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If you’ve driven in Salt Lake or really anywhere in Utah, you’ve likely been on this stretch of interstate the connects the northern and southern borders of Utah, almost 400 miles apart. The farmlands of Idaho in the north and red rock of St. George in the south prove the geologic diversity which draws millions of tourists to the Beehive State true. New in 2014, the speed limit through most of this thoroughfare is 80 mph; weekend trips south to Zion National Park just got a whole lot quicker! I-15 passes through Utah’s first state capital, Fillmore, as well as Salt Lake City, the largest city and current capital. Most people use “the 15” to commute around points on the Wasatch Front, between Ogden and Provo. Most highway signs use those two cities as wayfinding points, as well as Las Vegas, the next major city south.
Every city has a “beltway,” and 215 is Utah’s. If SLC was a clock, and I-80 ran from the 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock hands and I-15 connected 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock, 215 would draw the perimeter of the bottom of the clock, from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock. For some this reference will make perfect sense, for the rest, you’ll be staring blankly at your iphone as you’re too young to have ever used a clock. In that case, use your phone’s map program for directions.
Running east-west from Evanston, Wyoming to Mesquite, Nevada almost 200 miles away and through the heart of SLC, “route 80” bisects Utah, as it does the entire country stretching from San Francisco to New Jersey. I-80 follows two major historical auto trails, namely the Victory Highway in the west, and the Lincoln Highway in the east. Construction of the freeway began in segments during the 1950s, and was mostly finished in Utah by the late 1970s. Visitors who fly into SLC International use I-80 to enter the city center, as well as speed demons further west on the Bonneville Salt Flats and vacationers who head up to Park City for the sundance film festival or for ski trips. The road signs play an evil joke, however, and make no mention of Park City, or any other point on 80 you are likely to hit, instead opting for distant Cheyenne and Reno as their east/west reference points. Good enough for government work, I guess. Consider yourself warned.
The Colorado Interstate in Utah! When people ask if the skiing on I-70 is crowded, the best reply is “no” – assuming, they drive from Denver past Vail to Utah, and make a right on I-15 and head to the Wasatch! All kidding aside, 70 intersects I-15 near Richfield. Most driving by Utahns on 70 happens between US 6 and the exit to Moab,
The forgotten interstate! Most people only think of 15 and 80 when considering our state’s national thoroughfares. I-84 is Utah’s fourth interstate freeway, which begins in the northwest quadrant of the state at the Idaho border, and travels southeast. At Tremonton, the freeway runs concurrent with I-15 for a distance before breaking away near Roy. Interstate 84 ends at the junction of I-80 and the town of Echo. The freeway replaced US-30S, and somewhat follows the original Oregon Trail. The original designation of the freeway was I-80N, but was renamed I-84 in 1977.
This section of State Hwy 89, which parallels I-15 through most of the state, albeit at slower speeds and passing through many a quaint town, State Street is the portion in urban Salt Lake, ascending to (you guessed it) the State Capitol Building. Throughout the metropolitan area, State St. is a 6-8 lane artery with businesses from car dealerships to hole in the wall restaurants for miles on end. Easy access to I-15, as well as an intersection with I-80, make State the most important and likely, most used non-interstate road in the state.
I almost wanted to leave this one off as its the best kept secret in SLC. At 8 lanes wide, “7th East” connects east side communities within the I-215 beltway with downtown. It’s usually faster than the interstate during rush hour – thus my hesitation to share. At about 4500 South, 7th East turns into Van Winkle and jogs slightly east towards Highland drive to its eventual end at I-215 in Cottonwood Heights.
The 700 E of the west side of the valley, Redwood heads north-south and has everything from big box stores to authentic ethnic restaurants.
Connecting most west valley communities and a majority of industrial properties, including the airport, Bangerter is a super highway to drive north or south when on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley.
Better known the 21st South Freeway, the 201 parallels I-80 a few miles south and provides quick means to head towards West Valley City from the “spaghetti bowl”. Named for the numerous stacks of interchanges between 201, I-80 and I-15 and surface streets, these asphalt twists and turns resemble a spaghetti bowl from above. Make sure you know which road you want well before you hit this section. As mentioned before, road signs denoting Las Vegas, Cheyenne and Reno are less than helpful when you are looking for Sandy or Park City.
Trucks or traffic on I-15 got you down? No worries, the wetland views on the edge of the Great Salt Lake, lower speed limits and car-only restrictions may be for you. Legacy Parkway is designated SR-67, and is a four-lane freeway running from Interstate 215 in North Salt Lake to the junction of I-15 and US-89 at Farmington. The freeway took two years to build, and was completed in 2008. Legacy Parkway is to become part of the proposed Legacy Highway, which will start in Brigham City and travel down the Wasatch Front to Nephi.
Mountain View Corridor
Starting near the Salt Lake City International Airport at I-80, this project will end near Lehi and I-15 in Utah County. A large portion of this freeway will run north-south and sections have been constructed in both Salt Lake and Utah counties. It will be about 35 miles long when completed, and features bike lanes and multi-use trails.
Mill Creek Canyon
One of three main canyons on the east side of the SLC valley, Millcreek can be found just east of 3800 S and Wasatch Blvd. The only one of the tri-canyons to allow dogs, its highly popular on summer days. There is a fee to drive this canyon, but it is free to spandex-clad cyclists, of whom many should be paying a fee for visual pollution.
Little Cottonwood Canyon
As 9400 S climbs the east bench, it dramatically enters the mouth of LCC. Six steep miles away lies the powder of snowbird, with Alta just two miles beyond. Make sure you have chains and 4WD in winter (September-May) and be prepared to spend the night if it starts snowing – LCC is closed during period of avalanche activity.
Big Cottonwood Canyon
Longer and more windy than its southerly neighbor, thus the “big” moniker, BCC is the canyon portion east of Ft Union Blvd, or 7200. Home to Solitude and Brighton ski areas, as well as the Guardman’s Pass road which provides a dirt road connection to Park City, this 12-mile road is popular year-round.
Beginning in Spanish Fork, a community south of Provo on I-15, and ending just outside Green River on I-70, US 6 is the main trucking route between SLC and Denver. It is also the gateway road to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks for throngs of tourists each year. Why the exit signs in Spanish Fork tell drivers this is the road to the sprawling metropolises of Helper and Price, I will never understand. US 6 is the scene of many an accident, so please drive with caution, as its not uncommon to see pickups hauling boats to or from Lake Powell driving 80 mph and semis driving 40, on a two-lane windy section.
One of the most scenic roads in the state, possibly the US, Hwy 12 connects Bryce Canyon National Park with Capitol Reef National Park and some of the most scenic vistas in between, none more dramatic than the Hells Backbone area. Take your time and enjoy this one.