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Hike the Painted Hills Overlook Trail

Painted Hills Overlook Trail

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Distance: 0.6 miles.

Elevation Gain: 100 feet.

The Painted Hills Overlook 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 where 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 to the Painted Hills Overlook begins at the appropriately named trailhead. There is a large parking area here with a shaded, interruptive kiosk. The hike heads up a nice, wide gravel trail with the painted hills falling away to your left. There are a number of benches to stop and enjoy the view on the way up this short hike. At the highpoint, you are afforded a view back down the valley, standing right at the headwall of the hills.


To reach the Painted Hills, travel east on Highway 26 for 43 miles 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 Painted Hills Overlook trailhead is located 1 mile into the park. Take a left at the sign marking the trailhead and park in the large, loop parking area.

Things to Know

Passes: No passes are required.

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

Usage: Moderate

Open Season: Open all year. Can get very hot in the summer.

Flowers: Wildflowers will typically bloom in April-May.

View Trail Map
Painted Hills Overlook Trail Overview Thumbnail
Benchs line the trail at various overlooks of the Painted Hills Sutton Mountain provides a nice backdrop to the Painted Hills The trail up Carol Rim can be seen on the plateau in the distance.
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