Everything You Need to Know About the Bentonite Hills
Also known as Mars. 👽
Like a lot of Utah, being surrounded by the Bentonite Hills will make you feel like you have been transported to another planet. We had loads of fun exploring this extremely strange landscape with literally no one else around.
The Bentonite Hills in Utah are a geological wonder and a natural masterpiece! They are made from layers of clay-rich sediments, including volcanic ash and fine-grained minerals, settled and accumulated over millions of years.
In this guide, I will tell you everything you need to know about the Bentonite Hills, why they get called “Mars,” how you can find them and more!
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📍 Where are the Bentonite Hills Located
The Bentonite Hills are located in Utah near Hanksville and there are quite a few of them around. There are a couple of specific places that we went to to find the Bentonite Hills which were both located down 4×4 roads.
Click here to open the map in Google Maps!
Cathedral Valley Loop – Bentonite Hills Viewpoint
The hills along the Cathedral Valley loop are very official and have their own viewpoint pin on google maps. You will definitely need a 4×4 car to get to these ones as the road is pretty rough a lot of the way with a river crossing to get back onto the main road.
If you don’t have a 4×4 I recommend going on this Cathedral Valley Loop tour which takes you to Bentonite Hills as well as some of the other incredible viewpoints along the loop. We were absolutely blown away by Cathedral Valley so it is totally worth it!
This is another great tour that focuses specially on the Bentonite Hills if they are the main thing you are looking to see.
The Mars Desert Research Station
The second lot of Bentonite Hills that we checked out on our Utah Road Trip were located near Nasa’s Mars Desert Research Station which is around a 20 minute drive from Hanksville.
This is the reason the Bentonite Hills get tagged as Mars a lot on social media.
Bentonite Hills Near Mars Research Station GPS Coordinates
We find these days the easiest way to find places that are hard to find a second time is to use the GPS coordinates. The coordinates for the Bentonite Hills near the Mars Desert Research Station are 38°24’43.5″N 110°47’01.4″W. You can also use the above map to get there.
From Hanksville, turn right onto Utah State Route 24 until you get to Cow Dung Road. Yes.. it is really called that. This is where the off-roading begins. You will need to follow this road all of the way to the Mars Desert Research Station.
The Station is private property so don’t trespass. Instead you will want to keep driving past the station to the GPS coordinates listed above.
Once you reach the coordinates you will notice the huge mounds on your left-hand-side. These are the hills! Find somewhere to park safely out of the way of any other cars and get out there and explore!
🚙 Do I need a 4×4 to get to the Bentonite Hills
For both locations in this guide, we were in an SUV with 4×4 capabilities and quite high clearance. I recommend a 4×4 if you can get your hands on one as the roads can get pretty dicey!
🗻 What are the Bentonite Hills Made of?
The Bentonite Hills are made of Brushy Basin shale member of the Morrison Formation. This shale layer was formed during Jurassic times about 140 million years ago which is just crazy to think!
⚠ Things to consider before heading out to the Bentonite Hills
- Has it rained recently: rain can make the ground super soft and form bigger holes that could make the drive harder or you could easily get bogged.
- Future weather forecast: You do not want to get stuck in the middle of the desert in the pouring rain or in the middle of a storm. Flooding can happen very quickly in Utah and you can easily get stranded.
- There is no reception out there so make sure you are well prepared with a spare tire, emergency first aid kit and plenty of food and water.
🕐 Best Time to Visit the Bentonite Hills
The best time to visit the Bentonite Hills to see the blue, purple and red hues of the hills really pop, is during blue hour. Blue hour is the short amount of time just after sunset, before it gets completely dark.
📹 Are Drones Allowed
Yes! Drones are currently allowed in both areas as neither reside in a national park. Just make sure you are mindful of other people who are also trying to enjoy the area.
🔵 Are the Bentonite Hills really Blue or are they Photoshopped?
If you visit the Bentonite Hills smack bang in the middle of a sunny day, you might be disappointed. The hills will look a bit grey and brown.
During sunset, the red and orange hues of the hills really start popping.
During Blue hour, (this is a popular term for photographers for the hour right after sunset when there is still light but everything has a bit of a blue hue to it) the parts of the hills that you thought were grey will start changing to blue. It is truly a stunning sight to see!
Make sure you get to the hills with plenty of time to spare, so an hour or two before sunset. You want to make sure you have enough time to explore a little and find the spot you want to photograph and then be ready to capture the perfect sunset and blue hour lighting because it doesn’t last long!
🥾 What to Pack for your Bentonite Hills Adventure
- Hiking Boots – The ground is dusty pretty much everywhere so hiking boots are a great choice!
- Merino t-shirt – I love Merino t-shirts for outdoor adventures because the last longer in between washes without smelling.
- Hiking Pants – I using wear leggings on all our outdoor adventures but occasionally you will see me in a pair of hiking pants.
- Fleece – I don’t think there’s anything better than having a cozy fleece to put on in the chilly mornings and evenings.
- Puffer Jacket – for those extra cold adventures! In Spring in Utah, we both needed our puffer jackets quite a bit.
- Raincoat – just in case
- Sunhat – 100% necessary for the strong Utah sun!
- Beanie – A beanie helped a lot on our road trip in Spring.
- Sunscreen – 100% necessary for the strong Utah sun!
- Bug Spray – We didn’t have too many issues with bugs in Spring, but in Summer it’s another story. Better to be safe than sorry!
- First Aid Kit – We never go anywhere without our first aid kit because you never know when you might need it.
- Headlamps – If you are going for sunset, bring along a headlamp to find your way back to your car.
- Camera! There will be plenty of photography opportunities! We have a list of our camera gear here.
🌲 Leave No Trace
The 7 Leave No Trace principles are important to be aware of to help keep places like the Bentonite Hills beautiful. The Hills are also an extremely fragile place as the dirt is soft and crumbly so watch where you walk. There are often small trails around the hills made by rain and animals that you can follow so as to not disturb the hills.
Nature is there for us to enjoy but also respect and leave the way we found it but as well as respecting nature, we should also be treating each other with nothing but kindness. To remind yourself of the 7 Leave No Trace principles, check out the LNT website.
🛎 Places to Stay Nearby the Bentonite Hills that are SO Worth it!
There is SO much to do and see near the Bentonite Hills, so I recommend staying in the area a few days. If you are camping, you can stay in Hanksville, or otherwise there are some really beautiful hotels in and around Capital Reef National Park!
Broken Spurr Inn and Steakhouse – This is where we stayed and it is a great budget option! I’m still dreaming about the super comfy bed. They also serve a daily full breakfast.
Skyview Hotel – The Skyview Hotel has the most incredible views! 😍 Apart from the incredible views, the hotel is super modern and clean and has a rooftop terrace and hot tub!
Red Sands Hotel – Imagine coming back from your daytime adventures to a hotel with mountain views, a swimming pool, restaurant, spa and wellness centre AND a hot tub. This is what hotel dreams are made of!
Other Things to Do Nearby
This place absolutely 100% blew our minds! Moonscape Overlook in Utah makes you feel like you have literally been transported to the moon! The overlook is located on the edge of a canyon near Hanksville which at sunrise is absolutely magical!
Long Dong Silver Spire
Long Dong Silver is a an incredible black rock spire that looks like it could have come straight out of a Star Wars movie! This is definitely one of Utah’s hidden gems!
💭 Our Thoughts
The Bentonite Hills are really awesome to see, however if you don’t have a drone, this spot might not be as worth it as some of the other sights in Hanksville, like Moonscape Overlook or Long Dong Silver.
At the Mars Desert Research Station location, we found that the colours of the hills were extremely washed out during the day so don’t think they are worth visiting in the middle of a sunny day. However, we visited the Bentonite Hills along the Cathedral Valley Loop during the day and the reds were a lot brighter there.
I think the Mars Desert Research Station is a great spot for photographers during sunset, blue hour or on a cloudy day, but if you are not looking to take photos with a drone, the Bentonite Hills at Cathedral Valley might be the better choice.
You might also enjoy:
- Ultimate Utah 7 Day Road Trip from Salt Lake City
- How to Visit the Temple of the Sun and Moon, Utah
- Guide to the Fifth Water Hot Springs Trail, Utah
- Cassidy Arch Trail – A Must Do Hike in Capital Reef National Park
- How to Get to Moonscape Overlook in Utah
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