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Sink your toes into Utah's sandy beaches
By Stephen Dark
The yen for beach life for city-dwellers in land-locked Utah can be overpowering at times, particularly in those summer months when it seems the closest you can get to the seaside is watching oversize seagulls pecking at garbage in parking lots and tar "beaches" on rooftops. Thanks to the wide variety of reservoirs and lakes across the Beehive State, that itch to throw down a towel and then wade out into still waters can easily be scratched. And you don't have to travel far to do it.
Let's take the man-made options first. In some cases, a beach amounts to little more than land near water. Climb up the winding path at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon to Bell Canyon Reservoir in Sandy on any sunny weekend, and the sight that greets you at the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley is a gorgeous stretch of water and mountainous terrain. Wend your way around the water's edge, and you'll find spots of land occupied by families on blankets picnicking, or sitting on rocks with their feet in the water, enjoying their views of the tree-lined water's edge and the ducks.
Just across the valley from Bell Canyon in Herriman is an even better example of a beach in Utah, although it's one that's so hidden away in the 'burbs, it takes a little time to find it. Follow Bangerter Highway towards Riverton and Herriman and then turn west on 13400 South. From there, it's a matter of wending your way up through a residential neighborhood of McMansions almost to the top of South Ashland Ridge Drive to be greeted by the black gates of Blackridge Reservoir and a sign, that says "Swim at your own risk."
Blackridge is very 'beach'-like. Essentially, it's a large round pool, with one side walled in by boulders and the other a sandy beach with grass and sheltered tables. Walk the beach, and the feel of sand between your toes brings back vivid childhood memories of half-burying a family member or building sandcastles—which makes it all the more surreal, given the suburban location.
Other man-sculpted beach spots within an hour or so drive from downtown Salt Lake City include a reservoir in Deer Creek State Park just outside of Heber City in Heber Valley on Highway 189 and the crystal waters of Pineview Reservoir near Ogden, just off Highway 39.
The closest you can get to a natural beach—at least for Salt Lake Valley residents—is Bridger Bay on the northern edge of Antelope Island. It's a two-mile long stretch of white sand looking out onto the salt-laden waters of the Great Salt Lake.
On holidays and weekends, the line of cars coming from Syracuse to get onto Antelope Island could mean as much as a half-hour wait. But the payoff, at least at Bridger Bay, is a stunning vista of undulating mountains mirrored perfectly in the blue waters and the kind of incipient beach life you might expect at any sea resort.
While some picnic in their cars, families with small children traverse the metal tracks down to a long stretch of muddy sand and stone, slender sea gulls fighting in the air above them. A 10- to 15-minute walk from the parking lot brings you to the water's edge. Adults and children with rolled up trouser legs wade out into the waters, as Mexican dance music from a young woman's iPod drifts across the white expanse.
One man with a metal detector searches for buried treasure, while another flies a kite, to his young son's delight. There is a similar relaxed look on everyone's faces as they gaze out over the saline lake, caught up in nostalgia for their own childhood, or simply marveling at how beach life could exist in the desert.
Bridger Bay Beach offers covered tables, the Island Buffalo Grill—a fast-food eatery with buffalo and hamburgers on the menu—and showers to wash off the sand after an afternoon of gently floating in the lake's calm embrace.
If you're looking to get farther away from Salt Lake City, check out Willard Bay State Park, near Brigham City. Or, heading south, you'll find popular beach spots, such as Lake Powell and Flaming Gorge—with their majestic red-rock terrain—while Hurricane offers at Sand Hollow State Park, a sandstone landscape cradling sandy beaches and warm blue waters.