Tips to Take Bentonite Hills Drone Photos

Located near the small town of Hanksville you’ll find a unique Utah scenic drive to see multi-colored Bentonite Hills with bands of red, brown, purple, and gray in varying hues. Location and time of day are important for taking Bentonite Hills drone photos near the Mars Desert Research Station.

We live just hours away so we’ve had the experience of photographing the Bentonite Hills during every season and all types of weather and light conditions. Check out our tips for Bentonite Hills photography with a drone!

Bentonite Hills Drone Photography tips

The first and most important tip we have is to make sure you’re at the right Bentonite Hills. Google and many internet searches could lead you to the Bentonite Hills found along the Capitol Reef Cathedral Valley Loop. That 58-mile scenic drive loop is amazing to see sandstone monoliths and Bentonite Hills. We highly recommend that drive if you have the time and right vehicle.

But the iconic Bentonite Hills are found outside Hanksville near the Mars Desert Research Station. This guide is based on our experiences over the years capturing Bentonite Hills photos in this location.

We’ve also included a list of camera gear you’ll want for photographing this area. Remember that it’s important for YOU as the photographer to have the right clothing to brave the cold or heat depending on the time of year you’ll be visiting.

Use our Utah Packing Lists to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for visiting any time of year! Grab your free printable packing checklist by clicking the image below!

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Visiting the Bentonite Hills

The Bentonite Hills near Hanksville, Utah are a unique geological formation known for their vibrant, swirling colors and Mars-like appearance. They are composed of mineral deposits, primarily bentonite clay, that have been eroded over time into wavy, striped patterns of grays, whites, oranges, and reds.

The surreal landscape resembles the surface of Mars, which is why the Mars Desert Research Station is located nearby to conduct experiments simulating conditions on the red planet.

No fees or permits are required to visit the public Bentonite Hills area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. You can park along the dirt roads and hike out to explore and photograph the hills up close. Camping is allowed on the surrounding BLM land, though there are no facilities.

Bentonite Hills parking area
Bentonite Hills parking area

How to Get to the Bentonite Hills

Directions from Hanksville:

  • Head west on Highway 24 for about 10 miles.
  • Turn right/north onto unmarked Cow Dung Road.
  • At the 3 mile mark, continue past the Mars Desert Research Station on your left.
  • About 0.7 miles you’ll see the main Bentonite Hills area on the left. There is no parking lot so pull off to the side of the road.
  • Once there, you can explore and photograph the hills on foot, taking care to stay on existing trails and leave no trace.

High-clearance vehicles are recommended for the rough dirt road, though passenger cars can make it in dry conditions by driving slowly and carefully. It’s not recommended to drive the road when wet. Bentonite clay, which the hills are made of, becomes extremely slick and muddy when wet, making vehicle travel very difficult or impossible.

Bentonite Hills Weather

The weather near Bentonite Hills can be quite diverse depending on the time of year. Summer temperatures often soar into the 90s Fahrenheit, while winter can see temperatures dropping below freezing at night. The spring and fall seasons offer more comfortable conditions, with daytime temperatures typically ranging from the 60s to 80s.

However, it’s important to remember that desert climates can experience dramatic temperature swings from day to night. Always check the local weather forecast and be prepared with layered clothing, plenty of water, and sun protection regardless of the season.

Have your warm winter clothing packed during the colder season so you’ll want to be out taking pictures! We recommend photographer gloves and rechargeable hand warmers!

Bentonite Hills MARS station in the background
Bentonite Hills MARS station in the background

Bentonite Hills Photos With A Drone

For us, we prefer to take all Bentonite Hills photos with a drone. This location is best photographed from above to capture the bands of colors on the hills.

There are no BLM regulations prohibiting drones as of the time we wrote this guide. We recommend you always check for the most current policies before launching your drone here.

The best time of day for drone photography at Bentonite Hills is during the Golden Hour and Blue Hour. The hour before and after sunrise, and the hour before and after sunset, is when the hills display their most vibrant colors.

We feel the best golden hour light at Bentonite Hills is before and right after sunrise to see the red, orange and yellow tones in the landscape. The sun rising in the east is illuminating the hills with golden light.

The best blue hour light at Bentonite Hills happens after sunset. During this time period, the indirect sunlight is dominated by blue wavelengths and really illuminates the blue hues of some of the layers.

Bentonite Hills Sunrise Drone Photos

The Bentonite Hills landscape facing the east catches the morning light at sunrise. The colorful hills during golden hour showcase yellow, orange and red hues. Since you’ll be taking the photo looking west, be sure to take photos that include Factory Butte in the background along the horizon.

Bentonite Hills at sunrise
Bentonite Hills golden hour at sunrise

We also like the blue hour before sunrise. We found that the blue layers of the Bentonite Hills don’t pop as much around sunrise as they do after sunset.

Bentonite Hills blue hour
Bentonite Hills blue hour before sunrise

Be sure to capture various perspectives with the drone to include the horizon line, and shoot some without the horizon line.

Bentonite Hills blue hour sunrise photo
Bentonite Hills blue hour near sunrise
Bentonite Hills blue hour before sunrise
Bentonite Hills before sunrise during blue hour

And don’t forget to fill the frame with a smaller portion of the Bentonite Hills to provide impact to the viewer! When you focus in on just a part of the whole, the details become more enhanced and pop!

Bentonite Hills Sunset Drone Photos

As the sun sets in the east, the main part of the Bentonite Hills is in shadow so you don’t get a golden hour light effect at sunset. The best drone photos happen after sunset when the hills show off the blue and purple tones in the landscape.

Bentonite Hills sunset photo
Bentonite Hills sunset

Using scale when taking drone photos is a terrific way to help the viewer see the size of the people in proportion to the surrounding landscape.

Yes, that’s us on the top of the mound in the bottom section of both photos below!

Bentonite Hills blue hour at sunset
Bentonite Hills with people showing scale
Bentonite Hills blue hour
Bentonite Hills blue hour after sunset

Be sure to again take photos from various angles and perspectives. Don’t forget to zoom in and fill the frame as well!

Bentonite Hills blue hour
Blue hour after sunset at Bentonite Hills

Bentonite Hills Daytime Drone Photos

We like to scout out our photography locations before sunrise or sunset. Even though the harsh daytime light isn’t ideal for landscape photography, the drone photos we took are another way to illustrate the area around the Bentonite Hills.

Bentonite Hills area
Bentonite Hills area
Bentonite Hills area drone photo
Bentonite Hills area drone photo
Bentonite Hills area drone picture
Bentonite Hills area drone picture

The Bentonite Hills near Hanksville, Utah offer a unique and visually stunning landscape for drone photography. We hope the tips above help you capture images of these amazing curved hills with banded layers of red, orange, and blue hues!

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