Unveiling the Beauty of Utah’s Bentonite Hills: A Spectacular Terrain Resembling Mars

When you find yourself among the Bentonite Hills in Utah, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another world. It’s a unique and fascinating landscape that’s well worth exploring, especially since you’re likely to have it all to yourself. These hills are a geological marvel made up of layers of clay-rich sediments and minerals that have accumulated over millions of years, including volcanic ash. In this guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about the Bentonite Hills, including why they’re sometimes called “Mars,” how to locate them, and more.

group standing on the Bentonite Hills in Utah

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Do you want to know where you can find the Bentonite Hills? These unique natural wonders are located in Utah, near Hanksville. They are scattered throughout the area, but we discovered a couple of specific spots that required driving down rugged 4×4 roads. If you want to explore one of these locations, check out the Cathedral Valley Loop. You’ll be able to spot the official hills from the viewpoint marked on Google Maps. Just keep in mind that you’ll need a sturdy vehicle to navigate the rough terrain, including a river crossing to reach the main road.

Car driving through the Bentonite Hills Cathedral Valley

If you happen to lack a 4Γ—4 vehicle, I suggest embarking on the Cathedral Valley Loop excursion. It not only allows you to visit Bentonite Hills but also offers stunning vistas along the route. Personally, my mind was completely blown by the beauty of Cathedral Valley, making every effort worthwhile!

Bentonite Hills Cathedral Valley

If you’re particularly interested in the Bentonite Hills, then this tour is perfect for you! The focus is mainly on these picturesque hills. During our Utah Road Trip, we explored another set of Bentonite Hills which were situated near the Mars Desert Research Station of NASA. It’s just a 20-minute drive away from the town of Hanksville.

top down drone shot of Bentonite Hills in Hanksville

The Bentonite Hills, often referred to as Mars on social media, are a popular destination that can be difficult to locate. To make finding the hills easier, GPS coordinates have become the preferred method. The coordinates for the Bentonite Hills are 38Β°24’43.5β€³N 110Β°47’01.4β€³W, and the included map can also be used. To reach the hills, begin by turning onto Utah State Route 24 from Hanksville until reaching Cow Dung Road, where off-roading begins. Keep following the road past the private Mars Desert Research Station until arriving at the GPS coordinates listed above. Remember to respect private property and not trespass.

sunset at the Bentonite Hills at Mars Research Station

Upon arrival at the designated coordinates, you’ll easily spot the massive mounds on your left. These mounds are actually hills! Make sure to park your vehicle in a secure spot where it won’t block other cars, and then step outside and begin your exploration.

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Is a 4Γ—4 Required to Reach the Bentonite Hills?
During our visit to the Bentonite Hills, we used a high-clearance SUV equipped with 4Γ—4 capabilities. Based on our experience, I suggest using a 4Γ—4 vehicle since the roads can become quite challenging. If possible, try to secure a 4Γ—4 for your trip.

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Do you know what makes up the Bentonite Hills? Well, they are composed of the Brushy Basin shale member of the Morrison Formation. This particular layer of shale was formed during the Jurassic period, approximately 140 million years ago – pretty mind-boggling, huh?

Bentonite Hills at the Mars Desert Research Station

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Before embarking on a trip to the Bentonite Hills, it is important to take a few things into consideration. Firstly, check the recent rainfall in the area. Heavy rains can cause the ground to become incredibly soft, resulting in larger holes and making it harder to drive. You may even risk getting stuck or bogged down.

Secondly, always keep an eye on the weather forecast. Getting caught in a storm or heavy rain in the middle of the desert can be dangerous. Flash floods are common in Utah and can quickly leave you stranded.

It is also important to note that there is no cellular reception in the area, so make sure you come well-prepared. Have a spare tire, emergency first aid kit, and plenty of food and water with you. By taking these precautions, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip to the Bentonite Hills.

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The Bentonite Hills are most captivating when you witness their blue, purple, and red hues come to life. To catch this awe-inspiring sight, plan your visit during the period known as “blue hour.” This brief window occurs immediately after sunset and before the sky turns pitch black.

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Can Drones Be Used in These Areas?
Absolutely! At the moment, drones are permitted in both locations as they do not fall within a national park. However, be considerate of others who may also be using the area for recreation.

Bentonite Hills Cathedral Valley

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Do the Bentonite Hills truly have a blue appearance or is it just a result of photo editing? If you decide to pay a visit to these hills on a bright and sunny day, you might not find what you expected. The shades of grey and brown may give off a dull appearance. However, during sunset, the hills display a stunning blend of red and orange hues that bring out their true beauty.

Bentonite Hills at Blue hour

As a photographer, you may have heard of the term Blue Hour. It refers to the time just after sunset when everything takes on a beautiful blue hue. During this time, even parts of the hills that previously looked grey will transform into a stunning shade of blue. To make the most of this magical hour, it’s important to arrive at your location a few hours before sunset. This gives you ample time to explore and find the perfect spot to capture the beauty of the sunset and Blue Hour lighting. Remember to be quick as the Blue Hour doesn’t last long!

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What to Bring for Your Adventure in Bentonite Hills

When packing for your adventure in Bentonite Hills, make sure to include these essentials:
– Hiking boots: The ground can be dusty, so it’s best to wear hiking boots for better traction.
– Merino t-shirt: Opt for a Merino t-shirt as they last longer without getting smelly.
– Hiking pants or leggings: Wear hiking pants or leggings for added comfort and ease of movement.
– Shorts: Pack a pair of shorts for those warmer days.
– Fleece: Bring a cozy fleece for chilly mornings and evenings.
– Puffer jacket: For extra cold adventures, be sure to have a puffer jacket on hand.
– Raincoat: Just in case it rains.
– Sunhat: Protect your head and face from the strong Utah sun with a sunhat.
– Beanie: Keep your head warm on cooler days with a beanie.
– Sunscreen: Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to protect your skin from the strong Utah sun.
– Bug spray: Better safe than sorry! Bring bug spray to ward off pesky insects.
– First aid kit: It’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit on hand in case of emergencies.
– Headlamp: If you plan on staying till sunset, bring a headlamp to light your way back.
– Camera: Capture memories of your adventure with a camera. Don’t forget to check out our list of recommended camera gear!

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To help preserve the natural beauty of Bentonite Hills, it’s important to familiarize oneself with the 7 Leave No Trace principles. Additionally, it’s crucial to be mindful of the fragility of the area, considering the soft and crumbly nature of the dirt. Visitors can follow small trails created by rain and animals to avoid disrupting the hills. While it’s great to enjoy the wonders of nature, it’s equally important to treat others with kindness and respect. To learn more about the 7 Leave No Trace principles, visit the LNT website.

Those looking for other exciting activities in and around Hanksville should check out Moonscape Overlook and Long Dong Silver, which offer similar breathtaking sights to Bentonite Hills.

girl standing on overlook at Moonscape Overlook

The Moonscape Overlook in Utah is an incredible destination that exceeded all of our expectations. It truly feels like you have been transported to the moon with its unique landscape. The overlook sits on the edge of a canyon near Hanksville and watching the sunrise there is a truly magical experience.

Long Dong Silver is a remarkable black rock formation that resembles something straight out of a sci-fi film. It’s an exquisite hidden treasure in Utah and a sight to behold.

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Our opinion is that the Bentonite Hills are an impressive sight, but without a drone, they may not be as enjoyable as other attractions in Hanksville such as Moonscape Overlook or Long Dong Silver. During our visit to the Mars Desert Research Station, we noticed that the hills appeared washed out during the day, so it’s best to avoid visiting during sunny hours. However, we did witness brighter reds when we visited the Bentonite Hills on the Cathedral Valley Loop during the day. We recommend the Mars Desert Research Station for photographers during sunset, blue hour, or on a cloudy day, but if you’re not interested in drone photography, the Bentonite Hills at Cathedral Valley would be a better option. Additionally, you may want to check out our other suggested spots including the Ultimate Utah 7 Day Road Trip from Salt Lake City, Guide to the Fifth Water Hot Springs Trail, Utah, Cassidy Arch Trail – A Must Do Hike in Capital Reef National Park, How to Hike the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail, Escalante Utah, and How to Get to Moonscape Overlook in Utah.

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Guide on Finding the Bentonite Hills (Mars) in Utah

Travel guide on how to find the Bentonite Hills Utah

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