The likelihood of you visiting planet Mars is slim-to-none, but what if you could experience Mars on Earth? Believe it or not, you can. Journey to Mars at the intergalactic rainbow mountains of Utah.
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Please respect the land and abide by the Leave No Trace Principles when visiting the rainbow mountains. To review the seven Leave No Trace Principles, click here.
We were driving west of Moab, further into the Utah desert, into the middle of nowhere. Beige rolling hills circumferenced us as we sought out a seemingly mythical place: the rainbow mountains of Utah.
My husband was attempting to drive our little 2011 Chevy Cruze through the unmaintained dirt roads while I navigated via screenshots of Google Earth. (When cell service is spotty, screenshotting capabilities are a God-send.)
There were no directions, no addresses, and no hints of the legendary location anywhere online. All I knew was that a variety of travel bloggers and photographers somehow found this place, it went viral on Instagram, and I happened to find an aerial view of a purple-blue mountain range on Google Earth after hours of research.
After about two hours of driving through flat desert without a definite destination, we approached a hilly area. Our hopes rose higher as we began to see hues of red and orange add themselves to the boring beige.
Soon after, we found ourselves on planet Mars, surrounded by tear-jerking colorful hills.
We found it. We found Rainbow Mountains Utah.
Where Are The Rainbow Mountains In Utah?
The rainbow mountains in Utah are scattered between Capitol Reef National Park and Canyonlands National Park, with the most colorful hills northeast of Capitol Reef and just west of Hanksville, Utah.
If you are visiting from Capitol Reef National Park or the Salt Lake City area, I suggest visiting the rainbow hills northeast of Capitol Reef. This region is known more specifically as the Bentonite Hills. The drive will take about 45 minutes.
If you are visiting from Canyonlands National Park or the Moab area, I suggest visiting the rainbow hills west of Hanksville. This region is near (but not at) the Mars Desert Research Station. The drive will take about one hour and 45 minutes.
Where Is Bentonite Hills In Utah? (Region No. 1 Of Rainbow Mountains Utah)
As previously mentioned, the Bentonite Hills are located northeast of Capitol Reef National Park in Caineville, Utah.
You can get to the Bentonite Hills by simply plugging “Bentonite Hills” into Google Maps. Or, follow these directions.
How To Get To The Bentonite Hills:
- Take Utah State Route 24 to E 625 S.
- Drive on E 625 S.
- Turn left on S 2540 E.
- Cross the Fremont River.
- Bear right onto Harnet Cathedral Rd.
- Take Harnet Cathedral Rd until you reach the rainbow mountains.
True or False: Are The Bentonite Hills Blue?
It’s true. The Bentonite Hills consist of blue, red, purple, and green clays created by volcanic ash, giving the hills a rainbow color.
“Mars,” AKA the region of the rainbow mountains west of Hanksville, Utah, also has the same blue, red, purple and green clays.
What Place In Utah Looks Like Mars?
While many places in Utah are known to look like Mars, such as Goblin Valley State Park and the Bonneville Salt Flats, people are usually referring to the rainbow mountains of the Bentonite Hills and Hanksville, Utah, when they are talking about “Mars,” Utah.
Utah’s rainbow mountains near Hanksville, Utah, rightfully earn the nickname of “Mars” for two reasons.
One, because the area’s extraterrestrial rainbow mountains make you feel like you are on a foreign planet.
And, two, because the Mars Desert Research Station (a Mars research station run by the US-registered non-profit called The Mars Society) is located in a little nook of the colorful hills outside of Hanksville, Utah.
Can You Visit Mars Utah? (Hanksville Region No. 2 Of Rainbow Mountains Utah)
Yes, you can visit Mars, Utah, as well as the nearby Bentonite Hills area. However, you cannot visit or hike near the Mars Desert Research Station.
Do to the growing popularity of the area, the Mars Desert Research Station recently had to begin managing the public’s access to the area more strictly.
“Visitors can view the station from the road, but we require no one approach the buildings or hike in the surrounding area,” said the Mars Desert Research Station on their Facebook page. “We appreciate your cooperation on this matter.”
So, the answer is yes and no.
Unfortunately, this requirement is new since I visited the area with my husband. We were fortunate enough to visit before the crowds.
There was no “no soliciting” nor “no hiking” signage, and, as far as we knew, there were no such rules in place at the time.
But, this rule doesn’t mean you can’t visit Mars! Luckily, there are plenty of other areas of Rainbow Mountains Utah in which you can explore, including outside the MDRS area as well as the legendary Bentonite Hills.
(This rule does mean, however, that the area is starting to be protected, which is awesome. Now, future generations will be able to see the rainbow mountains, too. Yay!)
Can You Walk On Bentonite Hills?
As long as you are not near the Mars Desert Research Center, yes, you can walk on Utah’s Bentonite Hills. Just remember to follow leave no trace principles, and, as per request by the National Park Service, do not walk where other people haven’t walked.
The Bentonite Hills have a surprisingly squishy, popcorn-like texture, not comparable to any other ground or dirt. This makes walking on the the Bentonite Hills feel like you are actually walking on Mars.
Hiking up the hills can, therefore, be a challenge due to the hills’ flighty dirt pieces. As you hike a step up the hill, you slide a half step down the hill. It is definitely possible to reach the top of each hill, just know that it may take you more effort than it looks.
What To Bring To Rainbow Mountains Utah
Like many of Utah’s jaw-dropping attractions, the rainbow mountains are tucked in the middle of nowhere. Thus, it is vital that you remember the following items.
- A full tank of gas. Gas stations are few and far between in the Utah desert. Avoid your worst nightmare coming to fruition and fill up before you leave the city in which you are staying.
- Screenshots and/or downloads of your map and directions. Cell service is very finicky in these areas.
- Plenty of water. You will be in the middle of the desert with basically no access to convenience stores, so pack extra water. Hydrate or die-drate!
- Snacks. Your journey to the rainbow mountains will likely take you at least a half day.
- Sunscreen. Again, you will be in the middle of the desert. You’ll need sunscreen — no matter the forecast, no matter the season.
- Drone. If you have a drone, you will be kicking yourself if you don’t have it! You will not want to miss the opportunity to see Utah’s rainbow mountains from an aerial view.
- Camera. Here’s all of the best budget camera gear for travel photography for your convenience. You will definitely want a wide angle lens (like this one) at the rainbow mountains.
- A high clearance vehicle if you are visiting the Bentonite Hills region. If you are visiting the MDRS region, you can get by with a smaller vehicle.
Are the rainbow mountains of Utah on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below!
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