Home USAUtah How to Visit and Photograph Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats

How to Visit and Photograph Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats

by Andy Vanr

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.  The salt flats make a fantastic day trip from Salt Lake City, Utah.

This is what you need to know to visit and photograph this natural wonder. 

What are the Bonneville Salt Flats?

These Utah salt flats are a remnant of an ancient lake that covered this region.  Yes, the salt flats are composed of salt.  They are approximately 90% common table salt. The salt is up to 5 feet (1.5 metres) thick near the center of the flats, tapering to a layer as thin as an inch thick at its edges.

The Bonneville Salt Flats are free to visit and open to public all year. Driving on the flats may be prohibited at times during the year.

Photography at Bonneville Salt Flats
Flight over Bonneville Salt Flats

Bonneville Salt Flats Photography Locations

With a landscape of white salt that seems to go on forever, the Bonneville Salt Flats are tough 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 and an outdoor water spout to help wash the salt off.

Rest Area West - Bonneville Salt Flats
Rest Area West – Bonneville Salt Flats
Washing the salt off your feet after visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats.

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 Bonneville Speedway Road. Keep to the right at the fork. Bonneville Speedway Road ends at a cul-de-sac with a viewing area and plenty of parking. We spent another 30 minutes taking even more photos.

Bonneville Speedway Road
Bonneville Speedway Road

Navigational note: Google maps denotes this spot as Bonneville Salt Flats International Raceway

Bonneville Salt Flats Map

Parking Location #1. Salt Flats Rest Area
Parking Location #2. Bonneville Speedway Viewpoint

Parking Locations Map for Bonneville Salt Flats Map
Parking Locations for Salt Flats Photography

Best Time to Visit the Bonneville Salt Flats

Dry Flats Photography

Summer is the best time to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats. Generally the flats are dry and you can walk on them.  The dry, white 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.

There are always 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.

Jumping at the Bonneville Salt Flats

Wet Flats Photography – Mirror Effect 

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. 

The wet flats at Bonneville Salt Flats.
The wet flats at Bonneville Salt Flats.

Current Conditions at Bonneville Salt Flats

Due to rainfall and flooding, there is no guarantee whether the flats have water on them or not. Check conditions before heading out on the Bonneville Salt Flats Live webcam.

Weather at Bonneville Salt Flats

The summer months are hot.  For a summer visit, we recommend a morning or late afternoon visit as midday temperatures average 92 °F (33 °C) in August.  Wear plenty of sunscreen. Remember UV ray exposure comes both from the sun directly AND from the reflections off the salt flat.

Our visit in October was very pleasant. The average daytime temperature in October is 64 °F (17.5 °C).

Can you visit Bonneville Salt Flats in Winter? 

Yes, but January temperatures average only a few degrees above freezing. It will be cold so plan accordingly or a visit may not be very enjoyable.

Standing at the Tip of the Viewpoint at Bonneville Speedway Road.
Standing at the Tip of the Viewpoint at Bonneville Speedway Road.

Directions to the Bonneville Salt Flats 

Take I-80 from Salt Lake City to the Salt Flats.  This drive is about 1.5 hours.  Top up the 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. Unfortunately there is no proper exit at this site so take care when stopping.

The Tree of Life near Bonneville Salt Flats.
The Tree of Life near Bonneville Salt Flats.

Once you have your amazing photos at the salt flats, there are a couple options before returning to Salt Lake City, east on I-80.  Drive west to the town of Wendover for fast food and fuel and to visit the local casinos.  We turned 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.

Bonneville Speedway

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 the driving of vehicles on the dry salt flats.  Many people love to get photos of their vehicles on the salt flats. The flats are closed for vehicle access when the flats are wet, which is typically during the spring. Signs are posted during closure periods.

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 vehicles 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.

Parked vehicle at Bonneville Speedway Road.

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 Location

The Great Saltair Amphitheater.
The Great Saltair Amphitheater.
Standing on salt at Great Salt Lake
Standing on salt at Great Salt Lake

For some visitors, the +3-hour, round-trip drive from Salt Lake City to the 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 amphitheater is located an easy 20 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City.  Park in the 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 article, One Day in Salt Lake City. We provide the perfect guide to explore downtown Salt Lake City’s outstanding architecture and its beautiful parks.

Salt Lake City capitol building

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