pelicans around the shoreline; you will also likely see Wilson's phalaropes, herons, and literally millions of migrating shorebirds. Eagles visit Farmington Bay in February, and you just may catch sight of wintering bald eagles feasting on blacktail jackrabbit near the towns of Stockton and Vernon.

Mammals in Northern Utah

Buffalo, elk, moose, big-horned sheep, deer, and antelope frolic about in their natural environments in northern Utah, as the Wasatch Mountain Range serves as a wildlife refuge. Take a spontaneous stroll into the mountains and you will guarantee yourself a sighting. A winter walk on the west side of the Oquirrh Mountains, near Erda, Lakepoint, and Tooele, will get you a glimpse of a mule deer or elk. Cruise around Bear Lake with your camera cocked and you'll probably catch sight of moose cooling themselves off in the glassy, aquamarine water. You can also head to Bald Mountain, near Strawberry Reservoir, to possibly see some mountain goats.

While you'll of course see antelope at Antelope Island State Park in Great Salt Lake, you'll also probably spot deer, bobcat, coyote, and elk. But Antelope Island State Park's real reputation banks on the over-600 bison (descended from 12 that were brought to the island in 1893). Head to the northern or southern shore and you are likely to get a glimpse of these imposing beasts, but keep your distance, as bison are not as friendly or as cute as they appear. If you head to Antelope Island in October you can take part in, or watch, the Buffalo Round-Up, at which the animals are herded to the island's northern end for counting and cataloguing.

Bursting with the vibrant, natural color, Flaming Gorge Reservoir in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is a proverbial paradise of pristine wildlife. Take a scenic spring drive along the Flaming Gorge-Uintas Scenic Byway (State Road 44 and U.S. Highway 191) and you will be able to get a roadside view of elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. You can also potentially catch a view of pronghorn antelope near the campground at Lucerne Peninsula.

Flora in Northern Utah

Good news for botany buffs: northern Utah's vegetation is vast and varied. The tough and hearty Shadscale, subsisting amidst salt and drought, can be found in the Great Basin and Uinta Basin. Greasewood, saltgrass, and iodine bush also favor the saline-soaked soils near Great Salt Lake. Sagebrush, pinyon pine, and juniper are common at lower elevations in the Wasatch Mountain Range. Higher up in the mountains you will see the deep, crisp forest greens of Douglas fir as well as limber pine, white fir, and Utah's state tree, the blue spruce. The Uinta Mountains are famous for ponderosa pine and chapparal, oak, maple, and mountain mahogany. At elevations of 10,000-11,000 feet in both the Uinta Mountains and Wasatch Mountain Range you will see the gnarled trunks of spruce, bristlecone pines, and sub-alpine fir struggling to grow with reduced oxygen and diminished temperatures.

Wildlflowers splash the northern Utah hillsides with their bright blues, yellows, purples, and reds. The peak season for wildflower viewing is April/May, when you can see sunray, evening primrose, Indian paintbrush, and cat's eye, among hundreds of other species. If you visit anytime from June-August, you will happen upon prickly poppy and prickly pear cactus, sacred datura, and others. Sunflowers catch the last rays of summer and autumn in September and October, as do thistles and aster.

Nature Spots in Salt Lake City, Park City, Northern Utah

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