Visit the Bentonite Hills Utah | Mars Desert Research Station

Southern Utah is known for some amazing landscapes, but some of the most amazing that we’ve seen are the Bentonite Hills at the Mars Desert Research Station and the Moonscape Overlook. Both of these sites are just east of Capitol Reef National Park. In order to reach these destinations, you are going to need dry roads, reasonable clearance, and a little driving skill. The Bentonite Hills in Utah are beautiful striped rocks and offer great photo opportunities

Definitely looks like another planet.

Bentonite Hills Utah

There are Bentonite Hills in a few different areas around Capitol Reef. You can see them on the Cathedral Valley Road if you drive from near Cainesville past the Temple of the Sun and Moon, but we have not ventured out to these hills in our passenger van. You can also see the beautiful striped hills along Highway 24 between Capitol Reef and Hanksville. It is harder to stop for these roadside hills, though, so we opted to visit the Mars Desert Research Center Bentonite Hills because the road is the most accessible for cars.

Some of the striped hills along Highway 24.

Directions: Mars Desert Research Center

The Mars Desert Research Center is a little bit tricky to find. It is about 10 miles west of Hanksville, but we found it by driving east from Capitol Reef. The turnoff is unsigned, so reset your odometer at the Grand Wash Trailhead on the main road. Then drive 29 miles east. The road turns slightly right and the turn comes up right after the guard rail, so it is kind of hidden. It’s a rocky dirt road, so take it easy.

The beginning of the road to the Mars Desert Research Center.

This road drops slightly as you wind down to the Mars Desert Research Center. There is a really amazing narrow pass where you have to wind around large boulders before entering a large bowl shaped area. Massive boulders hug the sides of the basin, and it really does look like another planet. There is no vegetation at all, and the road is the only sign this area has ever been traveled.

The rocks are so interesting in this area of Utah.
We felt like we were weaving between these rocks in a Mars Rover.

About three miles down the road, there is a signed turn to the left to the center. Stay right because this is the area that astronauts actually use for training, so it is not open to the public. You will be able to see the training facility off to the left as you continue down the road.

The Mars Desert Research Station

Explore the Bentonite Hills

There is one more thing to see less than a mile down the road. Large purple striped hills appear on the left side of the road. There is plenty of space to pull out and photograph these barren Bentonite hills, which reveal their colors best at sunset or sunrise. This is a popular spot with photographers because of the amazing hues. You can climb up on top of some of the hills for different views. When we visited the wind was blowing incredibly hard, so we stayed down low and enjoyed the hills from the ground.

The Bentonite Hills are very photogenic.
We tried to stay on areas off the hills to help protect them.
The colors are unreal.
You need to visit!

While you walk around, tread lightly and try to follow paths that have already been walked. This area is fragile and we should always leave no trace when we visit anywhere in the outdoors.

If you visit the Bentonite Hills in Utah by the Mars Desert Research Center, make sure to visit the Moonscape Overview, which is also on Highway 24 between Capitol Reef and Hanskville.

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