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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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? Brigham City, Ogden or Logan are the nearest cities to Spiral Jetty. Click the button to read reviews and check availability on TripAdvisor.
Need a rental car? You’ll need your own vehicle to reach Spiral Jetty. Most cars should do fine on the dirt road, as long as it is maintained, but 4WD is nice to have in this area. Find the best rates from dozens of agencies in Utah at RentalCars.com.
Want to learn more about Spiral Jetty? Buy Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty on Amazon.com.