Exploring Painted Hills in Oregon

Painted Hills is part of the John Day Fossil Beds in Central Oregon. Considered one of the natural wonders of Oregon, it’s beauty and history make it unique. With 30 million year old animal and leaf fossils, it seems to be an untold story of our state.

One of the great things about this unit, is that you can visit pretty much the entire unit in a day. Exploring Painted Hills is best in April or May, when wild flowers are in abundance and the scorching heat of the summer has not yet arrived. This area is remote, so even during the peak season I can’t imagine that it is too busy. With zero cell service or data until you get to Mitchell for a pint and their free wifi, it is very remote.

Perfect for families and hikers of all abilities, the main attraction is the Painted Hills and for some (who find it through instagram), Painted Cove.

Exploring Painted Hills

There are five different trails in the Painted Hills unit that you can choose from. The shortest .25 and the longest is 1.6.

Painted Hills Overlook Trail

Miles: 1 R/T ♦ Elevation Gain: 80′ ♦ Trail Type: Out and Back ♦ Trail: Easy

Since we were boodocking in the area, we decided to check out this trail in the early evening. We had it to ourselves and it was an amazing site. When we came back the next day, we noticed quite a few vans parked along the road, all with their photography gear out to get that perfect shot. It is a great place to have lunch or relax for a bit to take in the views.

Painted Cove Trail

Miles: .5 R/T ♦ Elevation Gain: 40′ ♦ Trail Type: Loop ♦ Trail: Easy


This site is an instagram sensation. When we first got here I was surprised at how short the part through the cove was. The colors, and texture are pretty amazing to see that close. With informational plaques along the way and views of the reservoir close by, it is popular. However, again, we were the only ones here.

Carroll Rim Trail

Miles: 1.6 R/T ♦ Elevation Gain: 375′ ♦ Trail Type: Out and Back ♦ Trail: moderate

We missed doing this trail, but would highly suggest it on a clear day. You get to the highest point and can see for miles. Parking is across the road from the trail entrance on your way to the Painted Hills Overlook Trail.

The Leaf Hill Trail

Miles: .5 R/T ♦ Elevation Gain: 10′ ♦ Trail Type: Loop ♦ Trail: Easy

If you are here for the fossils, then this is your place. You might not see many, but the few that you can finally see in the mound of dried clay is pretty cool. To the left are fossils and to the right you will see yellow painted hills.

Red Scar Knoll Trail (Red Hill)

Miles: .5 R/T ♦ Elevation Gain: 30′ ♦ Trail Type: Out and Back ♦ Trail: Easy


This trail highlights more of the bright yellow and red clay hills that were formed millions of years ago.

Painted Hills Information

Boondocking Nearby

Mitchell, Oregon

If you are staying here longer than a night, you will want to do grocery shopping well before getting here. However, if you are here for a night, definitely check out Tiger Town Brewing Co in the nearby town of Mitchell. Beer is okay, but the food is not bad. The chicken fingers are actually chicken that they bread themselves, so not prepackaged and flat. The chicken wings are good and the fries are tasty. A small french fry order can feed a family!

Cell Service: N/A for any carrier
Dog Friendly: Yes, on a leash
Family Friendly: Yes
Parking Fee: Free at all trailheads
Best Time: April-May, Summer-Fall
Other Uses: picnicking, wild floors
Access: Year Round
National Park Service Website: John Day Fossil Beds
Love to PIN, use this one!

Painted Hills, Oregon


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s