Painted Hills

• Painted Hills is a colorful part of John Day Fossil Bed
• The appearance of the hills transforms dramatically as the season changes

PhotographingHiking OregonAgate Hunting

A unique geological wonder, the Painted Hills is a part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This unparalleled geological phenomenon, 9 miles northwest of Mitchell, is a perfect backdrop for numerous outdoor activities and a fantastic place to learn about unique natural history.

Distinguished by its remarkable feature, these hills boast vibrant stripes that encircle the landscape, serving as a vivid testament to the region's ever-changing climatic history. These stripes manifest in a spectrum of colors, including gold, yellow, black, brown, gray, orange, red, and tan.

Earning its place as one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon, the Painted Hills stands out due to its distinctive geological composition and awe-inspiring vistas.

Painted Hills Formation

The area started its formation approximately 35 million years ago when this region was an ancient floodplain.

Red and yellow layers consist of iron and aluminum-rich soil, resulting from more tropical weather with dry and wet seasons. Dry and wet climates cycled, creating layer after layer of colorful soil.

Dark soil is lignite, or brown coal, developed from the vegetation along the floodplain.

The gray layer is shale, mudstone, and siltstone.

Many leaf fossils found here are dated 30 to 39 million years old. Animal fossils can also be found in much smaller numbers, usually dated 27 to 30 million years old.

Note: fossil collection is prohibited in John Day Fossil Bed.


There are 5 trails you can hike at Painted Hills. Each route has its own parking area. Please note that RVs and similar large vehicles should not drive past the Painted Hills Overlook parking lot.

  • Carroll Rim Trail is 1.6 miles (2.6 km) round trip with over 400 feet (120 m) in elevation gain. This is the longest and the most scenic trail.
  • The Painted Hills Overlook Trail is a 0.5-mile (0.8 km) round trip.
  • The Painted Cove Trail is a 0.25-mile (0.4 km) round trip.
  • The Leaf Hill Trail is a 0.25-mile (0.4 km) round trip.
  • The Red Scar Knoll Trail is a 0.25-mile (0.4 km) round trip.

Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Hill Top View

Nature Viewing and Photography

This area is a tremendous place for photographers to play with the hills' shadows, color, and lighting. Seasonal changes in lighting and moisture make Painted Hills look significantly different. Spring's wildflowers and winter snow also change how the hills look.

For example, when water evaporates after rain, you can see pastel pink instead of the usual red color—meanwhile, yellow changes to shades of gold.

Services and general information

There is no drinking water at this part of the park. There are shaded picnic tables where you can enjoy a meal with a breathtaking view. Please make sure to clean up after yourself and pack all your trash.

Minimal garbage service and vault toilets are available in the most populated spots.

Clarno and Sheep Rock are the other two parts of the John Day Fossil Beds. Thomas Condon Paleontology Center in Sheep Rock has extensive displays showing animal and plant evolution. It features a collection of 40,000 fossils.

Painted Hills John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Hill Bottom View

Painted Hills: Camping & Lodging

Camping is not allowed anywhere at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. However, the area surrounding the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument has multiple campgrounds, including Bingham Springs Campground, Burnt Ranch Campground, Antelope RV Park, and others.

Mitchell, 11 miles away, is the closest place to stop by while visiting Painted Hills. 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 reserve a room in one of many hotels in Prineville, 50 miles away.

Affordable Vacation Rentals Near Painted Hills

Lodging in Prineville, Near Painted Hills

Painted Hills | Facts

Open: Year-round
Managed by: National Park Service

Amenities: Vault toilets, picnic tables
Activities: Hiking, nature viewing, and photography

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

Elevation: 2,200 ft (670 m)

Painted Hills are located:

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

Adventures Nearby

Directions to Painted Hills Overlook

From Mitchell,

  • 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

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