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Salt Lake City Airport: The Ultimate 3-5 Hour SLC Layover (by a Pilot)

Salt Lake City International Airport has quickly become one of my favorite layovers in the last few years, especially as an airline pilot frequently transiting SLC. As an efficient airport, you can get a lot done on an SLC layover in 3-5 hours.

Surrounded by massive snow-capped mountains with some of the best skiing in the world, an eclectic downtown with world-class dining, and absolutely epic hiking and climbing, SLC makes for more than a great place to transit.

But even if you are just transiting, you can enjoy brilliant, brand-new terminals with incredible facilities and lounges, a direct tram line access to downtown, and even some fresh mountain air – all on a quick layover!

There’s something to do at SLC for everybody.

In this guide:
What is there to do inside SLC airport on a layover?
Should I leave SLC airport on a short layover? How long is enough?
Best Day Room Hotels Around SLC Airport
10 Amazing Things You Can Do Around Salt Lake City on an SLC Layover
What are the best transportation options from SLC airport?
How long does it take to get through security at SLC?

My other Ultimate Airport Layover Guides: ATL | JFK | SEA | SFO | LAS | ATH | CDG | LHR | and more!

What is there to do inside the airport on a Salt Lake City layover?

The gorgeous, much improved, and massively larger new terminals at Salt Lake City provide a MUCH better experience transiting and laying over at SLC.
The gorgeous, much improved, and massively larger new terminals at Salt Lake City International Airport provide a MUCH better experience transiting and laying over here.

From breathtaking lounges with outdoor terraces to the best Tex-Mex dishes of your life, there’s a little something to keep anyone entertained and happy.

The airport has been freshly renovated, and sports many of the same awesome amenities you can find now at completely redesigned airports like LaGuardia (LGA) – such as the epic (and larger) new Delta SkyClub and the freshest food you can find at an airport.

There’s even some pretty decent shopping for those looking to fulfill their holiday lists!

Pro Tip: Download the SLC Airport App before your layover for maps, schedules, and the latest updates.

Wondering how to best enjoy your next Salt Lake City layover? Here are the 10 Top Things you can do at SLC Airport:

  1. Grab some fresh mountain air and even fresher food at the brand new SLC Delta SkyClub
  2. Get your shopping on – especially for high-quality outdoor clothing
  3. Walk the length of the new gigantic terminals and get your steps in
  4. Enjoy a crafty cocktail at one of SLC’s latest top-class additions
  5. Delight your taste-buds with world-class Tex-Mex – or healthier options
  6. Relax and unwind with a massage and other spa services
  7. Catch up on sleep at a nearby day-room hotel or a nice airport bench
  8. Get ahead of your work projects with free WiFi throughout the terminals
  9. Head to the in-terminal Build-A-Bear for a fun way to spend family time!
  10. Sip on that barista-level coffee you’ve bean waiting for

1. Lounge out at the Delta SkyClub with an outdoor terrace, fresh mountain air, and craft cocktails

The outdoor terrace at Salt Lake City International Airport makes for a great place to enjoy any layover at SLC.
My absolute favorite thing about the Delta SkyClub at SLC is getting some fresh air at the outdoor terrace. Absolutely brilliant!

If you’re transiting through SLC airport, chances are you’re flying Delta. So why not spend your time enjoying a craft cocktail, delicious food, and some fresh air?

One of my favorite aspects of the SLC SkyClub is the wonderful, heated outdoor terrace with beautiful mountain views and even nicer fresh air.

One of the easiest ways to access is by signing up for an AmEx Platinum Card.

2. Get your shopping on: SLC Airport requires “street” pricing!

One of the absolute best things about SLC Airport is its requirement for street pricing in restaurants and shops located in the new facilities. This means you’ll only pay the same price charged at the store locations outside of the airport.

And there isn’t a lack of shops at SLC. From a farmer’s market (Public Market) to a Utah Jazz Pro Shop, you have options. There’s even a Briggs & Riley store, offering the suitcases I most highly recommended in my article, 5 Suitcases Airline Pilots Use: Why You Need One.

3. Go for a nice, long walk!

The new Salt Lake City International Airport terminals provide ample room for walking, great shopping, and excellent dining options.
There’s ample room at the new SLC airport to go for a walk and explore. It’s almost more like a massive mall!

This may sound silly to do at an airport, but if you see a pilot walking the length of the terminals without a suitcase on his side, it might be me!

Anytime I have a longer connection, even at work, I go for a stroll. Luckily, just like at ATL Airport, the corridors at SLC are super, super long (but much nicer than in ATL!). There’s a ton of walking to be had.

This is especially true now in the newly constructed terminals, where there is over a mile between the furthest two gates. Along the way, you’ll be bedazzled by incredible mural artwork lining the walls, astounding architectural details boggling the mind, and fabulous mountain views through floor-to-ceiling windows in most of the terminals.

Plus, walking on a layover has a ton of great health benefits. So why not?

4. Enjoy a craft cocktail at one of SLC’s top-class bars

The White Horse at SLC, as well as the Wasatch Brew Pub, offer great cocktail options for any layover.
The incredible cocktails served up at White Horse make for an extraordinary experience. Lucky for you, SLC airport has you covered for your layover.

You’d be remiss not to try out one of SLC’s legendary bars, right in the concourse.

White Horse, known locally for it spirits and delicious hip food at its downtown location, offers the same level of exquisiteness right in Terminal A.

For a cold beer, head to the Wasatch Brew Pub. You’ll also find classic brew grub and more – carne asada pizza, pumpkin beer cheese soup, a juicy tomato just to name a few.

Other great new options include a Squatters Pub, Uinta Brewing, and even a Belgian Bistro.

5. Feast on some of the most unique – and best – airport food of your life

Market Street at SLC has always been a local favorite, especially for its phenomenal seafood options. It's central location is optimal for any layover.
Market Street at SLC has always been a local favorite, especially for its phenomenal seafood options. It’s central location is optimal for any layover.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I am excited for the next time I transit SLC so I can grab some more amazing food!

My all-time favorite is Cafe Rio, especially for the breakfast there. The huevos rancheros are mouth-wateringly tasty, heart-warming, pure yumminess.

Of course there are now plenty of other options, with everything from Shake Shack to Garbanzo Mediterranean. Some of the highlights include:

  • Market Street Grill, a locally known gem
  • Panera Bread for a quick sandwich
  • Beans & Brew
  • Roosters

6. Relax and unwind with a well-deserved spa or massage service

XpresSpa offers reasonably priced spa services while you're waiting for your next flight out of SLC.
From the XpresSpa website, reasonably priced spa services while you’re waiting for your next flight out of SLC.

Why stress out on a connection through SLC when you can do the opposite and unwind?

Open from 8AM-10PM in Concourse A of SLC, XpresSpa offers massages, nail care, and rejuvenation – great ways to totally undo the stress of traveling while transiting SLC.

7. Catch up on sleep at a nearby day room – or a nice airport bench

Day rooms at SLC are a great way to catch up on sleep for a layover.
Reclaiming your lost sleep after a long flight feels amazing. One of the most rejuvenating things you can do. And SLC has a couple day room hotels surrounding it!

One of my personal favorite things to do – and amongst the healthiest you can do – is sleep!

And the best way to get a good nap is to grab a discounted day room close to the airport. Although this does mean exiting the airport and reclearing security, it’s often worth it for the quality of sleep you get.

Some of the best hotels offering day rooms around SLC airport include:

These hotels offer convenient shuttle service and are located in close proximity to the airport, allowing you to maximize on minutes of snooze!

8. Get some work done with free Wi-Fi

The new Delta SkyClub at SLC offers privacy phone booths, great for getting work done with high-speed wifi.
One of the best hidden gems for getting work done is the Delta SkyClub, with free super-fast WiFi and these clever little phone booths, sound insulated and private with everything you need to be super efficient.

If you’re looking to stay product with a high-fidelity internet connection, SLC airport has you covered.

Free wireless internet service is available throughout almost the entire airport. Simply connect to the SLCAirport.wifi service, follow a couple prompts, and catch up on your layover!

Unfortunately, the Regus Express business center that used to be available for business needs was scrapped alongside the old terminals. Fortunately, the Delta SkyClub is wayyyy better than the Regus was, and includes super high speed Wi-Fi plus great privacy booths (see above).

9. Head to the Build-a-Bear right at SLC airport! Kids or adults, it’s all fun

Opening soon at an SLC Airport near you (2023-2024), the Atrium, a specialty retail concept, will offer a Build-A-Bear. Right at SLC airport!

I personally can’t think of a more entertaining way to keep your kids occupied and having fun on a layover.

10. Sip on top-level, barista quality coffee

If you're a coffee buff, make sure to visit the Euro Diner at SLC airport. If not, the Beans & Brews is another great choice.
Love coffee? Make sure to visit the Euro Diner at SLC airport. If not, the Beans & Brews is another great choice.

If you’re a coffee aficionado, you’re going to be pretty happy on your layover at Salt Lake City Airport.

Why? Well, for one, you have many options to suit your liking. That means more than just Starbucks (hey, no judging!)

From Beans & Brews in Concourse A to Gourmandise: Euro Diner & Bakery in Concourse B, you’ve got (good) choices to make.

Related: Looking for that coffee fix? Check out this epic 2-month Central America road trip itinerary!

Should I leave the airport on my Salt Lake City layover? How long is enough?

From the most impressive gigantic mountain views to a burgeoning to a bright city full of life, Salt Lake City is the hidden gem of the West. I’m convinced.

It’s literally one of the few major US cities I know where you can hike directly into the mountains from town. But if that’s not enough for you, drive 35 minutes and you have some of the best ski resorts on the planet. Incredible.

As downtown Salt Lake City is only a 10-minute drive or 20-minute tram from the airport, anyone with a layover over 4 hours can comfortably head downtown for a shockingly wonderful culinary experience and a tasty local craft beer. Or, you can just enjoy the historic sights of Utah’s capital, breathe that fresh mountain air, and have a wonderful time exploring this little gem.

If you have CLEAR, you could save up to 30 minutes going through security - giving you extra time to enjoy your SLC layover.

How long does it take to get through security at SLC? Customs and immigrations?

TSA Security Checkpoint at Salt Lake City International Airport.
TSA security at Salt Lake City International Airport tends to be pretty efficient, rarely exceeding 30 minutes wait time. But as a precaution, signing up for CLEAR is always a great idea for a shorter layover.

If you are considering leaving SLC airport on your next layover, you may be concerned about how long it takes to get through security.

In general, SLC is pretty efficient, and the longest average wait times are 30 minutes or less. Note that this is just an average and your experience could be wildly different, especially if it’s a rough day filled with delays and cancellations. You can get a current estimate at slcairport.com.

Those arriving on an international flight will need to clear customs and immigration in SLC. Your experience will vary based on your immigration status (US Citizen) and if you use special tools like Global Entry or Mobile Passport. These can save an enormous amount of time.

Pro Tip: if connecting from an international flight at SLC, it’s often quicker to exit customs/immigrations and head up two floors to departures if you have TSA PreCheck or CLEAR. The “connecting flights” on the customs/immigrations floor only has regular security.

Must-read: 10 Tricks Flight Crews Use to Pass Customs and Immigrations Quickly

What can I do outside SLC Airport on a longer layover? Here are 10 Awesome Things to do around Salt Lake City International Airport on a Layover

The LDS Temple at Salt Lake City and the surrounding downtown are incredible places to visit on a layover.
The LDS Temple at Salt Lake City and the surrounding downtown, filled with history and adventure, are incredible places to visit on a layover.

From world-class hiking trails amongst glacier-topped mountains to epic local discovery flights in top-of-the-line small aircraft, the area surrounding Salt Lake City International Airport features an enormous number of fun activities for an amazing layover.

For the best mode of transportation to get there, skip ahead.

Here are 10 of the best activities around SLC airport for a layover:

  1. Explore amazing hiking trails only minutes from the airport (City Creek Trail, Ensign Park, or even Millcreek Canyon)
  2. Excite your taste buds with world-class dining
  3. Go on an epic discovery flight in a Diamond DA20 for the best mountain views of your life
  4. Take part in an escape room game
  5. Explore Historic Salt Lake City and its treasures
  6. Visit the Utah State Capitol
  7. Space out at the Clark Planetarium
  8. Get your shopping on at City Creek Center
  9. Grab a beer and go axe throwing at Social Axe Throwing SLC
  10. Spook yourself out with an authentic Salt Lake City Ghosts & True Crime Walking Tour
  11. Bonus: if you have extra time, enjoy some of the best skiing in the world in Brighton or Park City!

1. Go for a world-class hike minutes from the airport

Hiking the City Creek trail in Salt Lake City on a layover from SLC airport: one of the best activities.
On my first Salt Lake City layover years ago, I immediately took to the mountains and started hiking. You can see the Utah State Capitol in the background here. This is how I fell in love with SLC.

The Salt Lake City area is brimming with lovely hiking trails in practically every direction. You can even hike directly from downtown!

One of my favorite hikes is the City Creek Trail. You can take the TRAX Green Line from the airport station to the City Center, and from there it’s only a couple minutes walk to start the hike. On the way, you can visit the Utah State Capitol.

Total hiking time for the full out-and-back is usually under 3 hours, with a little extra time to walk from the tram line. It’s definitely one of the longer ones if you go the full way, so I’d cut back early if you only have a 5 hour layover.

Other amazing (and shorter) hiking trails in the area include:

  • Ensign Peak (about 45m)
  • Millcreek Canyon (recommend Jacks Mountain, hard 2.5h hike)
  • Bonneville Shoreline Trail (many different sections)
  • Avenue Twin Peaks (2.5h)
  • Living Room Trail (about 1h40m-2h30m)

If you do plan to go on a hike, make sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and adequate time to make it back! Or simply start your way up and turn around at your halfway point on time.

I recommend using AllTrails to make sure you don’t veer off route.

For a slightly different kind of mountain hike, check out the Ultimate Caribbean Hike: Mt. Liamuiga Volcano in St Kitts.

2. Delight your taste buds at some of Salt Lake City’s world-class restaurants

Pretty Bird has gained notoriety for its out-of-the-world incredible fried chicken sandwiches, with a fantastic location right downtown. (Screenshot from the Pretty Bird facebook page)

Even if you don’t have enough time to hike or explore the area, make sure not to miss the truly exceptional cuisine in Salt Lake City. I’m truly not exaggerating when I say SLC has some of the best food in the country.

Looking for something between a snack and a meal? Grab an Açaí bowl at the Brazilian owned-and-operated Honest Eatery Downtown.

If you’re into Sushi, you won’t go wrong at Takashi. It’s a little pricy, but it’s the best of the best.

Coffee lovers will feel reinvigorated at the Honeysuckle Coffee Co., but if you prefer Bubble Tea then Space Tea will be your cup of tea.

And for the ultimate farm-to-table intimate experience, don’t miss out on the family-owned Oquirrh Restaurant. I’ve personally tried it and was flabbergasted by the incredible flavors. The wine is great too!

There’s a little something for everyone in SLC.

Pro Tip: make a reservation ahead of time, especially if your layover isn’t too long.

3. Go on an epic discovery flight over Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Mountains

Check out the incredible local area in a brand new Diamond prop plane. (Screenshot from Elevate Aviation website)

Yes, yes, I know. It might sound weird to recommend flying during the break you have from flying. But hear me out!

Elevate Aviation, located right at SLC airport, offers discovery flights that enable a much more intimate, and unique perspective on this incredible geographic area of the world.

The top-notch Diamond aircraft are safest in the industry, and the flying here is supreme. Plus who knows, you may actually find a keen interest in flying!

(If you do, check out my other post on how to become a pilot).

4. Take part in an escape room!

Escape rooms have become somewhat of a gigantic hit as of late. See for yourself how the time slips away as you use your mind and body to figure out and unwind a group mystery.

It’s a fun family or group activity, but singles will certainly enjoy joining others and making friends in this group-bonding experience.

Mystery Escape Room is located only 10-15 minutes from the airport.

5. Explore Historic Salt Lake City and all of its treasures

I took this returning from the City Creek Trail in SLC. You can see the Utah State Capitol in front of an incredible glowing sunset, with downtown Salt Lake City (including the LDS Temple) in the background.
I took this returning from the City Creek Trail in SLC. You can see the Utah State Capitol in front of an incredible glowing sunset, with downtown Salt Lake City (including the LDS Temple) in the background.

Pioneers first settled in this beautiful area back in 1847, making SLC one of the oldest cities in the west. Awesome places to visit include:

  • The Historic Temple Square
  • Historic Trolley Square
  • Fort Douglas Military Museum, if you’re into Military History
  • The First Presbytarian Church
  • Church History Library and Archives – a great way to learn about the history of LDS (Mormons) in Salt Lake City

6. Visit the Utah State Capitol

The Utah State Capitol is fun to visit on an SLC layover.
The architecture of the Utah State Capitol alone makes it worth a visit – but touring the inside is even more special.

Sitting atop a beautiful hill with wonderful valley views of the city and enchanting glacier-topped mountain views 360 degrees around, the Utah State Capitol is worth a visit even from just the outside.

But – you can schedule a tour of the inside as well, or visit on your own during business hours. The history of the Capitol dates back to 1850, and includes a gallery of art, historic exhibitions, and exquisite architecture.

Have a DCA layover coming up? Here's how you can check out the United States Capitol on that layover!

7. Space out at the Clark Planetarium

Whether you’re a geek (like me) or not, visiting a Planetarium is always a guaranteed way of learning something new.

The Clark Planetarium features everything from an Imax to a dome to 10,000 sq.ft. of exhibit space. It’s a great place to learn about astronomy – Utah has the largest number of certified Dark Sky Places in the world – so there’s a large conglomeration on enthusiasts working here.

Best part: admission is free!

8. Go dozing for deals at SLC’s excellent shopping malls

Shopping on an SLC layover can be done at the City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City.
The City Creek Center, Salt Lake City. Photo by Ken Lund (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The City Creek Center is actually a fantastic mall with everything from department stores to lululemon. There are over 100 retailers here, and prices tend to be quite reasonable.

Utah has a 6.10 percent state sales tax rate, which is decently low.

9. Throw and axe and grab a beer

I can hardly think of any activity that makes time fly by faster than axe throwing. It’s just pure, raw fun.

Make sure to check out Social Axe Throwing SLC. Who knows, you could even get featured on their instagram page!

10. Spook yourself out with an authentic Salt Lake City Ghosts & True Crime Walking Tour

A picture of a Ghost & True Crime SLC Walking tour. (screenshot from GetYourGuide.com)

Remember all that history I mentioned earlier? There’s a lot more to it.

So here’s your chance to learn about the dark and twisted history of the “Crossroads of the West”, including murder-suicides, the 1985 Judge Building Bombing, and reported ghostly activity.

The walking tour lasts 1 hour – make sure to book ahead. It’s worth it!

11. Longer SLC Layover? Check out the best snow in the world!

Skiing in Park City or Brighton, Utah is a great way to spend an SLC layover.
Epic skiing can be had just outside of Salt Lake City if you have a little extra time.

What SLC layover guide would be finished without mentioning that the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City are known for having some of the BEST snow in the world?!

From Park City to Brighton, you’ll find world-class skiing, hiking, and charming ski-towns that truly make you feel the fun winter spirit.

Heck, you can go Ice Climbing – even with zero prior experience! Salt Lake City really is a haven for nature lovers.

Getting There: What mode of transportation is best?

Renting a car on an SLC layover allows you to check out cool sights like the Bonneville Salt Flats!
Renting a car is an awesome way to get out an explore – like checking out the epic Bonneville Salt Flats!

Wondering what kind of transportation is best to get from SLC airport to your layover activity?

Honestly, it depends. If I’m going to downtown Salt Lake City, I usually just take the TRAX tram. It runs every 15 minutes on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends, and only takes 15-20 minutes to get downtown.

For most other destinations, especially on a somewhat longer layover, I like to rent a car. It’s very easy to drive around Salt Lake City and renting a car gives you so much more flexible. Parking downtown is also generally very easy and affordable.

1. Renting a Car

Hertz now offers a fleet of electric vehicles (Teslas) on top of its super efficient pickup process for Gold Members. (screenshot from Hertz.com)

There’s no better and more flexible option than renting a car on a layover. I do it almost everywhere I go – including the amazing experience I had canyoning in Las Vegas recently.

Though there are a plethora of rental companies available at SLC, I tend to prefer using Hertz. As a Gold Member (which is super easy to get with credit cards), I can literally walk directly into the lot and pick my car. On a short layover, this saves so much time.

Parking in downtown SLC is relatively cheap, but the biggest thrill you’ll get is driving through the incredible mountain roads surrounding Salt Lake City – or even to the giant Salt Lake itself!

Extra tidbit: did you know nearby Bonneville Salt Flats are where most historic land speed records have been set?

2. Public Transportation (TRAX vs buses)

The UTA TRAX is a super convenient and efficient option to get from the airport to downtown Salt Lake City.

There’s a convenient TRAX tram station located right at the airport, which means you can get downtown for cheap (and quickly).

Fares start at $2.50 each way, but you can get a day pass for as low as $5!

The Express Bus costs $5 each way, and can sometimes be more convenient than the tram depending on your destination. During ski season, you’ll even find bus service to Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, to Brighton via Solitude, and to Alta via Snowbird. Magnificent.

You can use this tool to plan your trip and even buy tickets ahead of time.

3. Rideshare

If I’m on a shorter layover but I still want to visit downtown, I’ll grab and Uber, Lyft, or taxi both ways. This usually saves 5-10 minutes total each way, sometimes more (especially on weekends). However, it can end up nearly as expensive as a rental car roundtrip.

This is especially great if you have a particular destination (restaurant, mall, capitol, temple) in mind you really want to visit.

Make sure to get back in time!

All this awesome fun may make your layover pass quickly – perhaps too quickly.

Just keep mind of your time, set an alarm, download your airline’s app to get push notifications, whatever it takes not to miss your next flight.

Keep slcairport.com open to monitor TSA wait times, keeping in mind they might not be 100% accurate – but it’s something.

Lastly, consider signing up for CLEAR for a seamless experience and virtually guaranteed little-to-no wait times.

I am an affiliate with several companies linked in this article, and as a result may receive a commission for transactions. This is how I keep the website running – so I can make your travel experience a little bit better. Thanks for reading!

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