Painted Hills

• The John Day Fossil Beds is home to the world's most extensive fossil collection
• The park includes Painted Hills, Blue Basin, Sheep Rock, and Clarno Unit

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Situated 40 miles to the west of the city of John Day, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument spans 14,000 acres, offering a captivating expanse with scenic views, mesmerizing landscapes, and extensive trail networks. Beyond its natural allure, this region is home to some of Oregon's intriguing history and prehistory.

John Day Fossil Beds Landscape & Natural History

The national monument is named after the John Day River, running through the Blue Mountains. The river flows through the tall volcanic gorge at Sheep Rock Unit and empties into the Columbia River.

In the 1860s, geologist Thomas Condon discovered the John Day Fossil Beds and the profound historical relics they harbor.

The area of the reserve is scientifically significant because of the tremendous concentration of geological and paleontological artifacts all in one place. You can see colorful Painted Hills, a unique Blue Basin with ancient fossils, tall Palisade cliffs preserving tropical forest remnants, and other extraordinary sights at the park.

The oldest found non-fossil rocks are dated 95 million years old, while fossilized plants and animals are over 33 million years old. Other estimates date some organic fossils older than 40 million years.

Over 60 plant fossils were unearthed here, including petrified imprints of palm, ginkgo, magnolia leaves, and others.

Scientists also discovered over 100 mammal fossils at John Day Fossil Beds, including rhinos, brontotheres, horses, and even sabertooth tigers.

When visiting the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, please stick with developed paths and don't remove any fossils.

Amazon Jungle in Oregon

Paleontological discoveries show that Oregon was a subtropical forest most reminiscent of the Amazon jungle.

Over millions of years, volcanic eruptions destroyed the jungle, preserving the organic matter as fossils.

Sheep Rock and Blue Basin John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Sheep Rock and Blue Basin

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument Area

The national monument is divided into three areas or units: Sheep Rock, Painted Hills, and Clarno.

Each unit has its own set of adventures and unique geological landmarks. Despite being a part of one park, all areas are one to two 2 hours of driving from each other.

Painted Hills

Painted Hills' unique feature is colorful stripes going around the hills as a display of past climate change in the area. Those stripes come in several shades: gold, yellow, black, brown, gray, orange, red, and tan.

The Painted Hills is one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon because of their beauty and geological significance.

Sheep Rock

The Sheep Rock is the largest part of the park, with the most things to do and places to see.

Here, you will encounter unique landscapes with blue hills, mountains with layers of colorful rocks, a volcanic canyon with a rushing river, and more!


The Clarno Unit is the smallest part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. It is also the oldest and most remote area of the park.Interestingly, a lot of paleontological discoveries were made in the Palisades - heavily eroded cliffs of Clarno stretching for about a mile.

Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Painted Hills

John Day Fossil Beds: Camping & Lodging

Camping is prohibited anywhere at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. However, the surrounding area has multiple campgrounds such as Bingham Springs Campground, Burnt Ranch Campground, and Antelope RV Park.

Mitchell, 11 miles away, is the closest place to stop by while visiting John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (except Clarno).

A few historic hotels have existed since the 1800s and remain open to guests. Oregon Hotel has several options, including vintage guest rooms with private baths. There are also less expensive guest rooms with shared baths and kitchenettes.

Painted Hills Vacation Rentals provides more modern accommodations, while Mitchell City Park is open for camping.

Alternatively, you can get a hotel room in Prineville, 50 miles away.

Lodging in Prineville

Affordable Vacation Rentals Near John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Clarno Palisades John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Clarno Palisades

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument | Facts

Open: Year-round
Managed by: National Park Service

Amenities: Vault toilets, picnic tables, visitor center, museum, bookstore
Activities: Hiking, nature viewing, and photography

Distance from the parking: Varies
Road access: Any vehicle
Day-use fees: None

Elevation: Varies

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is located:

  • 11 miles northwest of Mitchell
  • 198 miles southeast of Salem
  • 199 miles southeast of Portland.

Adventures Nearby

Directions to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From Mitchell to Painted Hills,

    • Take US-26 West for 3.6 miles
    • Turn right onto Bridge Creek Road/Burnt Ranch Road and follow it for 5.6 miles
    • Turn left onto Bear Creek Road and follow it for 1.1 miles
    • Turn left onto Painted Hills Viewpoint.

There are multiple parking lots available, including a separate lot for each trail.

Get Google Maps Directions

From Dayville to Sheep Rock Visitors Center,

  • Take US-26 W/Franklin Street for 6.9 miles
  • Turn right onto OR-19 N and follow it for 2 miles
  • Turn left towards the visitors' center.

There are multiple parking lots at Sheep Rock. Consult the visitors center and follow the signs.

Get Google Maps Directions

From Fossil to Clarno,

  • Take OR-218 W for 16 miles
  • Parking lot will be on your right.

Get Google Maps Directions

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