Looking for a little adventure? And something unusual? Spiral Jetty in Northern Utah is both.
Spiral Jetty is a work of art that was created at the north end of the Great Salt Lake by Robert Smithson in 1970. It is made from local black basalt rock, which can turn white in some places, due to extended exposure to the ebbs and flows of the salty water. Brightly colored algae lives in the salty water and can tint it pink. Art and science come together here in fascinating ways.
I have visited Spiral Jetty three times – 2005, 2013 and 2020 – and each visit was different and memorable. My husband and I took our one-year-old the first time, and the road was so rough then that we had to stop and walk the last mile. By 2013, the road was much improved, so a friend and I seatbelted six kids into the back of her SUV on a weekday just before school started.
Our most recent visit was with my husband and two children (age 13 and 15) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically, this remote destination was unusually crowded because activity options were limited and it was a perfect spring day. However, there was still plenty of space to “social distance.”
Want to see Spiral Jetty for yourself? Here are my tips for making the most of your trip.
What to Expect
There is a small parking area overlooking Spiral Jetty, and not much else. The parking area allows a clear view of the jetty. We and most others climbed down the short rocky path and walked onto the jetty. Spiral Jetty was completely surrounded by dry sand and mud on our most recent visit.
The shoreline had receded beyond the jetty and the blue water was rimmed with bright orange algae and crystallized salt. On a previous summer visit when the water was a higher, the algae tinted the water pink and the salt turned the rocks white.
There are two short trails on the other side of the parking lot. These lead to higher points where you can get a better view from above Spiral Jetty.
It costs nothing to visit Spiral Jetty. It is not a state or national park.
Spiral Jetty is remote, but still attracts thousands of visitors each year. Visitors are welcome to walk on the jetty and in the lake. Water levels, seasons, human interaction and time have changed this work of art, and will continue to do so.
Check the water levels
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 dry since 2002. Until the Great Salt Lake rises significantly, the jetty will probably be visible for years to come.
Keep in mind that what you see at Spiral Jetty may be different than what we saw, due to changing water conditions.
How to Get There
Take Interstate 15 toward Brigham City, Utah and follow signs to the town of Corrinne. From the south, it's Exit 365 for UT-13/Promontory. From there follow the signs to Golden Spike. Once you reach Golden Spike, continue onto the gravel road and follow the signs to Spiral Jetty.
Google Maps gave us good directions to Spiral Jetty – except right at the end when it told us to take a sharp left where there was no road. Use common sense, obviously. If you use a map app, download the directions while you still have service.
You can also get detailed driving directions at spiraljetty.org.
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.
Make sure your car is up for it
The last 15 miles of the drive to Spiral Jetty are on a well-maintained gravel road. It has been much improved since our 2005 visit when we had to turn around.
It's a long, dusty drive through the middle of nowhere, but most passenger vehicles should be able to make it with little trouble. However, I recommend that you check your spare tire and tools, and go prepared for anything.
On our most recent visit, we saw a minivan in the Spiral Jetty parking lot with a flat tire. The family was able to change it and get back on their way, but be aware that this is a very remote location and you will probably not have phone service.
Pack plenty of snacks and water
There is no place to get food or water at Spiral Jetty, and it's at least a 90-minute round trip from Brigham City restaurants. Add whatever time and energy you spend at Spiral Jetty, and it's a safe bet that your family will be famished before you leave the parking lot.
Bring lots of water. We used it to drink and to rinse salt from our hands and feet.
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. This is about 30 minutes (15 miles) from Spiral Jetty. Golden Spike sells a few pre-packaged snacks, but your best bet is to bring your own.
Will your kids end up in the water?
For my kids, the answer is always “yes.” The shallow water is smooth as glass. On our most recent visit, my teens were able to walk at least 100 yards out without the water rising above their ankles.
The water here is extremely salty – saltier than at Antelope Island or Saltair (also on the Great Salt Lake) and much saltier than the ocean.
For younger kids, the walk back to the car can be rough. The dried salt is itchy and it hurts any tiny scratches on legs and feet. On our 2013 trip, 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 child
- First-aid supplies
- Sturdy shoes for scrambling up and down the rocky shore
- 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.
Related: Can You Swim in the Great Salt Lake?
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 an hour or so 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 currently costs $10 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.
I don't understand most modern art – including Spiral Jetty – but I still find it fascinating. Why would people drive on a long dirt road into the wilderness to see a big spiral-shaped pile of rocks?
It's hard to say, but I've done it three times.
I watched the families around me on our last visit. None of them were talking about art or nature, but people of all ages were all engaged by it. They seemed happy to be there.
I hope that our experience helps your family plan a great trip to Spiral Jetty. Happy travels!
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. The water should be plenty low for at least a few years.
How much: FREE
How long: An hour, more or less, at Spiral Jetty. It takes a little under 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.
Need a hotel near Spiral Jetty? Brigham City, Ogden or Logan are the nearest cities to Spiral Jetty. Click the button to read reviews and check availability on TripAdvisor.com.