Exploring the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah

Dec 2, 2019 | 3 comments

I’ve wanted to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah for YEARS! It’s been on my bucketlist ever since reading about the land speed record attempts at the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway as a kid.

It’s been on our list every time we’ve visited the southwest, but seeing as we usually fly into Las Vegas, it’s always been just a little out of reach for a short road trip. Instead we usually choose to visit one of the many other national parks that are within just a few hour’s drive from Las Vegas!

Driving from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City

This time though, we decided to try something new and drive from Las Vegas all the way to Salt Lake City (which, by the way is a drive worth doing in itself – eventually we’ll get around to writing a blog post!). It’s a drive with the potential to take you through Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and even the amazing, Mystic Hot Springs.

Flying out of Salt Lake would mean we’d finally be within driving distance of the Bonneville Salt Flats, so we’d finally be able to check it off our bucketlist!

Well, skip forwards a couple of weeks and we’ve just got back from our road trip. I’ve got to tell you, it was a long drive but well worth the effort!

Here’s everything we picked up from our trip, and everything you could ever need to know about visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats!

What are the Bonneville Salt Flats?

The Bonneville Salt Flats are an enormous stretch of flat, empty ground to the west of Salt Lake City, that lie alongside the Interstate 80 Highway.

The salt flats are over 300,000 acres of land that were once a part of the now dried out, Lake Bonneville. Before it dried out, the lake was once the size of Lake Michigan, and a third the size of Utah!

As the lake dried out, an enormous amount of salt was left behind, leaving what is now the Bonneville Salt Flats in its place. In some areas, the salt crust is just a few inches thick, but in other places it can be as deep as 5 feet.

It’s an incredibly inhospitable desert environment, allowing absolutely no vegetation or life to survive.

In summer, the salt flats can reach well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and in winter, well below freezing.

While the salt flats dry out in the summer, water forms a thin layer across the flats in the winter. This ca create an illusion that the sky is mirrored on the ground. We visited in November, and that’s exactly what we found!

Photos of Bonneville Salt Flats

Sometimes words just don’t do it justice. Here are some of the photos from our visit to the Bonneville salt flats!

How to get to the Bonneville Salt Flats

Drive West from Salt Lake City on the I-80. That’s it! If you want to find the main viewing rest area, then it’s 111 miles west of Salt Lake City or 10 miles from the town of Wendover, just over the state line in Nevada.

Where’s the best place to photograph the Bonneville Salt Flats?

Bonneville Salt Flats block of salt

The salt flats run for a hundred miles between Salt Lake City and the state of Nevada. There’s a long, long, straight road (I-80) that runs west from Salt Lake City, and for 90% of the drive, you’ll be driving parallel to the salt flats.

The best place we found to photograph the salt flats was at the Bonneville Salt Flats Rest Area (Westbound). When we visited in November, this was the only place that we found that was actually flooded and accessible, so this was where we stopped!

Here are the coordinates (40.7375286,-113.8517409), but you can find it easily just by typing the Bonneville Salt Flats into Google maps.

It’s here that you’ll get the stunning reflections running to the horizon; where it feels like you’re walking in the sky!

Unfortunately this water was about 100 miles from Salt Lake City, but it was well worth the drive.

Important things to know about the Bonneville Salt Flats

Here are a few things to note if you’re going to walk out onto the flats and into the water to try and take photos.

  1. The water can get extremely cold. The high salt concentration actually lowers the freezing point of water, so if it’s a cold day, the water might actually be colder than freezing! We went into the water at sunset in November, and it was just about bearable but painfully cold.
  2. It might look it, but the salt is not soft like sand. It’s hard crystals of salt and relatively sharp for bare feet. I do not recommend walking on it without shoes. There were several people wading in barefoot and yelling loudly about how painful it was. Bring water shoes. Also, expect those shoes to emerge from the salty water caked in salt and in need of a good wash. Don’t get anything you care about wet.
  3. Goes without saying, but don’t let any of that salt water near your gear or car. Salt water is extremely corrosive and the enemy of all camera gear/electronics/metal.
  4. Get low to the water to shoot. Our best reflections were taken as low as possible
  5. Bring everything you need with you and something waterproof that you can put things down on. There was nowhere dry to put anything on the ground.
  6. The deepest water probably got to shin depth when we were there (November), but we continued walking and eventually it became pretty shallow.

Even if you pass the deep covered section of the flats, there are hundreds of metres of wet ground that aren’t quite submerged.

Ultimately I just decided to throw my bag’s rain cover on the ground and use it as a barrier between my bag and the salt water. There weren’t really any good solutions.

The Rest Area (Westbound)

Not only is this the best place to stop for photos, but the stop also has public toilets and a water station to wash your salty shoes off! You’re also only 20 minutes from Wendover in Nevada, where you can grab fuel, food and drink, or even stop into a casino!

Can you drive onto the salt flats?

Anyone that’s heard of the salt flats has also heard of the speedway, so it’s fairly obvious that you can drive onto the salt flats, however you should do it with caution!

In many places, only a thin layer of salt lies above wet mud. Many vehicles have met with unexpected difficulty by venturing too far off road and it’s extremely expensive to get towed.

The ecology is also very fragile, so help protect the area by only driving in designated areas.

When is the best time to visit Bonneville Salt Flats?

You can visit Bonneville Salt Flats at any time of year but, as it’s a desert, there are certain seasons that might be more enjoyable.

Best time of year to visit Bonneville Salt Flats

If you visit in the winter, Bonneville Salt Flats are way less busy and the temperatures are far cooler. Temperatures in the summer can get dangerously hot in the middle of the day, so if you go when it’s a bit colder, you’ll find the experience a bit more enjoyable.

If you visit from between December to May, the area is likely to be far less busy, and colder, so you’ll probably have a much better experience.

Having said that, if you visit between March and June, this is the wet season and your risk of running into mud on the salt flats is much higher. There is a high risk of getting your car stuck if you visit at this time.

If you visit in the summer, be prepared for high scorching temperatures and aim to visit first thing in the morning or later in the evening.

Events at Bonneville Salt Flats

If you’re planning a visit to the Salt Flats, you may want to time your visit for when there are events in the area. This is typically in the fall.

The biggest event, by far, is Speed Week that takes place at the Bonneville International Speedway in August.

This is 6 days of racing, where drivers and their cars visit from around the world in an attempt to break speed records on the salt flats. It’s a massive spectator event, where visitors can view the racing as well as enter the pit stations and talk to different crews.

You can also enter if you have a fast car and you’re looking to race!

If you love cars and racing, this should go on your bucketlist. Make sure you pack your binoculars!

What to pack for the Bonneville Salt Flats

Here’s a short list of essentials for the salt flats:

  1. Sunscreen (make sure you add it under your chin as light reflects off the ground)
  2. Wide brimmed sun hat and sunglasses
  3. Water shoes and fresh water to rinse off your shoes afterwards
  4. If you’re visiting during speed week, make sure you bring a chair or even a shade tent!
  5. Bring plenty of water if you’re planning to be out in the desert for long
  6. If you are renting a car, make sure your insurance covers you if you go onto the salt. Salt is really bad for cars so a lot of nearby companies will prohibit it.
  7. Bring food and water. There are no shops of any kind on the salt flats. The closest place is Wendover.

Hotels near the Bonneville Salt Flats?

The most obvious place to stay when visiting is Salt Lake City. There are so many amazing cultural things to check out in Salt Lake that it would be a fantastic base for exploration. We stayed in a cheap hotel by the airport just before flying out, but there’s something for all budgets in Salt Lake.

Check here for rates and availability in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The alternative is to stay in Wendover. This is far, far closer than Salt Lake City, but is kind of like a cross between Las Vegas and a truck stop. There’s plenty of fast food and a variety of Casinos to stay in. If you like to gamble or don’t want to be up super early then this would make the most sense.

Check here for rates and availability in Wendover, Nevada.

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Written byRobin

About us

About us

Hi, we’re Rob and Louise! We’re obsessed with travel and love to share our adventures! We’re a UK/Canadian couple that currently lives Banff, Canada.

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3 Comments

  1. Alaina Larsen

    Such beautiful photos! And thank you for such detailed, quality information! Were these pictures taken at sunrise or sunset? Does either time work on these flats?

    Reply
    • Robin

      I think this was around sunset, but I would imagine sunrise works too! The important thing is going when the air is calm so you can get a reflection, and when there’s a bit of water on the flats. Have fun!

      Reply
      • natalie

        Thank you for this!

        Reply

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