Painted Hills Unit

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.

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.

The images says Don't Hurt the Dirt Stay on Trails with a person hiking on the trails at Painted Hills
Stay on Trails; Don't Hurt the Dirt!

Keep the Painted Hills Beautiful!

Don't Hurt the Dirt! Take the Don't Hurt the Dirt pledge today and then tag #DontHurtTheDirt.

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.

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


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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    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 You can follow us on Facebook Twitter, and Instagram

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    3 minutes, 9 seconds

    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.


    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: August 27, 2022

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    32651 Highway 19
    Kimberly , OR 97848


    541 987-2333

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