In the desert plains of northwestern Utah, about 200 km from Salt Lake City and a few miles from the border with Nevada, one of the most unusual natural spectacles that you can be lucky enough to encounter on the road in the United States takes shape: an immense flat expanse strewn with salt that stretches as far as the eye can see, a surreal landscape that will remind those who have visited Death Valley of the unforgettable views of Badwater Basin. It is about Bonneville Salt Flats (Bonneville salt dunes), a large dazzling white basin also used for speed racing, where repeating world records were set.
The reason why this attraction is not often included in classic tours is certainly not the lack of charm, but the fact that it is in a position that is quite uncomfortable to reach. In this article we will see how to visit it and how to enter Bonneville Salt Flats in un itinerario on the road.
- Cos’e Bonneville Salt Flats
- Where is it and how to get there
- Salt Flats Rest Area Westbound
- Salt Flats Rest Area Eastbound
- Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway
- Da Salt Lake City a Bonneville Salt Flats
- When to go
- Useful Information
- How to put Bonneville Salt Flats into an itinerary
- Surroundings of Bonneville Salt Flats
- Photo gallery
Cos’e Bonneville Salt Flats
The great prehistoric lake of Bonneville once covered much of the eastern flank of the Great Basin, a region that included large portions of Nevada, Utah and Oregon, bordering on California. As a result of climate change, about 14500 years ago, the lake began to dry up, leaving in its place some smaller lakes with a high salt concentration, the most famous of these is the Great Salt Lake, located west of Salt Lake City.
In the area west of the present Great Salt Lake instead the drained basin of the lake extends for a length of about 12 miles and a width varying between 3 and 5 miles, whose dazzling white is given by the incredible concentration of salt (it seems that most of the salt used in American kitchens you get from here). The effect created by the pressure ridges, hexagonal shaped slabs that are created at certain points of the terrain (these too will sound familiar to those who have visited Badwater Basin).
But Bonneville Salt Flats also has another reason of interest for its visitors and in particular for racing enthusiasts: here, starting from 1935, world speed records on 2 wheels were set and then continuously beaten until the monstre figure was reached. from 1014 km / h in 1970 by Gary Gabelich. This record was then broken again but not in this area, but in the desert of BlackRock in Nevada.
The area is also known to have been used in the past in great secrecy by the US government for the ballistic tests of atomic bombs (inert) then dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the nearby town of Wendover there was in fact a large military base, now abandoned, with hundreds of bombers including the infamous Enola Gay.
Where is it and how to get there
The Bonneville Salt Flats is located in northwestern Utah, not far from the Nevada border. The closest large city is Salt Lake City, which will take you nearly 2 hours by car to get there. There are at least 3 entrances to be taken into consideration (for convenience I report the names you find on google maps):
- Salt Flats Rest Area Westbound: rest area with toilets and fountain to rinse your shoes accessible only if you are coming from the East (Salt Lake City). After parking you can walk on the great salt plain.
- Salt Flats Rest Area Eastbound: rest area similar to the one above but overlooking the south side. It includes an elevated platform from which you can take beautiful panoramic photos and can be reached from the West (Wendover) or on the return journey to Salt Lake City.
- Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway: the racetrack where the speed races take place. From here you can cross the area directly by car driving on the salt dunes.
The Westbound Area can only be visited if you are coming from the East (from the Salt Lake City area to be clear) and you will have to be very careful not to miss it for the following 2 reasons:
- it is not well indicated, it is a simple rest area and the sign only shows "Rest Area" (see image below)
- if you miss it, going back will take you about 45 minutes travel !!! Because eastbound the first available U-turn is 39 miles from Westbound Area!
The problem also arises for the Eastbound Area, which is labeled the same and prone to the same reverse gear problem in case you need to miss it.
In order not to be forced to run empty miles, follow these instructions:
Salt Flats Rest Area Westbound
- Coordinates to be entered in the navigator: 40.740677, -113.851430
- Punto su Google Maps: Salt Flats West Area Westbound
- Directions: Turn right after approximately 16 miles from the sculpture called Metaphor: The Tree of Utah (I talk about it shortly after)
Salt Flats Rest Area Eastbound
- Coordinates to be entered in the navigator: 40.737917, -113.858111
- Punto su Google Maps: Salt Flats Rest Area EB
- Directions: From Wendover you will find the sign for the turn on your right after approximately 10 miles
Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway
- Coordinates to be entered in the navigator: 40.763762, -113.887411
- Punto su Google Maps: Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway
- Directions: Whether you are coming from Salt Lake City or Wendover, follow Exit 4, also well signposted as Bonneville Speedway
Da Salt Lake City a Bonneville Salt Flats
The road is quite interesting to take: it runs along the south side of the Great Salt Lake, near the Great Saltair, where you can stop for a quick stop, and Great Salt Lake State Park. During the ride on the Interstate 80 you will begin to notice a series of saline concretions that, had I been in another place, I would have beautifully mistaken for snow.
The more the landscape becomes desert, the more you will have to sharpen your gaze: on your right, in the monotony of the desert, you will be surprised by some Land Art installations that protrude from the ground; the most famous is Metaphor: The Tree of Utah, made by Karl Momen in 1986, but if you pay attention along the way you will notice others as well. If you are interested in the genre, know that in this area Land Art is arousing considerable interest, so much so that it is particularly supported by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City.
In about 2 hours of travel, 16 miles after the Karl Momen sculpture, you will find the Westbound Area; after visiting it, take your car back, continue on I-80 and take exit 4. You will be at the racetrack in approximately 15 minutes, the same time it will take to reach the East Bound Area back towards Salt Lake City. By following this path you can say that you have done one complete visit of Bonneville Salt Flats.
When to go
There is no absolute best period because each season shows a fascinating spectacle in its own way, however, if you want to enjoy the expanse in the height of its salt concentration you can visit it during the summer; I visited it at that time and the glance was truly impressive.
In winter and spring, on the other hand, it is possible to find the wet salt crust and a trickle of water along the surface reflects the surrounding mountains in a very suggestive way (see photo above). The downside of visiting Bonneville Salt Flats around this time it is given by the fact that, due to the wet ground, the possibility of driving on the saline expanse is severely limited both for safety reasons and for the need to preserve the site.
Before visiting the site, here are some recommendations that may be useful to you:
- the sun reflecting off the saline surface creates a dazzling light, and the visit without sunglasses will be quite annoying. Obviously, if you go during the summer, bring everything you need to protect yourself from the sun
- driving on the saline expanse requires some precautions:
- try to always keep to the white part of the surface, in the darker areas you could find mud and get bogged down
- drive very slowly at the pools of water
- follow the tracks left by the other vehicles
- pay attention to the already mentioned pressure ridges, the thickness of which, if crossed at non-moderate speeds, can cause damage to the vehicle
How to put Bonneville Salt Flats into an itinerary
As already mentioned Bonneville Salt Flats is located in a rather uncomfortable area and usually not beaten by traditional on the road itineraries. In my opinion there are 2 ways to include it in an itinerary:
- visit it as a day trip from Salt Lake City, like I did.
- visit it as a stopover for those who intend to converge from the Utah parks to the west to reach Sacramento in California.
Below you will find detailed suggestions for both types of itinerary:
If you opt for a day trip from Salt Lake City I advise you not to look for accommodation only in the city center but also in the immediate surroundings, find my detailed advice on the areas in which to look in this article.
If, on the other hand, you are coming from Salt Lake City to cross Nevada and then land in California, you could consider the following stops:
- Wendover and West Wendover: towns immediately behind Bonneville Salt Flats, the first in Utah, the other in Nevada, but in fact a single urban agglomeration. Solution suitable for those looking for accommodation a stone's throw from the saline expanse -> accommodation available
- Elko: if you want to grind a few more kilometers before making a stop, Elko, almost 2 hours away, can be the right solution not only for the availability of accommodation but also for its western roots, well represented by the museum California Trail Historic Interpretive Center -> accommodation available
- Winniemucca: 2 hours from Elko but 3 and a half hours from Bonneville Salt Flats, a stop suitable for those who want to take a good pull and grind as many km as possible in 1 day -> accommodation available
- Reindeer: -> Nevada's third largest city, about 6 hours from Bonneville Salt Flats, offers many accommodation options and just as many attractions. Don't miss the National Automobile Museum, one of the largest classic car collections in the country -> accommodation available
- Sacramento: Capital of California and crossroads of the gold rush, this city about 2 hours away from Reno has a lot to offer its visitors. If you want to know more, take a look at our guide on what to see in Sacramento, where you can also find targeted advice on where to sleep.
If you are traveling in the opposite direction, remember that you cannot stop at the Salt Flats Rest Area Westbound but at the Eastbound. If you can choose, I would opt for the first one, following the itinerary in a westerly direction.
Surroundings of Bonneville Salt Flats
If you have some time to explore the surroundings, the nearby town of Wendover offers a few elements of interest, including Historic Wendover Airfield, the historic military base used during the Second World War, e Wendover Will, the large statue of a cowboy pilgrimage destination for any self-respecting selfie lover!
Those with a penchant for desert landscapes and Land Art can make a substantial detour to discover the artistic work of Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels, installation of 4 large cylinders arranged on the desert in the shape of a cross and aligned at sunrise and sunset on the summer and winter solstices. Unfortunately, the location of this opera is quite out of the way (around 1 hours drive from Bonneville Salt Flats) and I recommend that you only consider it if you are staying in Wendover or the immediate surroundings.Are you looking for something truly bizarre?
If you are staying near Wendover and are willing to grind 22o km to go in search of bizarre and unconventional attractions, you may decide to "expatriate" to the Republic of Zaqistan, an independent state born in 2005, when New Yorker Zaq Landsberg bought a piece of land on ebay to make it a small sovereign state. You will find neither inhabitants nor houses here but some symbolic installations that embody the spirit of this young nation. If the project inspires you, you can also apply for citizenship and a passport!