If you’re looking for stunning scenic beauty and a truly other-worldly experience, Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats should be firmly on your travel list. The globally-renowned location ranks as one of the top geographic destinations in North America, and it is easy to see why. It provides truly unique and breathtaking scenery and plenty of room to take it all in. And if you happen to be a car enthusiast, it brings some excitement as well.
What Are the Bonneville Salt Flats
The Bonneville Salt Flats are 4,000 square miles of flat, salty ground on the western side of the Great Salt Lake basin in Utah. It was formed by receding water of Lake Bonneville that existed during the last Ice Age 32,000 and 14,000 years ago. The lake was expansive, covering a third of the state of Utah and extending into Idaho and Nevada.
The salt ranges in thickness from a few inches to 5-feet thick and is blown by the wind to create a perfectly flat surface that shines white under the desert sun. It is so flat that you can see the curvature of the earth.
The remarkable beauty and flatness have made it an international destination for tourists and a popular backdrop for photographers and television and movie directors. It is also renowned for automotive racing and is the home of many land speed records.
The entrance is free and open to the public most of the year. The area is protected by the Bureau of Land Management and is categorized as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and Special Recreation Management Area.
Can You Drive on the Salt Flats?
Absolutely… if the weather is right. Avoid driving when the ground is wet or flooded; otherwise, you damage the salt crust and risk becoming stuck in the mud. Seasonal closures are marked with posted signs when standing water is on the salt surface.
When is the Best Time to Visit?
The best time is in summer and fall (July to October). This is an extremely hot time of year (often over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), but it is the ideal time for driving because the salt is dry and hard.
Can You Eat the Salt?
Yes! The salt was once mined for use in food. Be prepared for your taste buds to go into overdrive. It is the definition of salty.
Things to Do at the Flats
- Photo Ops – The remarkable beauty and flat appearance make the salt flats are an ideal spot for photographers and Instagramers. The eye-catching white surface and the area’s breathtaking sunrises and sunsets create a setting your camera will simply eat up. If you visit when it is wet, you will be amazed by the mirror reflection of the sky, clouds, and outlining mountains.
- Car Events – If you are a car-lover, the flats are also a popular destination for car hobbyists and auto racing. Here you can chat with people about their newest creations or attend events at the track or straightaway
- Auto Racing –The flats are an ideal spot for most any hobby that requires open space, and this makes it popular for auto racing. The Bonneville Speedway is a designated area marked out for motorsports, and its straightaway is the home of several speed records. Highlights include the land-speed record of 630 mph that stood from 1970 to 1983, as well as the fastest wheel-driven vehicle speed of 482 mph set in 2018. The area’s racetrack is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Races and events are posted on the Bureau of Land Management’s website
- Speed Week – This popular event is held each August and is as much about looking at cars and talking with their owners as it is about watching the races. You’ll have plenty of time to browse the pits and talk shop.
- World of Speed – Held each September, the World of Speed event is popular for its speed records. It attracts racers from around the globe, all competing to be the fastest in their field.
- Hiking – Hiking the flats is as easy as it gets. There is no real trail to follow; just pick a direction and start walking.
- The Utah Rocket Club –Each July/August, the Utah Rocket Club holds a multiday event called Hellfire when rocket enthusiasts set off their creations. It is a sight to see. Some rockets are small, others are downright huge, and the owners are all there to tell their stories.
Tips For Visiting The Bonneville Salt Flats
Because the flats are in a remote desert, proper planning is important to get the most out of your experience.
- Bring Sun Protection – The most significant issue visitors face is not having adequate sun protection. The sun shines from above and below, reflecting off the white, salty ground, and you’ll need to apply sunblock where you wouldn’t expect, such as under your chin and nose.
- Take along a hat and sunglasses as well. The white ground is bright to the eyes. And if you are there for racing events, bring shade such as a tent, and comfortable chairs. Racing events can run for several hours, so you’ll want to stay comfortable and protected.
- Clothing – Since it is desert terrain, Fahrenheit temperatures range from sub-zero in winter to over 100 degrees in summer. The temperature further fluctuates depending on the time of day (down to 60-degrees at night during the summer.) To stay comfortable, dress in layers.
- Bring Food and Plenty of Water – There is no food or water at the flats unless there is a significant race event underway. The nearest real food other than snacks at a truck stop is in Wendover about 13 minutes further west on the I-80. This is a 26-minute round trip, so it’s a good idea to bring some food and water with you to make your visit easier. Take more water than you need.
- Restrooms – There are no restrooms except for portable toilets during events. There is a rest area before the flats just off I-80 (11 miles before the town of Wendover), which has restrooms and a pet area. To prevent any back and forth, use the restrooms before arriving.
- Cellphone Coverage – You are truly out in nature here and reception is limited, so have all your information ready before you travel.
- No overnight camping is allowed – on the salt flats, but you can camp on adjacent public land or take advantage of nearby RV parks or hotels in Wendover, with casinos to boot.
- Gas – It’s a good idea to gas up before leaving Salt Lake City. If you need to refuel before returning home, you can stop at the truck stop at Exit 4 or head west to Wendover.
How to Get There
The flats are just under two hours due west of Salt Lake City off Highway 80. You can either stop at the rest area at I-80 (11 miles before Wendover) and read a bit about the flats and take a walk on the salt, or venture further in by taking Exit 4 off Interstate 80 and driving north, following the marked signs to the Speedway. Take a right on Leppy Pass Road and drive in the direction of the salt flats. You will find a parking area at the end of the road.
Truly A Site to See
The Bonneville Salt Flats are ranked alongside Yosemite and the Grand Canyon as one of the top scenic destinations in the country, making it well worth a visit. So take along some food, extra water, plenty of sunscreen, and your best camera for a truly unforgettable experience. You will be truly amazed by the beauty this area has to offer.
Speed Week 2018 – Fastest Run