Everything you need to know BEFORE you visit Spiral Jetty

Posted By Allison on Aug 22, 2013


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Hello!

Looking for a little adventure? And something unusual?

Spiral Jetty is a work of art that was created in the Great Salt Lake by Robert Smithson in 1970. It is made from local black basalt rock, which has turned white in some places, due to extended exposure to the ebbs and flows of the salty water, which is naturally tinted pink. Art and science come together here in fascinating ways.

I visited Spiral Jetty with a friend in August 2013. It was a Utah bucket list item for her, so we seatbelted six kids into the back of her SUV and made the long drive to the northern shore of the Great Salt Lake.

Upon arrival, we found a small parking area overlooking Spiral Jetty, and not much else. We all climbed down the short rocky path and walked onto the jetty. Spiral Jetty was mostly surrounded by dry ground on the day we were there. The dry sand and rocks were encrusted with crystallized salt, and the ground around the jetty where water had recently been was spongy. It was almost like visiting another planet.

Everything you need to know before you visit Spiral Jetty in Utah | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Are you interested in visiting Spiral Jetty? Here are our tips for a successful trip.

Check the water levels before you go

Spiral Jetty is only visible when the water level is below about 4195 feet. It was submerged soon after its creation and stayed underwater for 30 years. Due to drought, it has been mostly visible since 2002. You can find current water levels here at the USGS website.

Keep in mind that what you see at Spiral Jetty may be different than what we saw, due to the changing water conditions.

Go with a full tank of fuel

Spiral Jetty is about 40 miles beyond the last gas station in Corinne, Utah. Make sure your car has enough fuel to get you there and back.

Spiral Jetty

Some of the rocks on the edge of Spiral Jetty are encrusted with dried salt

You may need a high clearance vehicle with 4-wheel drive.

The last 15 miles of the drive to Spiral Jetty are on a gravel road, and the official website for Spiral Jetty warns that the last 3 miles may be impassable unless you have a high clearance vehicle with 4-wheel drive.

In August 2013, we found that the road had been significantly improved since my last visit in 2005. Passenger cars should have no trouble getting all the way to Spiral Jetty if the road is maintained.

Pack plenty of snacks and water

There is no place to purchase food at Spiral Jetty, and our kids were hungry and thirsty after climbing and playing in the hot August sun. They devoured all our snacks on the drive home, and probably would have eaten more if we’d had it. 

Golden Spike National Historic Site has shaded picnic tables and a water bottle filling station, and we enjoyed our lunch there before proceeding to Spiral Jetty. Golden Spike sells a few pre-packaged snacks, but your best bet is to bring your own.

Spiral Jetty

Will your children end up in the water? Pack accordingly.

All of the children we brought on this field trip ventured into the salty water around Spiral Jetty. The water was so shallow that it didn’t reach their knees for a long way out. It is also extremely salty – saltier than at Antelope Island or Saltair (also on the Great Salt Lake) and much saltier than the ocean.

It was fun while the kids were in the water, and none got very wet, but most of them were unhappy on the walk back to the car. The dried salt was itchy. It hurt tiny scratches on their legs and feet. When one little girl tripped and fell, crystallized salt cut her knee and that injury was extra painful.

Thankfully, we had water, Band-aids and fresh clothing, so the tears didn’t last long. If your family wants to wade in the Great Salt Lake, here are some items you may want to bring with you.

  • Extra water  or wipes for washing off salt
  • Change of clothing for each person
  • Towels
  • First-aid supplies
  • Waterproof rain boots?
  • Bags to protect your vehicle from salty/sandy shoes and clothing. My friend said that the interior of her SUV seemed to be coated in sand and baby powder after the trip.

Spiral Jetty

6. Plan to visit Golden Spike National Historic Site too

Spiral Jetty and Golden Spike National Historic Site are on the same remote road, and neither takes more than a couple of hours to visit. Golden Spike is the last place you’ll find bathrooms and drinking water before you continue to Spiral Jetty.

Golden Spike National Historic Site is the place where the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. It was a major event in U.S. history. During warm weather months, steam locomotive demonstrations and Last Spike reenactment ceremonies are performed. Call ahead for the schedule.

It costs $7 per vehicle to visit Golden Spike National Historic Site. If you’re just stopping to use the restrooms and drinking fountain, you won’t need to pay.

For more about Golden Spike, here are my 7 Tips for Visiting Golden Spike National Historic Site.

Golden Spike National Historic Site

Good to Know

Where: About 45 miles west of Brigham City, Utah. Get detailed driving directions at spiraljetty.org.

When: Sunny days when roads are dry and when water levels are below 4195 feet.

How much: FREE

How long: An hour or less at Spiral Jetty. It takes about an hour to drive to Spiral Jetty after exiting Interstate 15 near Brigham City. Brigham City is about an hour north of Salt Lake City.

Amenities: None. There are no bathrooms, fresh water, food, fuel or anything else at this remote site. Bring everything you need with you.

How else can we help?

Need a hotel near Spiral Jetty? Find lodging in Brigham City, Ogden or Logan at Booking.com or Expedia.com.

Want to learn more about Spiral Jetty? Buy Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty on Amazon.com.

Looking for other things to do near Spiral Jetty? Check out our related posts:

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Allison
Hi there! I am the founder of Tips for Family Trips. I am a married mom of two children, ages 10 and 12, living near Salt Lake City, Utah. We took our first child on a two-week road trip when she was four weeks old and we have been traveling as a family ever since. We love to get out of the house to see and do fun things, both far away and in our own neighborhood.

17 Comments

  1. We visited this just days ago – Memorial Day, 2014 in about 90 degree heat- and left town with a new set of tires. Only after visiting with more locals did we discover their reports of ‘…none of the us go there in a car; some take pickups with 8 ply tires but most won’t go unless in Jeeps with off road tires…’ (Our SUV tires were all seasons with about 50% of their life left. The tire techs said it looked like one of the notorious rocks did the irreparable damage.) When we attempted calling a tire place for help, we discovered we had NO CELL SERVICE and neither did our adults kids in a second vehicle. We also discovered the jetty itself was not accessible for anyone with mobility issues or wheelchair bound as you must walk over approximately 40′ of sharp, large rocks to get to the jetty’s starting point.

    So, we would add the following tips to those discussed above:
    Go only if you are in a vehicle sporting off road treads with more than 50% tread remaining,

    Take a buddy in a similarly equipped vehicle. If you go alone, tell someone when you plan to return so they can alert emergency crews if you get stranded,

    Use the restrooms at the Golden Spike site prior to departing for Spiral Jetty.

    Assume you will NOT have cell service there.

    Take enough supplies to survive a few days in case you get stranded; or plan to walk ‘…several miles…’ back to the main highway. According to the volunteer at the nearby bird preserve, several cases occur annually where people got stranded and had to walk miles before finding someone who could help.

    We thought the site could be a destination if only there were a few covered picnic tables, seasonal portable toilets with sanitizer, and potable water available. Perhaps the site’s supporters could sell bottled water with the proceeds all going towards maintaining the site.

    Quite frankly we thought this location was seriously over-billed. The nearby free bird sanctuary and educational center was a much better bet and must-see for anyone interested in ecology, bird watching, wetland preservation and free hands-on interactive options for all. Their site also lends fully outfitted backpacks kids can use to get even more hand’s-on with what they discover there.

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    • Thanks for sharing your experience. Different visitors have different needs and expectations, and prospective visitors deserve to know exactly what they’re signing up for. It is true that cell phone service is limited to non-existent and that there are no services or amenities at all beyond Golden Spike National Historic Site. It is a good idea to carry extra food, water and sun protection into a remote area like this. There is a good view of the jetty from the unpaved parking area, but no wheelchair or stroller access to the jetty. It is a short, but rugged walk.

      We found the road to be better than expected. I don’t think my friend’s SUV had special tires, and we saw passenger vehicles make the trip with no problem. In August, we saw several other visitors, so if you do become stranded, hopefully you will not be stranded for long during peak season. However, conditions may have changed since I visited, so visitors should always use good judgement and turn around if they are not comfortable with the road. I agree that it is a good idea to tell someone where you are going if you go alone into a remote area like this.

      Despite the challenges of the trip, I still think that Spiral Jetty is a fascinating place. For many people, however, it’s not going to be worthwhile. Hopefully, we’ve given you the information you need to make the best decision for your family.

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  2. thank you all for these detailed notes, comments, facts, and opinions. I have a dream to get there in the next 12 months. thank heavens for public art. Art makes life.

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  3. Thankyou all for this information, my wife and I are from Australia and hope to visit the Spiral around the 20th of November via flying to salt lake city after visiting our son in Toronto. The aim is to hire a car for a day or two and drive out there. Any advice would be appreciated. Ambrose

    Post a Reply
    • Welcome to Utah (soon)! I would recommend renting a car with 4-wheel-drive. The weather may be excellent at that time of November, but I would be hesitant to go if it rains or snows. I suspect that there will be little traffic on that remote road at that time of year.

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  4. Just went out there 3 days ago. The roads were in good condition, snow packed in places but not a problem if you watched your speed. No problem for my Corolla at all. I have been wanting to go out there for years and finally took the effort to go. I’m glad I did, very interesting! Had a good visit at Golden Spike Natl. Monument also.

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    • Thank you for sharing a winter experience! I’m glad you had a good time.

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  5. Thank you so much for this article. I also appreciate the insights found in the comments. I’m planning to go this year, after wanting to for so long, and this definitely helps.

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    • This makes my day! I hope that your trip to Spiral Jetty is amazing!

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  6. I’m glad I ran across this article (via Pinterest). After seeing the film “Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art,” which spends some time looking at Spiral Jetty and showing archival interview footage with the creator, I put it on my travel list. I might have simply “winged it” like I often do, pointing my rental car at the location on the map. Now I know to plan for the right time of year and bring the right vehicle.

    The Troublemakers film is definitely worth seeing if you have been to Spiral Jetty. Another Utah piece that is in the film is called “Sun Tunnels” by Nancy Holt; it’s west of the Salt Lake. That will also be on my Utah itinerary someday.

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    • Thank you, Marc! I heard about the sun tunnels about a year ago and now it’s on my list too!

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  7. This is a great introduction to the Spiral Jetty and I have placed it on my List Of Places To Visit. Thank you for taking the time to give your tips and “hacks” for making a good outing!

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    • Thank you! I hope you make it to Spiral Jetty before too long. It’s a fun day trip.

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