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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument-Painted Hills Unit: Tips and Images

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Painted Hills Unit


March 2021

We moved to Central Oregon four years ago hoping to spend a good deal of time exploring this part of the world. The pandemic slowed us down but we’re hoping this year to get out and have some new adventures over the spring and summer months.

One place that’s been on the list is the Painted Hills here in Oregon. They are part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument found in eastern Oregon. Turns out they’re not extremely far from us and we took a day trip to hike the Painted Hills on a bright sunny spring day.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument Painted Hills tips and images

If you’re traveling from Bend, Oregon, the trip to the Painted Hills is an easy drive of a little less than 2 hours. The scenery is gorgeous so the time passes by quickly. The route takes you through the town of Prineville where you can stop for a coffee break or pick up groceries for a picnic.

Painted HIlls trailhead
The Painted Hills are dog friendly so bring your leash and some extra water for the trail.

Once you arrive, there will be a place to stop at a restroom and gather up a map from the kiosk. The trailhead to the overlook is just a little way down a dirt road. There is plenty of parking for the short overlook trail. I highly recommend this as a first hike to get the best views of the colorful terrain.

Painted Hills

Note: If you’re on a road trip and are passing this way, take the time to visit the Painted Hills, taking a rest stop and a short hike.

Painted Hills

We walked out to the overlook, snapped a few photos of our group, and then headed back to the parking lot.

John Day Fossil Beds Painted Hills March 2021 (7)

We had the whole morning to spend exploring so we walked from the overlook trail to the Carroll Rim Trail. This was a little longer hike with some elevation gain on the way out. The day we visited was very windy so we were not too hot, but I would imagine in the summer this is a grueling, hot trail because it is completely exposed.

Painted Hills wildflower collage

In late March, the wildflowers were just starting to bloom. I of course had to stop and take a few photos. We thoroughly enjoyed this hike because it led us away from the crowds and up to the top for a bird’s eye view.

Painted HIlls

After the Carroll Rim Trail, we took the cars over to the Painted Cove Trail. This is the trail you often see on Instagram where people are walking along a boardwalk with the colorful landscape in the background. It’s a short accessible trail that you could add onto a day trip if you have time.

Paitned Hills

What a fun day we had! Views, hiking, picnic, wildflowers…just my kind of place.

We made it back to Bend in time for dinner at a local brewery. Everyone, including the dog, loved the adventure of a new place to explore together.

Even in the pandemic, we are determined to get out and hike if we can do it safely. Now that we’re all vaccinated it seems more likely to happen.


  • There are no concessions at the Painted Hills, so bring all you might need for your day. I highly recommend a picnic at the grassy picnic area where there are lots of tables to sit in the shade.
  • This is an excellent day trip if you’re visiting the Bend, Oregon area.
  • I would arrange to arrive early to beat the summer heat.
  • There is no fee to enjoy the Painted Hills.
  • There is the opportunity to travel on from the Painted Hills to John Day Fossil Beds where there is a paleontology center and the official visitor’s center for this whole area. (We hope to visit here soon!)
  • There is a Junior Ranger Program.



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