The Bonneville Salt Flats are one of the most unique landscapes in the world. This vast white landscape stretches for miles and will deceive your eyes. Bonneville makes for a fantastic day trip from Salt Lake City.
Here is what you need to know to visit and photograph this natural wonder.
What are the Bonneville Salt flats?
The salt flats are a remnant of an ancient lake that covered this region. Yes, the salt flats are composed of salt. In fact they are approximately 90% common table salt. The salt is up to 5 feet thick near the center of the flats, tapering to a thin layer at its edges.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are free and open to public all year.
Bonneville Salt Flats Photography
With a terrain of white salt that seems to go on forever, the Bonneville Salt Flats is a hard place to beat for great photography. The two best locations for salt flats photography are easily accessible by car.
Salt Flats Rest Area (Westbound I-80)
This was our first stop and the easiest spot to visit. We spent 30 minutes walking around and taking photos. The mountains in the background provide some epic shots. There are restrooms here and an outdoor water spout to wash the salt off your feet.
Bonneville Speedway Viewpoint
The second stop is just a short drive away. Continue west on I-80 and take the next exit (Exit 4). Drive north on Leppy Pass Road. Keeping to the right, the road turns into Bonneville Speedway Road. This road ends at a cul-de-sac with a viewing area and plenty of parking. We spent another 30 minutes here taking even more photos.
Navigational note: Google maps denotes this spot as Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway
Best Time to Visit the Bonneville Salt Flats
Dry salt flats
Visit in the summer when the flats are dry and you can walk on them. Summer’s white, dry flats are great for individual or couple portrait photography. Some photographers bring along props to create intriguing horizon perspective shots. With the exception of large rainstorms, the flats usually stay dry all summer.
You can always find sections of dry salt flats for photos (even when the main flats are wet). We pulled off along the Bonneville Speedway Road for some dry salt flat shots.
Wet salt flats
At other times of the year, the flats can be wet. We visited in October and the flats were wet. Personally, I loved these conditions. The flats create a ‘mirror effect’ when flooded with water. We got great photos with the water reflecting the mountains.
Webcam of the Salt Flats
Due to rainfall and flooding, you can never be sure if the flats have water on them or not. Before you go, check conditions via the Bonneville Salt Flats Live webcam.
Weather at Bonneville Salt Flats
The summer months are hot. I recommend a morning or late afternoon visit as midday temperatures average 92 °F in August. Wear plenty of sunscreen. Remember you’ll get UV ray exposure from the sun directly AND from the reflections off the salt flat.
Can you visit in Winter? Yes, but January temperatures average only a few degrees above freezing. It will be cold so your a visit may not be very enjoyable
Our visit in October was very pleasant. The average daytime temperature in October is 64 °F.
Preparation and Directions to the Bonneville Salt Flats
Take I-80 from Salt Lake City to the Bonneville Salt Flats. This drive will take 1.5 hours. Top up your gas tank and bring food/snacks as there are no services along the route.
Sadly, there’s not much to see along the way. We did snap a quick photo of the Tree of Life as we drove down the highway. This abstract sculpture was created and built by artist Karl Momen, who wanted to add some color to the stark salt landscape.
Once you’ve taken your amazing photos at the salt flats, you have a couple options before heading back east along I-80. You can drive west to the town of Wendover to grab some fast food and fuel and visit the local casinos. We chose to head east immediately, stopping at the Salt Flats Rest Area Eastbound to use the facilities and get one last stretch before the drive back to Salt Lake City.
Many world land speed records have been set at the Bonneville Speedway, a US historical landmark. Several annual land speed events take place at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The most famous event is Bonneville “Speed Week” which takes place in mid-August.
Can I drive on the Bonneville Salt Flats?
Yes, the Bureau of Land Management, the government agency that manages the salt flats, allows you to drive your vehicle onto the dry salt flats. Many people love to get photos of their vehicles on the salt flats.
However, in general, driving on the Bonneville Salt Flats is not recommended. This is especially true when the flats are wet, even after recent rainfall, as the fragile salt crust can be damaged. Salt is extremely corrosive to your vehicle and there’s also the risk of getting stuck.
The local joke is that the second most lucrative business in the town of Wendover, after the casinos, is the tow truck business. They pull many stuck tourists out of the salt flats. My advice? Stay on the paved surface.
Can I camp at the Bonneville Salt Flats?
No. Overnight camping is not permitted. The Bonneville Salt Flats is a day use area only.
Primitive camping is permitted on adjacent lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, such as Silver Island Mountains on Leppy Pass Road. Serviced campsites are available at West Wendover KOA.
The Great Saltair – An Alternative ‘Salt’ photography site
For some visitors, the more than 3-hour round trip to Bonneville Salt Flats is just too far away. An alternative place to take ‘salt’ photos is located near “The Great Saltair”. This music hall and amphitheatre is located an easy 20 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. You can park in its parking lot and walk behind the hall to find a large area of salt/sand mix. This location lacks the unique salt crust texture of Bonneville, but it still provides some beautiful white landscape compositions, including amazing sunsets over Great Salt Lake.
Salt Lake City in One Day
Be sure to check out our post, One Day in Salt Lake City. We give you the perfect guide to explore downtown Salt Lake City’s outstanding architecture and its beautiful parks.
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