The Most Mars-Like Places on Earth

Most Mars-Like Places on Earth Red Desert
Image credit: Yuliya Kosolapova/Unsplash

Mars is my absolute favorite world out of all the planets in our solar system. I love it in fiction and I love it in reality, and I’d like nothing more than to talk about this cold, red, lump of rock for years.

There’s been a lot of recent interest in Mars due to the ongoing missions surrounding it, along with the ultimate question of whether or not it’s worthy for terraforming. While I’ll never be able to go to Mars myself, all of this talk about “moving” to Mars has got me thinking about where I could go to get a taste of the red world on our planet.

Here’s a list of some of the most Mars-like places on Earth.


1. The Alberta Badlands

I’ve actually been through the Alberta Badlands several times before, and I absolutely love the region. Located just outside of Drumheller, the Badlands look like strange, alien-shaped valleys with arid ravines and spiralling buttes, which are a type of finger-like, rocky formation.

Beyond their appearance, the badlands are a bit like Mars because they’re dry and lack vegetation. Don’t walk through them during a sudden flash flood, however. You’ll get muddy real quick, especially since there’s no plants to hold that rain back.

2. The Sahara

Most Mars-Like Places on Earth Sahara
Image credit: Wolfgang Hasselmann/Unsplash

With its claim to fame as the biggest desert on our planet, the Sahara is roughly the size of the United States and covers most of Northern Africa. Like most deserts on this list, the Sahara is comparable to Mars because it’s arid and lacks sufficient vegetation. The interesting thing about it is that it switches between desert and grassland cycles.


3. The Gobi Desert

Most Mars-Like Places on Earth Gobi Desert
Image credit: Sarah Lachise/Unsplash

When we think of deserts, those of us who don’t live in a desert usually imagine them as being “warm.” But deserts can get exceptionally cold during the night, and despite its lovely red color Mars is cold, too. The Gobi desert mirrors this. Made up of multiple mountain ranges with flat, barren plains in between, the sloping shape of the Khangai Mountains are also comparable to the shape of Olympus Mons (although much, much smaller).

4. Birdsville Track

Birdsville Track (located in Australia) has the reputation of being one of the driest and most isolated areas on the continent, passing through three deserts in total. It has an average rainfall of 100mm, which is not much.


5. Death Valley

Most Mars-Like Places on Earth Death Valley
Image Credit: Meriç Dağlı/Unsplash

Second-last on this list is Death Valley in California. It’s the hottest and driest area in the United States, and its valley, which rests below sea level, is surrounded by sloping mountains similar in shape and scale to the mountains on Mars. A really cool thing about Death Valley is that it’s rife with salt pans, which are formed when water evaporates and leaves debris behind.

6. The Atacama Desert

Most Mars-Like Places on Earth Atacama Desert
Image credit: Bailey Hall/Unsplash

Lastly, the most Mars-like place on Earth (officially) is the Atacama Desert in Chile.

As one of the driest places in the world with an almost total lack of precipitation, the Atacama’s extremely arid environment is considered one of the oldest on the planet. It has been bone dry for at least three million years, which is impressive to say the least.

In fact, the Atacama is so dry its mountains do not have glaciers—no small feat if you’re used to the mountains, as I am. Its soil composition is so close to Mars’ that scientists routinely use it to test their tools for future Martian missions.

Looking for more Earth-based locations that are similar to Mars? Check out our article on the most sci-fi places on Earth.


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Brian Boru
Brian Boru

The BBC had a recent article on the astonishing Bisti Badlands in New Mexico:
The Rainbow Mountains in China are also spectacular in an alien way, even if not particularly Mars-like:

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