Wetlands in Utah
Utah may be the second driest state in the nation and considered a cold desert climate, but wetlands are found throughout the state. The extensive marshes, mudflats, and meadows surrounding Great Salt Lake are the most well-known wetlands, as they make up roughly 32% of the vegetated wetlands in Utah and provide crucial stop-over, wintering, and nesting habitat for millions of shorebirds and waterfowl. Other wetlands throughout Utah are also very important in providing critical habitat, unique recreation and aesthetic opportunities, and water sources in our arid state.
Wetlands in Utah are incredibly varied, ranging from small, isolated spring complexes in the West Desert to cottonwood and willow stands stretching for miles along some of Utah’s larger rivers like the Colorado or Green. Other unique wetlands in Utah include the hanging gardens of the Colorado Plateau like the Weeping Rock of Zion National Park, montane fens and wet meadows like Christmas Meadows in the Uinta National Forest, and large, unvegetated, highly saline playas in desert basins such as Sevier Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Montane wet meadow in the Uinta Mountains. Waterlogged soils in wet meadows prevent the growth of pine and spruce trees and create a forest opening. Sedges, rushes, and grasses that are more tolerant of these waterlogged soils can establish in these openings and form the scenic wet meadows dotting the Uinta Mountains.
The landform, hydrologic, and land-use history processes that form and shape wetlands are unique to each wetland and no two wetlands are alike. Many wetlands, however, share broad similarities in vegetation, landscape position, water source, and flooding frequency and duration, allowing for wetlands to be grouped into broad types. Grouping into types makes it easier to visualize a particular wetland and provides information about the plant communities, water availability, and functions or services that are likely present at that wetland. Swamps, playas, springs, fens, wet meadows, and willow thickets are everyday terms used to identify various wetland types that imply different plant communities, amounts of water, or locations in relation to other landscape features. Knowing this sort of information is essential for restoration projects, management programs, or conditional assessments.
Because one person’s swamp could be another’s marsh, there are several classification systems with standardized methods of grouping wetlands into consistent wetland types. Some systems like the Cowardin system used by the National Wetland Inventory focus on vegetation characteristics, while other systems like the hydrogeomorphic (HGM) system used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers focus on a wetland’s landscape position and surrounding landforms. Each classification system has particular strengths, drawbacks, and applications for which it is best suited.
Regardless of how Utah’s wetlands are classified, wetlands are rare features in the state. Vegetated wetlands like wet meadows or marshes account for roughly 1% of Utah’s total land cover and waterbodies such as lakes, ponds, or flowing rivers account for another 2-3% of Utah’s total land cover, with Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake composing much of that cover. Unvegetated features, less commonly thought of as wetlands, are actually the most common wetlands in Utah. Features like playas, dry washes, and shorelines account for roughly 5-8% of Utah’s land cover, largely due to two playas, Bonneville Salt Flats and Sevier Lake, and the exposed shoreline of Great Salt Lake.
% Land Cover by Aquatic Resource Type
|id||AQUATIC RESOURCE TYPE||Photo||Examples||NLCD*||NWI**|
|1||Emergent Herbaceous Wetlands||wet meadow, marsh, fen||0.6||0.8|
|2||Woody Wetlands||willow thickets, cottonwood galleries, shrubby riparian corridors||0.4||0.1|
|3||Barren/Unconsolidated Shore||mudflat, playa, beach, unvegetated shoreline, NLCD data also includes non-wetland areas such as scree fields and snow||8.3||5.1|
|4||Open Water- Lake||pond, lake, reservoir, impoundment, including shallow edges and deepwater||2||2.5|
|5||Open Water- Pond||pond, lake, reservoir, impoundment, including shallow edges and deepwater||N/A||0.1|
|6||Riverine||unvegetated areas associated with stream channels; does NOT include riparian areas in general||N/A||0.9|
* National Land Cover Dataset, updated in 2016. NLCD data for barren features includes non-wetland areas such as talus and snow and percent cover might be artificially high.
** National Wetland Inventory, updated in 2019. NWI Riverine wetland cover includes dry washes as well as perennial and seasonal streams.
Wetlands Near You
Many of Utah’s unique wetlands are located on public land and easily accessed via boardwalks, paved trails, and hiking paths. Viewing some of Utah’s wetlands can even be as simple as travelling along Interstate 80 through the Bonneville Salt Flats. Many wildlife management areas and nature centers feature wetlands in their educational and interpretive programs and offer an excellent opportunity to learn more about the interesting plants, wildlife, and history of wetlands in Utah. Visiting a wetland can be a great outing to see beautiful scenery, enjoy the outdoors, and experience some of Utah’s rarest landscapes.
Find publicly accessible wetlands near you by searching keywords (cities, counties, activities, etc.) and expanding the rows for more information.
|Wetland Name||County||Nearest Town||Owner||Wetland Type||Activities and Access||Address|
|Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge||Box Elder||Brigham City||USFWS||Managed Ponds, Marshes||Excellent bird watching for white-faced ibis and other migratory birds. Learn more about wetlands and wildlife at the Wildlife Education Center before enjoying the refuge on foot or by driving the auto-tour route which is open throughout the year.||2155 W Forest St, Brigham City, UT 84302|
|Cutler Marsh||Cache||Logan||Pacificorp||Marsh||Marked canoe trails on Cutler Reservoir or pedestrian trails along reclaimed railroad.||4929 W 3000 N, Benson, UT 84335|
|Stokes Nature Center||Cache||Logan||Stokes Nature Center||Riparian, Riverine||Hiking trail alongside Logan River in Logan Canyon. Visitor center and classroom activities at the Nibley Outdoor Classroom in Nibley, Utah.||2696 East US Highway 89, Logan, UT 84321|
|Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area||Davis||Farmington||DWR||Managed Ponds, Marshes||Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area is an excellent bird watching area with more than 200 different bird species documented in the area, and an array of wetland habitats. Visit the Eccles Wildlife Education Center to get oriented then enjoy the area in your vehicle, bicycle, or on foot. The area is owned by the State of Utah and is managed by the Department of Wildlife resources. It is open year-round and open to hunting in the fall.||1325 W Glovers Ln, Farmington, UT 84025|
|USU Botanical Center-Wetland Discovery Point||Davis||Kaysville||USU||Marsh, Wet Meadow, Pond||Walking path, boardwalk, and Platinum LEED certified building.||920 S 50 W, Kaysville, UT 84037|
|Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve||Davis||Layton||TNC||Marsh, Meadow||Visitor center, pleasant boardwalk through the wetland, and open-air pavilion and observation tower.||S 3200 W, Layton, UT 84041|
|Antelope Island||Davis||Syracuse||DNR||Mudflat, Lake, Springs||State park flagship located in the heart of Salt Lake Valley and Great Salt Lake. Numerous hiking and biking trails travel past scenic terrain and exciting wildlife.||4528 W 1700 S, Syracuse, UT 84075|
|Desert Lake Waterfowl Management Area||Emery||Elmo||DWR||Managed Ponds, Marsh||Pond and wetland complex along the Price River. Managed for seasonal waterfowl hunting, but open year round.||S Desert Lake Dr. Elmo, UT 84521|
|Hog Springs||Garfield||Hanksville||BLM||Riparian, Hanging Garden, Spring||Hiking trail along canyon bottom. Trail is not wheelchair accessible.||Hog Springs Picnic Area off of Hwy 95 34 miles south of Hanksville, UT.|
|Scott Matheson Wetlands Preserve||Grand||Moab||TNC/DWR||Marsh, Riparian||A one mile-long handicapped-accessible, loop trail along the banks of the Colorado River includes a boardwalk and wildlife viewing blind. Brochures and map available.||934 Kane Creek Blvd, Moab, UT 84532|
|Silver Lake||Salt Lake||Brighton Resort, Salt Lake City||USFS||Subalpine Lake||Scenic sub-alpine lake surrounded by willow, sedge, and forest plant communities with family-friendly and handicapped-accessible trails and boardwalk. The Cottonwood Canyons Foundation offers guided walks to 4th and 5th graders.||8073 Big Cottonwood Canyon Rd, Brighton, UT 84121|
|Great Salt Lake State Park||Salt Lake||Magna||DNR||Mudflat, Lake, Springs||Marina and access to Great Salt Lake||13312 West 1075 South, Magna, UT 84044|
|Fred & Ila Rose Fife Wetlands Preserve||Salt Lake||Salt Lake City||Salt Lake City||Constructed, Restored||A small restored wetland next to the Jordan River parkway trail. It is managed by Salt Lake City Parks & Public Lands and is open year round||830 S 1100 W, Salt Lake City 84104|
|Miller Park Bird Refuge and Nature Park||Salt Lake||Salt Lake City||SLC||Restored Riparian, Riverine||Restored section of Red Butte Creek with nature path||1050 S 1500 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84105|
|Goosenecks State Park||San Juan||Mexican Hat||DRN||Riverine||Excellent overview of the incised San Juan River with hiking trails along canyon rim.||UT-316, Mexican Hat, UT 84531|
|Swaner Nature Preserve||Summit||Park City||USU||Meadow, Riparian||Visitor center and hiking trails||1258 Center Dr, Park City, UT 84098|
|Salt Springs Waterfowl Management Area||Tooele||Wendover||DWR||Pond, Marsh||Geothermal springs supporting several pools and wetland area. The deepest lake is Blue Lake, which is nearly 60 ft deep and is a popular scuba diving destination||Off of Hwy 93 approximately 15 miles south of Wendover, NV.|
|Ashley Nature Park||Uintah||Vernal||DNR||Riparian, Riverine||Paved trails along riparian forests and woodlands connected to Ashley Creek||1776 W 1500 N, Vernal, UT 84078|
|Powell Slough Waterfowl Management Area||Utah||Orem||DWR||Pond, Marsh||Utah Lake access and seasonal waterfowl hunting.||S 1890 W St, Orem, UT 84058|
|Utah Lake State Park||Utah||Provo||DNR||Lake, Marsh||Boating and fishing access to Utah Lake, as well as a paved cycling and pedestrian trail along the shoreline.||4400 W Center St, Provo, UT 84601|
|Rock Cliff Nature Center||Wasatch||Francis||DNR||Riparian, Pond, Meadow||Hiking along trails and boardwalk and hands on educational activities at the Education Center. Park naturalist is available to school groups and other organizations by appointment||2500 UT-32, Kamas, UT 84036|
|Zion National Park||Washington||Springdale||NPS||Riparian, Riverine, Hanging Garden||A national park with numerous hikes, climbs, and scenic vistas. Take a hike to see hanging gardens full of ferns and wildflowers along the Weeping Rock trail.||1101 Zion – Mount Carmel Hwy, Hurricane, UT 84737|
|Virgin River trail||Washington||St. George||City of St. George||Riparian, Riverine||Cycling and walking on a paved pedestrian path along the Virgin River.||965 S Washington Fields Rd, Washington, UT 84780|
|Brooks Nature Park||Washington||St. George||St. George||Pond, Marsh||Natural spring-fed pond supporting small wetland mash that historically provided water for St. George pioneers.||452 N Main St, St. George, UT 84770|
|Tonaquint Nature Center||Washington||St. George||St. George||Pond/Riparian||Hiking and walking paths through riparian areas along the Santa Clara River and children's play area with splash features. The Center holds interactive nature day camps for ages 4+ to 5th graders throughout June and July.||1851 S Dixie Dr, St. George, UT 84770|
|Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area||Weber||Hooper, Odgen||DWR||Waterfowl Management Area||Waterfowl hunting access, fishing along Willard Bay||2357 S 7500 W St, Ogden, UT 84404|
|Ogden Nature Center||Weber||Ogden||Ogden Nature Center||Pond, Marsh, Wet Meadow||1.5 miles of walking trails and handicap accessible paths along several ponds and habitat types. A variety of education programs are available through the Nature Center.||966 W 12th St, Ogden, UT 84404|
|Wetland Name||County||Nearest Town||Owner||Wetland Type||Activities and Access||Address|
The first step in effective wetland conservation and management is understanding the distribution and extent of wetlands throughout the state, which requires spatial datasets of mapped wetlands. Several datasets display mapped wetlands across Utah, with the National Wetland Inventory (NWI) being the most comprehensive and commonly used. However, much of the NWI mapping in Utah was completed from imagery taken during the 1980s and doesn’t accurately capture recent development or advances in mapping technology. The Utah Geological Survey is part of an ongoing effort to develop a comprehensive, modern wetland dataset for the state. The UGS actively updates the NWI mapping across Utah and has completed mapping projects around Great Salt Lake, Jordan River, Bear Lake and the upper Bear River basins, and parts of the Uinta Basin. Updated wetland mapping is available to download and view at several locations such as the UGRC and the NWI Wetlands mapper.