The Carol Rim Trail is located within the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and is probably the most scenic trail within the monument. The Painted Hills are made up of different bands of clay which were deposited around 35 million years ago. The different colors of the bands indicate the climate that was present in the region during their deposition. The red and yellows within the hills are soils rich in iron and aluminum, with the reds indicating tropical periods and the yellows times that were cool and dry. The black streaks and spots within the hills were likely the remains of plants and are high in manganese. The colors of the hills are usually the most dramatic following some rain, or early or late in the day. If you visit during the height of the day in the summer and it hasn't rained in two months, they may appear a little washed out.
The hike up Carol Rim begins right at the turnoff to the Painted Hills Overlook. Here, there is a small parking area that can maybe hold five cars or so. The trailhead to Carol Rim is located right across the main road. Once you cross the road, hop on the trail and begin your slow and steady climb to the top of the rim.
The first half mile of the trail involves the traverse along the front of the rim. The views of the Painted Hills to your right just become more and more spectacular as you climb. After 250 feet of climbing or so, you will pass through a break in the rimrock and find yourself on top of the ridge. Here, the trail turns back to the southwest and continues to climb, because the rim itself is tilted.
The hike requires another third of a mile and 150 feet or so of climbing before reaching its terminus. You will find a couple of benches there, allowing you to take in a 360 degree view of the park. The Painted Hills are laid out below you. To the north, the blue water of the Painted Hills Reservoir contrast nicely with the red soil. Cliff lined Sutton Mountain dominates the eastern skyline and the west holds deeper views into the park and up into the Ochocos.
To reach the Painted Hills, travel east on Highway 26 for 43 miles from Prineville until you reach the sign for the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, about 4 miles west of Mitchell. Head north on Burnt Ranch Road for 6 miles. Right before the pavement ends, take a left and make your way into the park. Once you cross the bridge over Bridge Creek, you can head to the left if you need to use the bathroom to go straight ahead to view the hills. The Carol Rim trailhead is located 1 mile into the park right at the turnoff for the Painted Hills Overlook. The trail will be on your right and a small parking area on your left.
Passes: No passes are required.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on 6' or shorter leash.
Open Season: Open all year. Can get very hot in the summer.
Flowers: Wildflowers will typically bloom in April-May.