One Park, Three Units
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is comprised of more than 14,000 acres within three separate units located in eastern Oregon: Sheep Rock, Painted Hills, and Clarno. The three units of the monument hold some of the best fossil bearing locations within the larger John Day Fossil Beds, which cover most of eastern Oregon.
You will find no dinosaurs here; this area was underwater during that time. The John Day Fossil Beds preserve plant and animal fossils from most of the Age of Mammals and Flowering Plants, covering a time period from 44 million years ago until 7 million years ago. With such a vast span of time covered in one place, this area provides unparalleled insight into how the world as we know it came to be.
Important Things to Know Before Your Visit
Public collecting or digging for fossils is never allowed in the monument.
All three locations of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument are within a rural area of the state. There is no cell phone service or Internet access within the monument, with the except for public WiFi at the Painted Hills picnic area. Most of the local communities do have cell coverage, but your coverage will vary depending on your carrier. Mitchell has limited cellular service, and there is a functioning pay phone across the road from the general store.
Due to winding roads, actual travel times are longer than those estimated by most mapping programs and GPS units. Visitors should expect to average no more than 45 miles per hour anywhere in the region. The road to the Clarno Unit (Highway 218) is particularly curvy, expect to drive 35 miles per hour while along it.
Even though Oregon is a full-service only state, meaning that you are not permitted to pump your own fuel, in communities with less than 40,000 residents, you may pump your own gas. However, even with the recent changes allowing for self-service after-hours, many local businesses have not installed pumps that can accommodate self-service. It is recommended to fill up with fuel before leaving major highways or urban areas if you will be traveling later than 7:00 pm in summer or 6:00 pm in winter.
There is a fleet (business-use members only) fuel station in Mitchell. There is also a retail pump that is open intermittently. Otherwise, the nearest fuel available from Mitchell is at Prineville (53 miles west of Mitchell), Dayville (51 miles east of Mitchell), Fossil (44 miles north of Mitchell), and Spray (59 miles northeast of Mitchell).
Your Guide to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: One Park, Three Units The ultimate science road trip park!
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 Clarno Unit. The Clarno Unit is closest to the town of Fossil, OR. It is about 3.5 hours from Portland, OR and 2 hours from Bend, OR.
This rocky outcrop is called the Clarno Palisades. They are destructive mudflows called lahars that cemented together semi-tropical forests over 44 million years ago.
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.
The red and tan hues that make up the colorful hills called the Painted Hills are fossil soils from deciduous forests, about 33 million years ago.
A map of the Sheep Rock Unit. The Sheep Rock Unit is closest to the town of Dayville, OR. It is about 2.5 hours from Bend, OR and 4.5 hours from Portland, OR.
The state of the art Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center is located at the Sheep Rock Unit. This is the only visitor center at the park and the best place to experience fossils.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Facebook Twitter, and Instagram
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This video is an overview of the three units of John Day Fossil Beds: Clarno, Painted Hills, and Sheep Rock.
Last updated: June 17, 2022