Planning a trip to Utah and want to get photos at the gorgeous Bonneville Salt Flats? Here’s everything you need to know! Where to go, what to expect, and who to call for a great photo shoot at the Utah Salt Flats!
There are a few things everyone knows about Utah: Land of the Mormons, home to the Great Salt Lake, there’s a random island full of wild buffalo, the famous national parks, and the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Even if you didn’t know the salt flats by name, you’ve probably heard of the mythical salt field where land speed records are made and shattered.
Well, it’s no myth. The salt flats exist, and they are breathtaking.
The Utah Salt Flats seem to be known for two things: the Bonneville Salt Flats Speed Week and gorgeous photo shoots. Yes, this is an area where fashion and adventure meet. Beautifully.
I’ve seen drool-worthy photo shoots at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah for years. I’ve been as mesmerized by the pure white background as everyone else, and having my own salt flats family photo shoot soon landed a place on my bucket list. It’s what the beautiful people do. The stylish people. The creative people. I’m all three! Right?
Well, even so, when the opportunity arose to hire a professional photographer for our first ever family portraits I jumped at the chance to take them in this coveted location.
We (I) decided it was time to take official family photos before leaving on our 2-year adventure abroad. They would be a great way to mark our family pre-adventure, and could double as Mother’s Day gifts to the women who would be saddest not to see us regularly anymore. Besides, most of our family pictures were selfies, so it really was time to finally see that we have legs.
Since these pictures were meant to capture our adventurous spirit, we planned on the photo shoot being filled with our favorite outdoor and travel gear. We borrowed my sister’s SUV and stuffed it with bikes, paddles, skateboards, rock climbing gear, a snowboard, and our son’s orange suitcase.
My vision was for us to stand in the middle of the Utah salt flats, surrounded by a small mountain of gear. I thought the busyness and color of the equipment would be a great contrast to the pure white ground and natural mountain skyline.
My idea was great, but the reality had to be flexible (as reality so often is.)
Some Issues With the Bonneville Salt Flats
As it turns out, the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah are almost 2.5 hours away from our city of Orem. I didn’t know that. Our photo shoot was scheduled for 7:00 pm (to get those dreamy sunset colors), so we had to leave by 4:30 to arrive on time! I forgot snacks or a kindle, but luckily Whit fell asleep for the majority of the drive there.
The salt flats are also not near anything. The nearest towns are Tooele, Utah, in one direction (around 1.5 hour away) and Wendover, Nevada, in the other direction (20 mins away). This meant we had to drive to Wendover for gas (and food) to make it home since, as mentioned, the next nearest town is so far!
Once we drove into the salt field zone I was surprised to realize it’s not all pure white. Most of the salt flats are brownish, actually. This means you can’t just stop at a more accessible point of the road, you really have to go to one specific spot to achieve the iconic look. The whiteness begins at a rest stop on 1-80 just a couple of miles before the turn off for the speed way. You can’t miss it!
We didn’t expect it to be so windy and cold. It makes sense, though, since it’s a wide open field in the middle of the mountains! We weren’t prepared with jackets or a hair tie, so my hair is whipping around in all of our pictures and our son almost refused to get out of the car. Be warned. Some days are better than others, but signs stay up year-round warning visitors of high winds.
You should expect to take your car for a thorough wash afterwards! It is possible to drive onto the salt flats, which will cover your car in white powder and could corrode the underside. Also note that smaller cars should not attempt driving onto the salt flats- it’s common for them to get stuck and calling in a tow truck is expensive!
We were there in May a few days after a rain storm. The ground still had an inch of standing water that had yet to evaporate, and the salty ground was sharp and painful. We chose to wear shoes during our photo shoot to protect our feet, but we had to throw away one of our three pairs due to damage from concentrated salt water. We cleaned all three once we were home (at 11:00 pm!), but one pair of fabric slip-ins couldn’t be salvaged.
There’s no cell phone service. If you’re meeting a photographer or friends at he salt flats be clear on where and when to meet, as the old fashioned way is the only way to connect with them!
Best Place for a Salt Flats Family Photo Shoot
Our photographer, Callie, was well-seasoned on hosting photo shoots at the salt flats and had great advice for us! She told us to stop off of the road a couple of miles down from the rest stop. Most people park at the rest stop or drive onto the salt flats from there for photos, so it can get crowded. The shoulder is really wide just down from there, though, so we were able to park our cars with no threat to I-80 traffic and no other visitors around!
Callie left her car on the side of the road and hopped in our borrowed SUV to drive onto the salt flats with us. We picked a spot 1/4 mile away from the road which gave us plenty of unencumbered space to run around for candid photos!
I was so grateful Callie decided to start our photo shoot late. Yes, it was hard to drive 5 hours (total) with a 5-year-old late at night, but it left us with beautiful photos. The light is perfect before sunset, and it also meant the salt flats weren’t too bright for us to see comfortably.
I also loved that we were there after a storm. Yes, it made walking more difficult, we had to immediately clean our car and bikes and throw away a pair of shoes, but that inch of water created a beautiful reflection in our photos. I bet it’s an even smoother reflection when there’s more water! If possible, I would schedule a photo shoot around a rain storm!
Final Thoughts on our Bonneville Salt Flats Photo Shoot
Yes, we drove forever to get there, but it was worth it. I’m not sure the drive would be worth it just to see the salt flats, but for a family photo shoot? Perfect. No question.
The pictures we got were absolutely stunning! I really debated our outfits and what gear to bring, but, in the end, I think we could have been wearing trash bags and the landscape would still deliver incredible photos.
As long as you’re prepared to combat the issues we had I think you’ll love the Utah salt flats, too!
I hope you make time to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah while visiting, and be sure to bring a camera with you!
*All photos pictured by Callie McMullin, Salt Lake City Family Photgrapher. Visit her website >here< and drool over her Utah-based Instagram >here<! Thanks, Callie!*
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