Painted Hills Unit

The images says Don't Hurt the Dirt Stay on Trails with a person hiking on the trails at Painted Hills
Stay on Trails; Don't Hurt the Dirt!

Keep the Painted Hills Beautiful!

Don't Hurt the Dirt! Take the Don't Hurt the Dirt pledge today and then tag #DontHurtTheDirt.

Prepare for Your Visit

Of all the three units of the park, the Painted Hills Units is the most visited. It is usually the most crowded on the weekends towards the evening. Consider this when planning your visit and have a backup plan if Painted Hills is too crowded. For information on hiking trails at Painted Hills, visit the Painted Hills Unit Trails page.

Pack it in and Pack it Out

There will be very limited garbage services available so please take everything with you that you brought to Painted Hills.

Photograph of the painted hills, weathered rocky hills with alternating tan and rust colored layers.

NPS Photo

Colorful Layers

The Painted Hills Unit is located about 10 miles northwest of the town of Mitchell, Oregon. Distinguished by varied stripes of red, tan, orange, and black, this area preserves a sequence of past climate change. The Painted Hills Unit also contains a diverse assemblage of leaf fossils aging 39-30 million years old called the Bridge Creek Flora, and a small outcropping of rock containing animal fossils from 30-27 million years ago.

Three images of the Painted Hills at different times of day and weather conditions.

NPS Photos

The yellows, golds, blacks, and reds of the Painted Hills are beautiful at all times of the day, but are best lit for photography in the late afternoon. Changing light and moisture levels drastically affect the tones and hues visible in the hills. The seasons can also change the look of the Painted Hills radically. Spring often brings yellow wildflowers that grow in open areas and sometime even in the ripples of the hills. Winter can blanket the hills in a white coat, concealing the vibrant hues until the snow melts, revealing interspersed stripes of gold and red.

Fossil Layers of the Painted Hills Unit

Lake Beds and Deciduous Trees
Bridge Creek (33 Ma)

A wide variety of plant material has been preserved in fine grain lake sediment including the Metasequoia, Oregon's state fossil.

29 million years ago, the forest canopy opened allowing more open spaces.
Turtle Cove (29 Ma)

Turtle Cove is the thickest and most productive fossil-bearing layer within the John Day Fossil Beds, yet few leaf fossils were preserved.


Other Places to Visit in the Monument

Clarno is the best place for fossils in situ.
Clarno Unit

The Clarno Unit has the oldest exposed layers of the park, and the only unit with fossils along the trail. Remember, no collecting fossils.

Eroded claystone reveals the past with blue, tan, pink, and brown rock layers.
Sheep Rock Unit

Home to the Thomas Condon Visitor Center and the Cant Ranch Museum, the Sheep Rock Unit also has many trails and scenic views.

The monument's visitor center and research facility.
Thomas Condon Visitor Center

The Thomas Condon Visitor Center displays fossils from the entirety of the John Day Fossil Beds.

Last updated: January 27, 2023

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

32651 Highway 19
Kimberly, OR 97848


541 987-2333

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