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A Complete Guide to Visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah

The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah are one of the most unique natural landscapes in the United States. As one of the largest salt flats in the world, spanning over 30,000 acres, the Bonneville Salt Flats offer an otherworldly experience with its vast expanse of white salt crystals.

If you’re looking for a truly memorable destination that offers stunning photo opportunities and fascinating natural history, the Bonneville Salt Flats need to be on your Utah travel itinerary.

We recently explored Bonneville at the end of our Mighty 5 roadtrip in Utah. Being a short drive from Salt Lake City, it’s a perfect half day trip and stop to add to your Utah itinerary.

This comprehensive guide will provide everything you need to know to plan your visit to this iconic saltscape.

Overview and History of the Bonneville Salt Flats

The Bonneville Salt Flats are located in northwestern Utah, about 100 miles west of Salt Lake City. The salt flats were formed over 10,000 years ago when Lake Bonneville dried up, leaving behind a salty crust up to 5 feet thick.

The vast salt plain covers about 30,000 acres, the largest portion of which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The salt flats are perhaps best known as the location where land speed records have been set and broken since the 1930s. Racers take advantage of the extremely flat and level terrain to push vehicles to their limits. Notable speed records include 600 mph by Craig Breedlove in 1965 and 763 mph by Andy Green in 1997.

We recommend you don’t try to beat these records and keep the speed down when you visit Bonneville!

When to Visit the Bonneville Salt Flats

The best time to visit the salt flats is generally May through October when temperatures are mild, and the salt surface is ideal. However, the flats can be visited year-round you will just need to be careful if there has been recent rain.

Summer months of June through August offer the warmest temperatures, often above 90°F during the day. At this time, there is very little shade or relief from the sun, so you need to be prepared. Early fall is a nice time with cooler weather and fewer crowds – however as they cover such an expansive area it’s easy to drive away from the crowds and have plenty of space to yourself for unobstructed photos.

Winter brings colder temps, occasional snow, and shorter daylight hours. The salt crust also becomes flooded with water in the winter, creating an amazing mirror reflection. Regardless of season, be prepared for bright sun, high winds, and extreme temperature fluctuations.

Major land speed racing events are usually held in August and September when conditions are optimal. Check the schedule if you want to witness these exciting races.

Where to Stay When Visiting the Salt Flats

Since the Bonneville Salt Flats are quite remote, the closest lodging options are in Wendover, Utah and West Wendover, Nevada located right on the Utah/Nevada border. These twin cities are just a few miles from the salt flats entrance and offer a variety of chain motels and hotels, RV parks, and casino resorts.

Some top rated places to stay include:

  • Hampton Inn & Suites Wendover
  • Best Western Plus Wendover Inn
  • Red Garter Hotel and Casino
  • Motel 6 Wendover
  • Wendover Nugget Hotel and Casino

For a unique stay, consider pitching a tent at the nearby Silver Island Mountain Range Campground managed by the BLM. Just 15 miles from the salt flats, this free primitive campground offers beautiful desert vistas. Note this campground is dispersed camping meaning you will be off grid and there are no hook ups.

How to Get to the Bonneville Salt Flats

The salt flats are about 120 miles west of Salt Lake City, making it an easy half day’s drive. Take I-80 west from Salt Lake, continuing past the Utah/Nevada border, and take exit 4 for the Bonneville Speedway.

Alternatively, you can stop at I-80 Westbound rest stop. This is where we stopped, here you can either park in the limited parking spots and walk onto the flats or drive out onto the flats if your vehicle is suitable.

You can also make the scenic drive from destinations further north like Idaho Falls or Yellowstone. Just take I-15 south and connect to I-80 west. Those coming from Las Vegas can take I-80 east.

While the salt flats can be visited year round, the access roads are not maintained in winter so four wheel drive is recommended. Be aware weather conditions can quickly make roads impassable.

Flying into Salt Lake City International Airport is the closest major airport.

Entrance Fees and Permits

Accessing and exploring the main part of the Bonneville Salt Flats overseen by the BLM is free and does not require permits. You also don’t need any kind of permit for basic photography.

However, if you want to access certain restricted areas, you will need a permit. Permits are required for the Bonneville Speedway when any organized racing events are occurring and special recreation permits are needed for commercial activities like filming movies or commercials on the salt flats.

Make sure you do not drive onto any part of the salt flats without a designated access road. Driving on the salt crust is prohibited as it can damage the surface.

What to See and Do at the Bonneville Salt Flats

Marvel at the vast white landscape

The most iconic activity at the Bonneville Salt Flats is taking in the sweeping views of the expansive white salt plain set against the mountains in the distance. Early morning and evening light creates beautiful reflections on the salt pan. Sunrises and sunsets paint the sky vibrant hues.

Walk on the salty terrain

Get a up close look at the salt flats by taking a short walk on the crusty white expanse. Crunch across the polygon-shaped salt crystals, but be careful not to damage the fragile surface.

Snap epic photos

The Bonneville Salt Flats are a photographer’s paradise with the stark white salt contrasting against the blue skies and mountainous background. From landscape panoramas to playful perspective shots, there are endless options to capture these otherworldly salt flats.

Popular spots for photos include the International Speedway starting line, historic race cars on display, and weathered wood signs. Make sure to time your visit for optimal lighting like sunrise, sunset, or stormy skies.

Learn about land speed racing history

Car racing enthusiasts will love exploring the Bonneville Speedway and seeing relics left behind from famous land speed records. Historic cars are on display along with informational signs highlighting major milestones.

Visit the Bonneville Salt Flats Land Speed Racing Museum to dive deeper into the stories of daring racers who pushed limits at the salt flats and see replica vintage cars, racing artifacts, photos, and educational exhibits.

Watch an actual land speed event during Speed Week in August to witness racing history unfold. The excitement is palpable as racers wait to tear down the track at amazing speeds.

Watch a stunning sunset

Sunsets at the Bonneville Salt Flats are simply spectacular with the sun sinking below the horizon painting the salt crust fiery shades of orange and red. For the most brilliant colors, visit in late fall or early winter when conditions are optimal.

Locals recommend watching the sunset from Floating Island viewpoint where you can see the sun reflect off the watery salt flats in cooler months. Sunrise is also magical if you can catch it.

Go camping nearby

To further immerse yourself in the desert landscapes around the salt flats, go camping at the scenic Silver Island Mountains campground located just 15 miles north.

This free primitive BLM campground is set among sagebrush with panoramic views of the Pilot Peak range. Explore nearby hiking trails or observe dark starry skies at night.

Just remember to pack water, food, and supplies as there are no amenities, and always check weather and road conditions before heading into remote areas.

Tips for Visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats

To ensure you have the best experience at the Bonneville Salt Flats, keep these tips in mind:

  • Bring sun protection – With little shade, the sun is intense so wear sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and cover exposed skin. And remember to apply sunscreen under your chin because of the reflection!
  • Pack layers – Temperatures fluctuate wildly so dress in layers. Mornings and nights can be very chilly even in summer.
  • Watch for weather – Avoid the salt flats during storms as rain or snow can cause flash flooding of the flats making roads impassable.
  • Bring food/water – No food or water is available so come prepared with your own provisions. Dehydration comes quickly in the dry climate.
  • Verify road conditions – Check with the BLM to make sure roads are passable, especially in winter and spring. 4WD or AWD vehicles may be required.
  • Watch your step – Walk carefully as the bumpy salt crust is uneven.
  • Secure permits – Acquire necessary permits from BLM for restricted areas or commercial activities.
  • Be prepared to drive back out – There are no services at the salt flats so have enough gas, food, and supplies for the return drive.

Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting the Salt Flats

Here are answers to some common questions about making the most of your Bonneville Salt Flats adventure:

Are there any facilities at the salt flats?

No, there are no bathrooms, running water, food, gas, or amenities available at the salt flats themselves. There are pit toilets at the entrance but come prepared with your own water and supplies for your visit.

Can you swim in the salt flats?

Swimming or wading in the salt flats is highly discouraged. The briny water can be extremely salty and harbor dangerous bacteria. The water also makes the salt crust soft and you could become stuck.

Can you camp overnight at the salt flats?

Overnight camping is not allowed directly on the salt flats. However free primitive camping is available 15 miles north at the scenic Silver Island Mountain campground.

How far in advance should you book hotels?

For popular times like August Speed Week, book hotels 6 months to a year in advance. Wendover is small so lodging fills up fast. For other times, 1-2 months in advance should be fine.

Plan an Epic Visit to the Magical Bonneville Salt Flats

With its iconic salt landscape, unique natural history, and racing heritage, the Bonneville Salt Flats are a one-of-a-kind destination not to miss in Utah. Follow this comprehensive guide to plan your perfect road trip and experience the magic of these famous salt flats.

Just remember to prepare properly for the elements, tread lightly, follow rules, and capture lots of photos!

Let us know if you have any other questions as you plan your visit to this awe-inspiring saltscape.

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