Painted Hills

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

NPS Photo

Visiting the Painted Hills

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.

 
A set of three photographs showing the Painted Hills under different lighting and moisture conditions, all of which affect the appearance of the colors.
Lighting throughout the day combined with moisture content can dramatically affect the appearance of the hills.

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.
 
A photo of the Painted Hills taken from the road. Stormy grey skies dominate the background
Stormy skies above the Painted Hills

NPS photo / Scott Ritner

Unit Features:

  • Trails varying in length from 0.25 mile to 1.3 miles.
  • Picnic Area
  • Restroom Facilities
  • Drinking water typically available May - September
  • Wildflowers typically bloom April- May.
 

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.

The Carroll Rim Trail is 1.6 miles / 2.6 km roundtrip. The trail climbs over 400 feet (120 m) of elevation to a panorama view of the Painted Hills. Overflow parking is available at the Painted Hills Overlook.

The Painted Hills Overlook Trail is 0.5 mile / 0.8 km roundtrip. This fairly level trail follows an old road and offers further distinctive views of the Painted Hills.

The Painted Cove Trail is 0.25 mile / 0.4 km roundtrip. The Painted Cove is an amazing color palette of vibrant rocks. A portion of this trail features a level boardwalk to cross over sensitive soils.

The Leaf Hill Trail is 0.25 mile / 0.4 km roundtrip. Leaf Hill has been extensively excavated and studied by paleontologists. Interpretive signs along the trail explain more of its history.

The Red Scar Knoll Trail is 0.25 mile / 0.4 km roundtrip. This mostly level trail leads to a hill of bright yellow and red clays. This trailhead is called Red Hill on the road signs.

 
Two people walk on a boardwalk. They are surrounded by hills of deep red soil.
Stay on Trails; Don't Hurt the Dirt!

NPS photo / Tim Gohrke, 2018 Artist in Residence

Keep the Painted Hills Beautiful!

Don't Hurt the Dirt! Stay on the trail and tell a ranger if you see someone whose behavior may hurt them or the park. Take the Don't Hurt the Dirt pledge today! Tag #DontHurtTheDirt and encourage others to do the same.
 

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: December 13, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

32651 Highway 19
Kimberly, OR 97848

Phone:

(541) 987-2333

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