The Ultimate Great Salt Lake Road Trip
Salt Lake City's namesake, while beautiful, is actually a lengthy trek from the state's capital city. If seeing this incredible lake is on your to-do list for your next trip to Utah, why not take a day or two to explore the Great Salt Lake basin in depth and get off the beaten path? Back in May, my husband and I did just that. We started with plans to only see the Bonneville Salt Flats but after we got there, we decided we were already halfway around the lake, why not go the whole way? Here is our ultimate Great Salt Lake road trip guide.
1. The Bonneville Salt Flats: This trip starts with the 2-hour drive from Salt Lake City to the Bonneville Salt flats traveling west on Interstate 80. On your way, enjoy great views of the lake out the passenger side of the vehicle. As you near the Nevada border, you will take Exit 4 and follow signs for Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway. Depending on the time of year, you may or may not be able to drive on the salt flats (see note below). If the salt flats aren't drivable due to rain, you can walk out as far as you like. Get lost in the expanse of the flats and be sure to take some fun, cheesy, mind-bending pictures.
Note on driving on the salt flats: While you can sometimes drive on the salt flats, it is important to go to the official entry point for the salt flats because the further you get from that point the thinner the salt crust gets. We saw multiple vehicles stuck because they tried to exit or enter from the road. This isn't just bad for your car, it does irreparable environmental damage the salt flats. At the salt flats entry point, be sure to check the signs that tell you if it is safe to drive on. Do not ignore these signs. Not only are you risking damage to your car as previously described, you will also be fined for ignoring the signs, and will cause significant environmental harm to a unique national treasure. Do not be that person.
2. The Western Basin: After enjoying the salt flats, travel west on Interstate 80 towards Wendover. If you want to press your luck, make a quick stopover at one of Wendover's many casinos and snap a picture with the town's classic roadside attraction Wendover Will. After leaving Wendover, travel west on Interstate 80 for 30 minutes. Take exit 378 and turn right to get on NV-233 to travel northeast towards Interstate 84. Although this portion of the trip does not have any recommended sights to see, it is a relaxing drive that gives you a view of northwestern Utah that very few people venture to see.
3. The Northern Basin: For this segment of the trip, the easiest way to navigate will be to plug any stops you want to see into your preferred navigation app on your phone. The recommended stops are well marked, but there are multiple points where it can be easy to miss a turn.
One of the more surprising discoveries we made on the north side of the lake is the Thiokol Rocket Garden which we stumbled on while driving to the Golden Spike National Historic Site. The site is a collection of different components manufactured by the ATK Thiokol industrial plan for use in missiles and NASA rockets. There are signs explaining each of the rockets and even a hidden geocache.
After the rocket garden, head to the Golden Spike National Historic Site. This is a place you probably heard about once in elementary school when talking about the construction of the transcontinental railroad. This site marks the point where the western and eastern portions of the railroad were connected in 1869. Despite its name, the actual golden spike is not actually at this site, but there is a commemorative memorial plaque and a great museum. Depending on the time and season you go, they also have train re-enactments. Because this is a national historic site, you do need to pay a small fee of $10 to get in or use your National Parks Pass.
Just down the road, you'll find the Spiral Jetty, a quirky art installment built on the lake shore. Depending on the water level you can walk right down next to it or hike up a small hill nearby for a great view. The water here plays some tricks on your mind and often has a pink hue due to the salt in the water.
4. Antelope Island: From here you can make your way back down to Salt Lake City. One highly recommended stop that we didn't make on this trip but I have done on other occasions is Antelope Island, State Park. Antelope Island is one of my favorite places in Northern Utah. The island has beautiful hikes, great views, and herds of bison and other wildlife. It is also the best place to swim in the Great Salt Lake if that is something on your Utah bucket list.
The total driving time for this trip is 10 hours. Along the way, you get to enjoy gorgeous views of the Great Salt Lake as well as rolling hills and mountains. Make sure your phone is loaded with a great road trip playlist, stock up on snacks for the drive, and enjoy your time getting off the beaten path in Utah.
Tell me about your favorite road trip or Roadside America destinations in the comments below!
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