Drive Fast and Chase Sunsets at the Bonneville Salt Flats

We recently decided to pack up the car and take off on a camping road trip around Utah. If you’ve never visited Utah make sure to add it to your travel list—it’s AMAZING! We first visited Utah three years ago, after a friend took a quick road trip there and we saw her pictures; next thing you know we were borrowing her itinerary and heading off ourselves! We quickly realized that Utah is full of gems, there’s so much to see and do it’s impossible to cover everything in one trip. In fact, we have at least three more trips planned after this recent one, because every time we visit we learn about more cool Utah adventures!

This recent road trip we took off during the third week of October. Through research we learned that spring and fall are ideal seasons to visit Utah, as the weather isn’t too hot or cold. We can attest that both seasons are great! The fall colors really added another layer of beauty to an already stunning landscape, and the weather was perfect for exploring and camping (well until the last day, which we’ll cover in a later blog post!). After careful planning we mapped out a route to cover all the destinations on our list and maximize our time. Once deciding on the basic route, we like to check out the maps to see what other neat stops might be along our way, which is how we discovered the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Getting to the Bonneville Salt Flats
Once realizing that we could easily detour from Twin Falls, Idaho to Wendover, Utah—home of the Bonneville Salt Flats—on our drive to St. George, the salt flats became the first stop on our epic journey! The flats lie along Interstate 80 between the Nevada-Utah border and Salt Lake City. DO NOT listen to your Google maps to get there! It kept directing us to drive nearly an hour east of Wendover to access the Bonneville Salt Flats. We decided to enter the Bonneville Speedway into the navigation instead, and sure enough we were only ten minutes away, as the flats can be easily accessed from exit 4 off I-80! This was fortunate because we had timed our drive from Portland to Wendover-—11.5 hours and taking the jump to Mountain Standard Time into consideration—so that we could arrive at least one hour prior to sunset. And boy-oh-boy did we luck out, because I’m pretty sure we witnessed the most magical sunset of our lifetime on those salt flats!

What are the Bonneville Salt Flats
Within the past year we’ve become obsessed with dry lake beds and salt flats, after visiting the Alvord Desert in our home state of Oregon. The Bonneville Salt Flats were formed when the ancient (Bonneville) lake dried up—a lake that once covered a third of Utah! Today the flats cover an expanse of 30,000 acres; a 12 mile-long and five-mile wide, hard-packed salty wonderland. There are seasonal closures of the salt flats, particularly spring when there is water on the surface. Make sure to research before planning to visit the flats, and definitely do not drive on them when they’re wet! Interestingly the Bonneville Salt Flats are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places for it’s racing history, and many land speed records have been set here since the 1930s. In fact a number of racing events continue to take place at the Speedway each year, so do your research before visiting as to avoid crowds of thousands, unless land racing is your thing!

Why the Bonneville Salt Flats are so Intriguing
Today the Bonneville Salt Flats are managed by the Bureau of Land Management for public use. Once we reached the end of Leppy Pass Road there’s a small parking area and a sign—this is the access to the salt flats. We almost didn’t know what to do, but after watching a few other vehicles just go bombing out on the salt, we followed suite. There is a “road” on the flats which you can identify by the blue stripe on the surface, and just like a real road we stayed to the right of the blue line. This is where it gets fun because there are no speed limits on the salt flats! We put the pedal-to-the-metal and tested out our rental car, weeeeeeeeee! While cruising we scoped out a spot away from others and pulled off to enjoy the salt and stunning sunset. Several mountain ranges surround the Bonneville Salt Flats, one that even glowed a mesmerizing pink as the sun dropped. The sky just kept changing for nearly an hour, and IT WAS MAGIC in all directions! It’s an image we’ll happily have burned into our memories for a lifetime. We wish we could promise that you’ll witness a sunset as beautiful, though there probably are no bad views at the flats. Although you cannot camp directly on the Bonneville Salt Flats they are surrounded by public land with plenty of dispersed, free camping spots. Our original plan was to camp here, but after driving nearly 12 hours from Oregon we were exhausted and decided to find a cheap hotel for the night instead. In the future we’d love to camp here, and maybe get lucky to witness a majestic sunrise too! Keep in mind there are no services at the flats, but the town of Wendover is only a short drive away.

We were surprised to find that West Wendover, Nevada is a pretty lively town, a casino town in fact! The drive getting there was pretty remote so when we arrived to find a mini Vegas, we were relieved to find plenty of food and lodging options. The urge to gamble was quite alluring, but we decided to save our money for the next nine days of road tripping and found a quieter, cheaper hotel over the stateline in Wendover, Utah. Exhausted from the drive and expecting a big next day, our hopes for a low-key night were ironically—and fortunately—foiled when we met our fun neighbors at the hotel; shout out to our new friends from Kansas, Gene, Kyle and their sweet dog Ginger! As they say, traveling is all about the journey and not the destination, so we enjoyed a lively night of imbibing and conversation with our pals. Fun Fact: There’s a huge liquor store in West Wendover, Nevada at the end of town by the big light-up cowboy. It was a good place to stock up before tripping through Utah! Although we did later learn that liquor laws have changed a bit in Utah since our last trip, and retail beer (and White Claw!) with alcohol content up to 5% can now be sold in grocery stores. Anything higher is only sold in liquor stores. #themoreyouknow

This awesome night in Wendover was just the beginning of what turned out to be another unimaginable and unforgettable road trip through Utah. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the Bonneville Salt Flats, and stay tuned for future posts about each of our days in Utah.

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