The Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC/KSLC) is six miles west of Downtown Salt Lake. The airport served nearly 27 million passengers in 2018 and processed roughly 400 million pounds of cargo. Salt Lake City is one of Delta’s largest hubs and the operations base for Skywest Airlines (a regional carrier for American, Delta, United, and Alaska) so you’ll see a lot of 70 seat aircraft on your trip.
There is also an Air National Guard Base here but these movements are unpredictable. Don’t go poking around the entrance to the base on the east side trying to shoot through the fence. That’s a bad idea. The only international flights the airport currently offers are to a few destinations in Mexico with no international airlines currently serving the airport.
Written by local spotter Michael Rodeback (all spots updated November 2020)
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| (6 votes, average: 4.33 out of 5)
|16R/34L||3.658 m (12.000 ft) Concrete|
|16L/34R||3.658 m (12.000 ft) Asphalt|
|17/35||2.925 m (9.596 ft) Asphalt|
|14/32||1.491 m (4.893 ft) Asphalt|
|Terminal 1||Alaska, American, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, United|
|Terminal 2||Delta, KLM, Aeromexico (skyteam)|
|Ladder||Not recommended. If you do use one make sure to stay well clear of the fence line.|
|Car/Public Transport||It’s best to have a car, but you can reach almost all the spots with UTA’s Trax depending on how far you’re willing to walk.|
|Restrooms||Only available near spot 2. The wilderness may be your best bet.|
|Drinks/Food||Only available at spot 2. There may be a few restaurants near the east end of Spot #3, but that walk is at least a quarter of a mile.|
|Hotels||Mostly around spots 3 and 4.|
|Season||Plenty of sun year round, but more in the summer than in the winter. It gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter so dress accordingly.|
|General Info||A typical day will have the airport running southflow in the morning and switching to northflow somewhere in between 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM. If you have the opportunity to go on a good weather day that isn’t forecasted this way take it.|
|16R/34L||Used for both arrivals and departures. During northflow, aircraft approaching the airport from the west, northwest, or north usually come here. Southflow is the opposite. Departures are unpredictable.|
|16L/34R||Used for both arrivals and departures. During northflow, aircraft approaching the airport from the south (flying near Utah Lake on arrival) will usually come here. But there is a chance they will sidestep to 35.|
|17/35||Almost exclusively used for general aviation with some commercial arrivals thrown into the mix. This runway very rarely gets commercial departures and it is extraordinarily rare for anything bigger than a 757 to use this runway.|
|14/32||The biggest thing we’ve seen here is a Cessna Caravan. This runway is only used on rare occasions by the smallest of small aircraft.|
|Spot #1 – N 3700 W – 34R arrivals, taxiway and ramp|
|WHERE||If you are driving, follow the signs to the airport, then to Air Cargo. I recommend parking at the post office. It’s only a half mile walk at max. You can also park in the Air Ops parking lot if you don’t plan to leave it. If you are using Trax get off at the 1940 W North Temple stop and follow the road west towards the airport. This gets you to spot 3 and from there you can get to spot 1. There is no safe way to get here from the airport stop so don’t try it. Arrivals and line ups are possible from anywhere along the road. We recommend trying different angles before settling in one spot.
If you want to shoot over the fence there are some rocks you can stand on or you can just shoot through the mesh.
|WHAT||34R arrivals and line up from the taxiway H,H1, and M. Sometimes SkyWest will park a few of their planes on the remote stand next to the lot for an overnight stay. These provide great closeup views of E175s and CRJs.|
|TIME||Afternoon and evening year round.|
|MISC.||There are no restrooms or food options within two miles. During the warmer months, a can of insect repellent is a very good idea. You are right next to the Jordan River and the mosquitoes are big and plentiful. We’ve heard some reports of trouble with air ops here during the morning, but this isn’t a morning spot so you should be fine. There’s a decent chance the police will check you out if you’re at the fence, but they will usually ask you what you’re doing and then leave once they know you aren’t suspicious. If they say something else, be respectful and do as they say. Try again another time if possible.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||Arrival CRJ700=250-300mm; 763=150-180mm
|Spot #2 – Passenger Pick Up/Drop Off — South Ramp, 16L/R Departures|
|WHERE||Follow directions to the parking garage and park there or have your ride drop you off at departures, then walk to the terminal. You can stay on the departures level or go down to ground level if you like. Riding Trax should be pretty self-explanatory.|
|WHAT||You get good views of all even numbered A gates and nothing but Delta from this spot. The smallest thing I’ve seen here is an E175 while the largest I’ve seen here is a 757-300. You may also be able to get some decent shots of departures on 16L and 16R.|
|TIME||Morning to midday. This is also your only option for night spotting, but it’s not great for that. When phase two of the new airport opens in a few years this spot will work in the afternoon and evening too.|
|MISC.||Parking in the garage is $5 per hour. From the upper level you will have an unobstructed view of the apron. From the lower level you can go through the fence or walk back a bit and get over the fence. You shouldn’t have trouble with the police on the upper level, though the traffic officers might have a friendly chat for a few minutes. If you are on the lower level the police will likely come talk to you and find out what you’re doing. Then they’ll leave you alone once they know you’re plane spotting. If you need to warm up, use the bathroom, or get a snack, there should be a few options in the terminal.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||Anything pushing back from A22 or A24 will need close to 18mm, while something small at A4 will need about 300mm. Keep in mind that it’s 1,500 ft. from this spot to the end of the concourse and at that distance you will likely be dealing with heat distortion.
|Spot #3 – East Side Bike Trail Entrance – 35 Traffic, Business Jet Ramp South|
|WHERE||From I-215, Take the exit just after the I-80 exit and turn left. Go south on 2400 W and turn right on W North Temple. If you get to the big and busy North Temple you’ve gone too far. You can pull over on the side of the road and park. If you are taking Trax, get off at 1940 west North Temple and go west down that road. There is a fence with signs that say BP1A. To the side there is a small door with a handle and a sign next to it that says Bike Trail Hours. These are usually based on the sun. If you’re there during the day you’ll be fine. Make sure you are within the hours and proceed through the door. There you can span the entire south end of the airport on the trail if you like.|
|WHAT||There are usually a few business jets parked that you can get through the fence near the entrance. 35 arrivals fly by. In the morning when the winds are usually from the south, 17 arrivals should be catchable from the right spot. 34R arrivals may be possible with a long enough focal length but the 34s are rarely used in the morning.|
|TIME||All day depending on where you are.|
|MISC.||The closest restrooms and restaurants are near the train station. It’s a bit of a walk, but doable if you need. I’ve never had any trouble with the police here. As you approach the extended centerline there will be signs saying “ILS Critical Area No Standing or Stopping.” Avoid stopping in these areas.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||An 18-105mm lens would be ideal for parked business jets but everything else needs a 70-400.
|Spot #4 – West Bike Trail/Hyatt Place – 34L arrivals|
|WHERE||From I-80 go past the airport and take the next exit onto Wright Brothers drive. Then turn Right onto Wiley Post Way, followed by another right onto Tommy Thompson Road. Follow this road south until you get to Hyatt Place. You can park there for free and spot directly from there and there is a small hill at the parking where you can go up for a better angle.
To the east of the hotel there is the same sort of fence door like where you can reach the trail. From there you can spot all along the trail all day long. Stay at the hotel spot if the trail is closed in the evening
|WHAT||Just 34L arrivals.|
|TIME||All day long except noon when the sun is above the runway.|
|MISC.||You are in between a canal and the Jordan River so mosquitoes will be a problem in the warmer months. You shouldn’t have any trouble with the police here. They can’t really get out here to check you out unless they’re willing to take two hours out of their day. The trail doesn’t get your view above the fence so the aircraft has to be in the air for good photos.
As you approach 34L’s extended centerline, there will be signs that say “ILS Critical Area. No Standing Or Stopping.” Try to avoid stopping in these areas. No restrooms are available here.
|FOCAL LENGTH||Due to the wide variety of angles 50-400mm is perfect.|
Taken from the trail entrance at the hotel
Taken from the afternoon side on the trail close to the ILS
|Spot #5 – 2100 N – 16L and 17 Arrivals|
|WHERE||From I-215, take exit 25 and head west onto 2100 N. From there you can start spotting from anywhere along this road.|
|WHAT||Best for 16L arrivals from this spot. 17 arrivals are doable but reasonably high.|
|TIME||All day depending on where you are.|
|MISC.||You are on a busy road and police will be on you almost immediately if you park on the shoulder. It’s best to have someone pull over and drop you off before leaving to go park somewhere else. If that doesn’t work you’ll have to park somewhere else and do a few miles of walking.|
|Spot #6 – 510 N – 34R Traffic|
|WHERE||From the airport loop, stay in the right hand lane and follow signs to Air Cargo. You can turn right, park at the post office, and walk, or you may be able to turn left and park in one of the lots next to the spot. A car parked at the post office will provide a good base for switching between here and spot 1. Once you’re headed north on 3700 W, watch for a street sign on your right that says 510 N. Turn down there and walk to the fence.|
|WHAT||All traffic going to 34R. The centerline of Taxiway H is 400 ft. from the fence and the centerline of 34R is 1,000 ft. from the fence.|
|TIME||Afternoon to sunset year round. Heat distortion shouldn’t ever be a problem for Taxiway H, but it usually is a problem for the runway until just a few hours before sunset.|
|MISC.||With the backgrounds you get here you’ll definitely want to edit the photo of the CRJ 200 for the first time in your life. You shouldn’t have any trouble with the police here. There are no food, drink, or bathroom options here. I don’t recommend using a ladder. It’s just not going to work. Keep in mind that you are taking pictures through a chainlink fence so keep your shutter speed as high as possible and make sure the fence doesn’t get in your shot.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||If you get the FedEx MD-11 taxiing on H it will be on the low end around 30mm. If you get a CRJ-200 landing on 34R it will be on the high end around 300mm.
Runway: 753=130mm; A220=160mm
|Spot #7 – Employee Lot – 16L Departures|
|WHERE||Parking options are the same as spot 6. Follow signs to Air Cargo and turn right for the post office or left for up north. Once you’re headed north on 3700 W, follow it all the way to the end. You will be on the edge of a construction zone, but you should be fine as long as you stay out of it.|
|WHAT||16L departures only.|
|TIME||Afternoon to sunset year round.|
|MISC.||There are a lot of poles and similar obstructions that can be difficult to avoid. Police shouldn’t be a problem.|