USA Utah

Your Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

Michelle Halpern posing for Bonneville Salt Flats blog
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The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah are a must-visit for anyone road-tripping through this other-worldly state. Located just 110 miles west of Salt Lake City, the salt flats are a super easy day trip from the capital.

My friends and I visited the Bonneville Salt Flats as a day trip from SLC during a longer Utah road trip and even with all of the incredible and diverse landscapes that Utah has to offer, it still ended up being one of the top highlights of our trip! Especially if you’re into photography, I can’t recommend a visit here enough.

Michelle Halpern posing for Bonneville Salt Flats blog

So what makes the Bonneville Salt Flats so cool? Well, depending on the season and weather, you can actually drive onto the salt flats, making it a unique experience that isn’t possible at other salt flats you might visit like Badwater Basin in Death Valley.

Plus, the area is absolutely stunning. I highly recommend making a point to be there during sunrise or sunset to witness how the scenery changes with the rise and fall of the sun.

In this post, I’m giving you the ultimate breakdown of everything you need to know before visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats so you can be prepared with what to bring and make sure you time your visit right. So let’s get to it!

Quick Answers to Your Questions About the Salt Flats in Utah

Michelle Halpern posing for Bonneville Salt Flats blog

What are the Bonneville Salt Flats? 

The Bonneville Salt Flats are the remnants of the evaporated Lake Bonneville from thousands and thousands of years ago, which once spanned a large section of northwestern Utah. Before the lake dried out it was the same size as Lake Michigan! 

While explorers in the 1800s going west tried (often unsuccessfully) to cross these massive Utah salt flats, it wasn’t until 1910 when the South Pacific Railroad was built that people started crossing them regularly.

Because of the unique surface of the Utah salt flats, it wasn’t long before they became a desirable location for racing. Starting in the early 1900s, speed racers from around the globe would journey to the Bonneville Salt Flats to race, with the first record being hit in 1914, and subsequent record years achieving up to 600 miles per hour.  

Where in Utah are the Bonneville Salt Flats located?

The Bonneville Salt Flats are located in Wendover, Utah, 110 miles to the west of Salt Lake City, which makes them an easy drive for a day trip if you’re in the area.

What is the distance from Bonneville Salt Flats to Salt Lake City?

It’s 110 miles from Salt Lake City to the salt flats, and the driving time takes approximately 1 hour, 30 minutes.

How big are the salt flats? 

30,000 acres! This expansive plain stretches 12 miles long and 5 miles wide, with depths up to five feet at the center of the flats.  

Does it cost money to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats?

Nope! One of the best parts about the Bonneville Salt Flats is that they’re completely free to visit.  

When is the best time to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats?

The best time of year to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats depends on what things you want to do. If you want to drive onto the salt flats, try to go during the dry season, which is June through August. We visited in March and still were able to drive out onto them, it just depends on weather.

If you want those cool reflective photos, you’ll need to go in the wet season, the height of which is September through November.  

For some, visiting during Bonneville Speed Week is the best thing to do at the Bonneville Salt Flats, but be prepared for crowds. No matter what time of year you go, be sure to check the weather as it can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, and easily go below freezing in wintertime.  

Can you drive on the salt flats in Utah?

During the dry season it’s safe for tourists to drive on the salt flats, but make sure to check ahead of time as you won’t be permitted to drive if the salt flats get too wet. There’s a risk of your car getting stuck or causing damage to the flats, so it’s very important to pay attention to what’s recommended during the time of your visit.

Do I need to bring anything to the salt flats?

Pack a camera, sunscreen, layers, water, and sunglasses. The white sun and reflection from the salt flats can be extremely blinding, so you want to be prepared! Keep reading for a full packing list 🙂

Can you swim in the salt flats?

No! It’s definitely not safe to swim at the Bonneville Salt Flats, which you can read about here if you want more information.  

Are there bathrooms at the salt flats?

Yes, there are bathroom facilities at the rest areas for the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Can you camp on the salt flats?

While there are some campsites near the Bonneville Salt Flats, you can’t actually camp on the salt flats. But since it’s such an easy drive from Salt Lake City, we preferred to head back into town during the evening and stay at a hotel. Staying in nearby Wendover is also an option for those not looking to make the full drive back to SLC.  


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Why You Should Visit the Bonneville Salt Flats

If you’re around Salt Lake City or doing a larger road trip through Utah, the salt flats are a must. They’re unlike anything you’ll ever see in the area (or perhaps in your life) and are always a memorable day with friends or family. The landscape is otherworldly, and it’s absolutely magical during sunrise and sunset.  

If you enjoy photography, this is especially a must-visit spot. It was great to see the number of people who came out for special occasion shoots here—shooting everything from engagements to weddings and birthdays. Since mid-day was so bright, the best pictures were taken when the sun wasn’t directly overhead, closer to sunset.

During the dry season, you can also get quite the adrenaline rush driving around the Speedway on the flats. Since they are so vast and unobstructed, it’s easy to pick up speed without needing to worry about hitting anyone or anything.  

What You Need to Know Before Visiting the Salt Flats

  • Make sure to follow leave no trace principles to keep this beautiful place as pristine as you found it!
  • Don’t wear your favorite shoes. The salt tends to get a bit messy (and sticky!) and can be painful on bare feet, so bring shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.  
  • If you choose to drive on the flats, get a car wash immediately after so the salt doesn’t ruin it! Have some things in the car to wipe down your shoes and sweep away the salt from your mats, as you don’t want the salt to collect on your shoes and potentially stain them.  
  • Pay close attention to the driving directions as you’re approaching the salt flats, because if you miss the pull-off, there’s no close area to make a U-turn.
  • Make sure to apply sunscreen everywhere, but also under your nose and chin since the salt can reflect the sun and leave you with a nasty burn.
  • If you’re going to drive on the salt flats, start driving slow. It’s a surface unlike any normal driving conditions that can take some getting used to. Also, avoid any areas that feel too soft and drive only in the designated areas.  
  • There are limited facilities nearby, so bring enough food and water for the day. Because of the massive size of the salt flats, it’s easy to lose track of time, so you’ll want to be prepared.  

How to Get to the Bonneville Salt Flats

Plane over salt flats

The Bonneville Salt Flats are located in northwestern Utah, right up against the Nevada border. The closest big city to the salt flats is Salt Lake City, so it’s easiest to fly into SLC and do a day trip out from there with a car. However, you may also be driving in from Nevada, so I’ll provide directions below, depending on which direction you’re arriving from.

Basically, there is one main highway (I-80) just south of the salt flats, and you can either take that Eastbound or Westbound depending on where you’re driving from. Technically there is a very small regional airport in Wendover, Utah very close to the salt flats, but in my research I really struggled to find flights out of there, so I would suggest flying or driving in from somewhere else.

**Important Note: There are very few places to turn around on I-80, so you really don’t want to miss the exit for the salt flats or you’ll be driving for awhile before you can make a U-turn. Pay close attention as you approach, so you don’t miss the rest area!

Directions From Salt Lake City:

If choosing this route, you’ll want to make your way to Interstate 80 going west and search for “Salt Flats Rest Area Westbound” in your navigation. Once on I-80 W from Salt Lake City, it’s about 89 miles to the exit for the rest area.

As I mentioned above, the exit for the rest area where you enter into the flats is notoriously easy to miss and there aren’t many places to turn around if you miss it, so be super alert as you get closer. Basically it just looks like a small parking lot with one small covered parking structure and a white building where the restrooms are located.

Directions From Nevada or Wendover, Utah:

If coming from this direction, you’ll want to search for “Salt Flats Rest Area Eastbound” in your Google Maps. From here, you’ll merge onto I-80 East, and once you arrive in Wendover, the exit for the salt flats will be in just 7.7 miles.

Where to Stay When Visiting the Salt Flats

Since the Bonneville Salt Flats are 110 miles from Salt Lake City, it is possible to get there for a day trip and return the same evening. However, those who don’t want to do that much driving all in one day can stay in nearby Wendover.  

Keep in mind that staying in Salt Lake City means driving back and forth in addition to all of the driving you will do on the actual flats, and while some don’t mind being in the car that long, you may want to avoid that.

That being said, manage your expectations. Wendover has a few inexpensive chain hotels (standard ones like Motel 6 and Best Western), but is currently lacking in more charming and stylish boutique accommodations. If you want to fit in some gambling during your trip, there are a few different casinos to choose from (but keep in mind, they are not like the casinos in Las Vegas).

If you’re looking for accommodation that’s a bit nicer, I would recommend staying in SLC. That’s what we did and we didn’t find the driving back and forth to be too cumbersome.

Where to stay in Salt Lake City:

Bonneville Salt Flats Packing List

Michelle Halpern posing for Bonneville Salt Flats blog
  • Definitely bring a camera! It’s a magical place that you’ll want to photograph
  • Bring your drone if you have one as they’re allowed here
  • Sunscreen – and don’t skip under your nose and chin!
  • Sunglasses and a hat to help shield you from the sun
  • Layers as temperatures can drop at night
  • Some sort of towels to wipe down your shoes before you get back in your car
  • Don’t forget plenty of water and snacks as resources aren’t readily available at the Bonneville Salt Flats 
  • Shoes you don’t mind getting a little dirty (unlike the ones I wore above 🙃 ) and potentially wet if the flats are flooded

Things to do at Bonneville Salt Flats

At first you might be wondering, what is there really to do at the Bonneville Salt Flats? Beyond just being a really cool sight to see, here are some of the most fun things to do during your visit!

Drive Fast

Because the Speedway is such a wide expansive area, there isn’t anything or anyone to worry about hitting as you speed around this incredible wonder. While you’ll definitely want to go slow at first so that you can find your footing while driving on the salty ground, once you’re comfortable, you can really let loose.

Coming from traffic-clogged LA, this was an especially exciting experience for us. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be much of an adrenaline junky, you should definitely give this a try as long as the conditions aren’t too wet during your visit.

Ride an ATV or Dirt Bike

Beyond just driving fast in a car, a favorite activity amongst visitors to the salt flats is bringing an ATV or dirt bike for a ride. It’s a great spot to get out in wide open spaces without having to worry about traffic or obstacles.

Take Epic Photos

Because of its unique landscape, this is a favorite spot for professional photographers to bring their clients for things like engagement shoots, family portraits, etc.

In my personal opinion, one of the best parts of visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats during the wet season was the reflective photos I took. They turned out awesome, and it was fun to get creative with some of the wetter areas on the flats. That being said, even if you visit during the summer or dry season, you will still be able to capture some incredible pics.

Stargaze

If you stay on the salt flats once the sun goes down, this is an epic place to witness the starry sky. There’s very little light pollution here so the stars are incredibly bright. You can literally see the star trails through the Milky Way, and if you happen to visit during a cloudless night, you are seriously in for a show!

If you want to find the best spots on the salt flats, keep in mind that there is a small amount of light pollution toward Wendover on the horizon, so try to face away from that direction while posting up.

Watch a Car Race

The Bonneville Speedway is specifically marked out for motorsports, and it is known for being home to several land speed records. If you come during Speed Week in August, you’ll see some of the world’s top drivers race the track and maybe even break a world record!

This annual event is hosted by the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association, celebrating the racing history of the landscape for six fun and festive days. It includes hot rods, roadsters, belly tankers, motorcycles, streamliners, and even diesel trucks all trying to break records on this unique terrain.  

Even if you don’t have much interest in racing, this really is an amazing experience and there is something super exciting and adrenaline-pumping about watching these racers speed across the salt flats.

Did this post inspire you to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats? Let me know in the comments below!

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