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Hike the Clarno Arch Trail

Clarno Arch

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Length: 1.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 265 feet.

The Clarno Arch Trail is a beautiful little trail located in the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The Clarno Unit is the smallest of the units and is in the middle of nowhere, but if you are making a trip to other areas of the monument, such as the Painted Hills, or happen to be in the area, this quick hike will surprise you with its amazing scenery right off the highway.

Begin your hike from the Palisades Trailhead, the furthest east of the parking areas and the one with all the picnic areas. Head out on the Geologic Time Trail, leaving from the west end of the parking area. From here, the Palisades loom large ahead of you. They are the remnants of volcanic lahars, or giant mudflows, the occurred 40-50 million years ago. The cliffs, with all their pinnacles and jutting spires, are spectacular.

The trail heads along the south face of the Palisades for a quarter mile until you come to the intersection with the Trail of Fossils. This trail heads up towards the cliff and does a little loop before rejoining the lower trail. This is one of the cooler trails in the park because you can easily see fossils embedded in the rocks. Look for leaves and even petrified logs along the quarter mile loop.

The trails will merge again near the western parking area. From here, the Arch Trail takes off to the west and begins to climb towards to cliff face. The trail climbs fairly steeply, gaining over 150 feet in less than a quarter mile. Soon you will work your way into a little slot in the cliffs and the small arch will tower above you.


From Madras, head north on Highway 97 for 17 miles to the small farming community of Willowdale. Just before heading up the steep grade of Cow Canyon, make a left onto 293 towards Antelope and Clarno. Follow this windy road for 13 miles until you reach Antelope, and then make a right onto 218. From there, it is 18 miles to the Clarno Unit. The views as you crest over the breaks and begin heading down towards the John Day are pretty impressive. The trailhead will be on your left.

Things to Know

Passes: No passes required.

Dogs: Allowed and must be on 6' or shorter leash.

Usage: Light

Open Season: The trail is open year-round, but the area can get very hot in the summer. Spring is a nice time to visit when the bunchgrasses are still green and the temperature is pleasent.

Hazards: Rattlesnakes are present between late spring and early fall.

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