A vast majority of tourists who visit Utah come here to drive through the numerous national parks located in the southern part of the state, or to participate in outdoors activities such as hiking, skiing, off-roading and mountain biking. The north of the Beehive State offers a unique, oft-overlooked attraction for fans of automotive tourism: The Bonneville Salt Flats.
Stretching over 30,000 acres (down from a peak of 96,000 acres due largely to mining), the Salt Flats are located about 120 miles (roughly 200 kilometers) away from downtown Salt Lake City and a stone’s throw from Utah’s border with Nevada. The closest city for gas and food is Wendover, a town built right over the aforementioned border that likely originated the term “the middle of nowhere” – our apologies to local residents.
The drive from Salt Lake to the Salt Flats goes by at an unexpectedly quick pace because Utah recently raised the speed limit on numerous stretches of rural interstate to 80 mph (130 km/h), meaning careful motorists can safely set their cruise control to around 85 mph and get by without a ticket. Not only did the relatively high speed give us a welcomed occasion to stretch our 1984 Mercedes-Benz’s 300D’s legs, it was the perfect pace to take in the vast desert scenery between Salt Lake and Wendover.
Surprisingly, the designated place to see the Salt Flats is a rest area on I-80 with no services. While it makes it possible for motorists to park and walk on the salt, we recommend driving to the next exit (#4 when driving westbound) and turning on a three-mile stretch of road that leads to the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway, a unique open-air race track with unregulated access. Utah’s own Autobahn provides acres and acres of flat, open-air driving accessible to all kinds of drivers; on any given day you can find a brand new BMW M5 doing donuts, a group of enthusiasts testing out the latest modification made to their dragsters and tourists trying to reach their rented Hyundai’s top speed.
The Salt Flats’ proximity to West Wendover, Nevada, means it’s easy to grab a burger and a beer, fill up your car’s tank and still make it back to Salt Lake before the junkyards close. Just don’t forget to thoroughly wash your car to prevent the salt from feeding on your car’s rocker panels.