Painted Hills Unit

The images says Don't Hurt the Dirt Stay on Trails with a person hiking on the trails at Painted Hills
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Prepare for Your Visit

Of all the three units of the park, the Painted Hills Units is the most visited. It is usually the most crowded on the weekends towards the evening. Consider this when planning your visit and have a backup plan if Painted Hills is too crowded.

Pack it in and Pack it Out

There will be very limited garbage services available so please take everything with you that you brought to Painted Hills.

Photograph of the painted hills, weathered rocky hills with alternating tan and rust colored layers.

NPS Photo

Colorful Layers

The Painted Hills Unit is located about 10 miles northwest of the town of Mitchell, Oregon. Distinguished by varied stripes of red, tan, orange, and black, this area preserves a sequence of past climate change. The Painted Hills Unit also contains a diverse assemblage of leaf fossils aging 39-30 million years old called the Bridge Creek Flora, and a small outcropping of rock containing animal fossils from 30-27 million years ago.

Three images of the Painted Hills at different times of day and weather conditions.

NPS Photos

The yellows, golds, blacks, and reds of the Painted Hills are beautiful at all times of the day, but are best lit for photography in the late afternoon. Changing light and moisture levels drastically affect the tones and hues visible in the hills. The seasons can also change the look of the Painted Hills radically. Spring often brings yellow wildflowers that grow in open areas and sometime even in the ripples of the hills. Winter can blanket the hills in a white coat, concealing the vibrant hues until the snow melts, revealing interspersed stripes of gold and red.

Hiking Trails at the Painted Hills Unit

A close-up map of the Painted Hills Unit depicting the road, picnic area, and trail locations.
Map of the Painted Hills depicting the trail locations, as well as the picnic area.

NPS map

The Painted Hills Unit has a total of five trails, each with their own parking area. Directional signs along Bear Creek Road point the way to each trailhead. (Note: The Red Scar Knoll Trail is called Red Hill on the road signs.) RVs and other large vehicles are not recommended past the Painted Hills Overlook.

  • Carroll Rim Trail (1.6 mile / 2.6 km roundtrip)
  • Painted Hills Overlook Trail (0.5 mile / 0.8 km roundtrip)
  • Painted Cove Trail (0.25 mile / 0.4 km)
  • Leaf Hill Trail (0.25 mile / 0.4 km)
  • Red Scar Knoll Trail (0.25 mi / 0.4 km)
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    Fossil Layers of the Painted Hills Unit

    Lake Beds and Deciduous Trees

    Bridge Creek (33 Ma)

    A wide variety of plant material has been preserved in fine grain lake sediment including the Metasequoia, Oregon's state fossil.

    29 million years ago, the forest canopy opened allowing more open spaces.

    Turtle Cove (29 Ma)

    Turtle Cove is the thickest and most productive fossil-bearing layer within the John Day Fossil Beds, yet few leaf fossils were preserved.


    Other Places to Visit in the Monument

    Clarno is the best place to see fossils in situ.

    Clarno Unit

    The Clarno Unit is home to the oldest exposed layers of the John Day Fossil Beds, and the only place in the monument to see "wild" fossils.

    Eroded claystone reveals the past with blue, tan, pink, and brown rock layers.

    Sheep Rock Unit

    Home to the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and the Cant Ranch Museum, the Sheep Rock Unit also has many trails and scenic views.

    The monument's visitor center and research facility.

    Thomas Condon Paleontology Center

    The Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center displays fossils from the entirety of the John Day Fossil Beds.

    Last updated: November 27, 2022

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    32651 Highway 19
    Kimberly , OR 97848


    541 987-2333

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