Family Road Trip Ideas – From Salt Lake to San Francisco

Posted on: April 30th, 2013 by Accurate Auto Body Repair No Comments

The road stretches out long and thin, a straight black line running out to the horizon. Mountains crop up along the sides, sparse bands of snow covering their peaks. There’s a milemarker here, a semi-truck there, and once in awhile an exit appears that may just lead you to some of the most incredible scenery you’ll ever see.

This is Interstate 80, specifically the section of that road that crosses the western part of the nation between Salt Lake City, in Utah, and San Francisco, on the central coast of California. This stretch of the highway cuts a path through some of the most beautiful, varied, and sometimes desolate terrain in all of the United States. It’s about a twelve to thirteen hour drive in total, and a trip well worth taking by you and your family – especially if you’ve never driven it before.

Salt Lake City

This trip begins in Salt Lake City, which stands at an altitude of 4,327 feet. The air here is thin. Even at this substantial height, however, the city lies in the shadows of a range of mountains much higher still – the Wasatch Range. The Wasatch Mountains rise immediately from the edge of the city, quickly climbing to just over 11,000 feet. They are an impressive sight, and the city is an impressive place. In the winter, Salt Lake City and these surrounding mountains are coated with some of the finest snow anywhere on earth, and skiiers and snowboarders descend in droves to soak it up. In the summer, with the snow melted, Salt Lake becomes a premier destination for hiking and mountain biking. If you are into the outdoors, Salt Lake City is a destination you’ll love.

The Great Salt Lake

Leaving Salt Lake City along Interstate 80 will take you down to the Great Salt Lake itself, a vast pool 75 miles in length and 28 miles in width. The water here is so salty that it is said that a person cannot sink. The sight of this enormous lake sitting calmly among the huge, rugged mountains that surround it is nearly otherworldly, but is nothing in comparison with what lies just a little farther down the road – the world-famous Bonneville Salt Flats.

 The Bonneville Salt Flats

The Salt Flats were once the bed of a great inland lake. The lake has long since evaporated away, leaving behind this swath of land that is extraordinarily flat. It is a desolate place. There are virtually no towns within the 40 mile reach of the flats and very few signs of human habitation at all. In fact, the stretch of Interstate 80 that runs through here is the longest stretch of the highway with no exits along the road’s entire 3,000 mile span. Make sure you fuel up before you head out.

Still the Salt Flats are beautiful. Mountains and low hills fringe the perimeter, and the land is so flat and so hardened that even a slight rainfall will pool on the surface and produce the appearance of a huge lake. Every year, attempts to set land-speed records are held here, along with other auto racing events. It’s a region that really looks like nothing else on earth.


Beyond the Salt Flats sits the high, sparse desert of Northern Nevada. Towns here come in small sizes and at large distances from one another, but you’ll generally come across a moderately-sized place every twenty minutes or so. Elko, about an hour across the border from Utah, is one of the larger towns here, and sports casinos, a museum, and some other interesting attractions.

On the western end of the state, after several hours of driving, you’ll enter Reno, Nevada, the so-called “Biggest Little City In The World.” If you’re driving from Salt Lake, Reno would be a great place to stop for the night. The city has a lot to offer, with great restaurants and the best casinos in Nevada outside of Las Vegas, among other sights to see. It’s also beautifully situated, sitting not far from the Sierra Nevada mountain range that divides Nevada from California.


From Reno, San Francisco is about 4 hours away, a good morning’s drive. Before you get there, though, you’ll need to climb the mountains and drive up to Lake Tahoe, another stunning location equal to any in the United States. Tahoe itself is just a short drive off of 80, and it’s well worth a lunch stop, an overnight, or even a week or two! The lake is idyllic, although in the winter the area is quite cold (cars are often required to have chains for their tires). The skiing and snowboarding in this area is also world-famous, and is particularly popular among Californians.

 San Francisco and Beyond

And then, finally, you’ll come down those great mountains on the far side, drive through the eastern plains of California, through Sacramento, the state capital, and reach San Francisco, one of the most striking cities in the United States. You’ll have covered around 800 miles, and in the process seen towering mountains, sweeping deserts, great lakes, and the hills and trolleys of one of the nation’s most iconic cities. If you’re looking for an interesting two-day (or even a long single day) road trip for you and your family, it’s hard to beat Salt Lake to San Francisco.

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