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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.
No Water Available
There is no water available at Painted Hills so bring plenty of water for your visit to the park. Picnic tables are available, but you will need to clean them before and after their use. Make sure you bring everything you need for a pleasant experience: sunblock, food, hand sanitizers, etc. More information about preparing for your trip and #RecreatingResponsibly is found on the Oregon State website.
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.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: The Trails at the Painted Hills Unit
A map of eastern Oregon John Day Fossil Beds is made up of three separate units: Clarno, Painted Hills, and Sheep Rock.
A map of the Painted Hills Unit. The Painted Hills Unit is closest to the town of Mitchell, OR. It is about 2 hours from Bend, OR and 4 hours from Portland, OR.
At the Painted Hills Unit, there is a grassy picnic area, restrooms, and five hiking trails. The road through the park is a well-maintained gravel road.
This picture shows the red and tan hues that make up the colorful hills called the Painted Hills. They are fossil soils from deciduous forests, about 33 million years ago. The soils are very fragile so please stay on the trail and Don’t Hurt The Dirt!
The Picnic Area at the Painted Hills features shady trees, a lawn, and bathrooms. Be sure to stop by the ranger station kiosk to pick up a brochure and learn more about the park.
This picture was taken at the end of the Painted Hills Overlook trail. The trail is over 0.5 mile roundtrip and features interpretive signs, views of the Painted Hills, and several benches along the trail. There is no turnaround for RV or oversized vehicles after the Painted Hills Overlook parking area.
Surface is packed dirt, Max. trail grade is 15%, Max. cross slope is 3%, Min. trail width is 43 inches
This picture was taken at the top of the Carroll Rim Trail. The trail climbs over 400 feet of elevation to a panorama view of the Painted Hills. Overflow parking is available at the Painted Hills Overlook.
Surface is packed dirt, Max. trail grade is 22%, Max. cross slope is 8.5%, Min. trail width is 15 inches
This picture was taken at the beginning of the Painted Cove Trail and shows the portion of the trail that has a level boardwalk to cross over sensitive soils. The trail is a 0.25 loop and features amazing color palettes of vibrant rocks.
Surface is packed dirt and boardwalk, Max. trail grade is 28%, Max. cross slope is 10%, Min. trail width is 39 inches
The Leaf Trail is about 0.25 mile roundtrip. The gray and white Leaf Hill pictured has been extensively excavated and studied by paleontologists. Interpretive signs along the trail explain more of its history.
Surface is packed dirt, Max. trail grade is 18%, Max. cross slope is 10%, Min. trail width is 42 inches
This picture shows the vibrant red and yellow hill found towards the end of the Red Scar Knoll Trail. This is a 0.25 mile roundtrip mostly level trail. After the Red Scar Knoll Trail parking area, the road ends at a locked gate within a mile.
Surface is packed dirt, Max. trail grade is 12%, Max. cross slope is 5%, Min. trail width is 38 inches
Thank you for visiting John Day Fossil Beds and while you are here, Don’t Hurt the Dirt and Stay on trails. For more information call us at 541-987-2333 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Facebook Twitter, and Instagram
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Learn about the trails and features found at the Painted Hills Unit, one of the most popular units of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Visiting the Painted Hills Unit
The Painted Hills Unit is located about 9 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.
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.
Trails at the Painted Hills Unit
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.
Fossil Layers of the Painted Hills Unit
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.
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
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.
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.
Thomas Condon Paleontology Center
The Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center displays fossils from the entirety of the John Day Fossil Beds.
Last updated: May 16, 2020