West of the Great Salt Lake in Utah’s northwest corner, flat planes of salt stretch away in all directions, disappearing at distant horizons and fading into shimmering mirage. The Bonneville Salt Flats, one of Tooele County’s most unique landscapes, is not only a boundless racetrack for motorized speed records, but a wide expanse to explore with amazing views of the area’s surrounding landscape. The craggy peaks towering above 11,000 feet, countless canyons and ridges tumbling down to meet the desert, and forested hills rolling for miles are all nearly empty of civilization.
As a base camp to explore it all, you need only a shady grove, grassy field, or quiet streamside to pitch a tent, and options abound. Bonneville Salt Flats may be the "Fastest Place on Earth," but only by slowing down can you properly explore the surroundings. You need to spend a night—or many—watching the sunset over the mountains, sleeping under starry skies, and waking to days of discovering wild terrain.
Campgrounds near Tooele (pronounced too-will-uh) offer mostly primitive sites, where you will need your own shelter, water, and to pack out your own trash. Paved roads are few, wide open spaces are plenty, and solitude is easy to find. Here are some of the best places to camp near Tooele and what to expect from each, so you can plan your own journey.
Just south of Tooele and a short trip from the interstate is Legion Park in Settlement Canyon, which is great for family tenting or RV camping near the shore of a fish-stocked reservoir. Sites have picnic tables and fire rings, and RV sites have full hookups. There are restrooms, a picnic pavilion, and playground. Trails depart from the campground and in nearby Left Hand Fork Canyon. The campground is open May to October, but be sure to make reservations.
For a more secluded feel but still very close to town, drive up Middle Canyon Road and find one of many primitive campsites just off the pavement. Camping here is free and first come, first served. Most sites are shaded, tucked in the trees at the bottom of this lush canyon. Continue up the road to find the Butterfield Peaks trailhead and climb to views of Salt Lake City on the other side.
Ophir Canyon is another beautiful canyon in the Oquirrh Mountains, but is located farther from Tooele. In the canyon you will find quiet campsites tucked in the trees along a babbling brook. Access is along a dirt road from the town of Ophir. Sites are first come, first served. Each has a picnic tables and fire rings. The steep, lush slopes and high ridges all around beckon exploration, but only a few rugged roads lead higher into the canyons.
South Willow Canyon
To sleep in the shadow of Tooele County’s highest peak, go to South Willow Canyon at the edge of the Deseret Peak Wilderness. Clusters of sites are just off the dirt road in this canyon. They are all primitive camping, with toilets at each campground, and tables and fire rings at each site. Willow Creek runs here year round and is great for trout fishing. The area is generally open late, May to early October. Camping is self registration and first come, first served. To hike to the summit of 11,031-foot Deseret Peak, begin from Loop Campground at the road’s end and follow marked trails.
South of Deseret Peak is where state highway 199 crosses the Stansbury Mountains, and Clover Springs is a nice campground just off the road. It is near the top of the pass, set beside a small stream and a natural spring. Easy to access and comfortable for most of the year, but closed in winter, this campground is great for families and travelers passing through to the open deserts farther west. Sites have tables, fire rings, and toilets, and are first come, first served.
Simpson Springs on the Pony Express Trail
The Pony Express of the Wild West ran right through Tooele County. In 1860, expert riders set records for fastest mail delivery from California, thanks to a route devised with strategic outpost stations across the West. One of these was at Simpson Springs, where the station is now restored as a historic landmark. Today you can drive this section of the Pony Express as a long dirt road, and a primitive campground is located just across from the historic station. This spot is good in the winter when other sites are closed, and is a great starting point for adventures deeper into the desert. Dispersed camping is allowed in surrounding BLM land as well, which the Pony Express Route crosses on the way toward Nevada.
Silver Island Mountains
For a truly wild camping experience near one of the wildest landscapes on Earth, venture to the the Silver Island Mountains on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Camping is not allowed on the flats themselves, but you can get very near the edge on slightly higher ground from the Silver Island Mountains Backcountry Byway. This is a dirt road that travels around one of Utah’s least-visited ranges. No other designated routes go into them, but as the westward edge of the salt flats, they have marked a goal for many intrepid travelers, including the ill-fated Donner Party of 1846. The party failed to make California’s Sierras before the harsh onset of winter because of a setback crossing the parched Bonneville Salt Flats, and the rest is history. Water and shelter are no easier to find in these mountains today, so come prepared for any adventures here.
Written by Jesse Weber for RootsRated Media in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism.