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Hike the Painted Hills - Red Scar Knoll Trail

Painted Hills - Red Scar Knoll

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Distance: 0.4 miles.

Elevation Gain: 55 feet.

The Red Scar Knoll Trail is located within the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The Painted Hills are made up of different bands of clay that 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 begins by heading to the east and passing over a bridge over a dry wash. It then turns to the south and begins slowly climbing as it heads to Red Scar Knoll. The trail passes right by the base of the knoll and continues along to its backside. The trail ends at a nice bench overlooking a draw with the hill rising up behind it.


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. Drive along the main road up and over the saddle and the trailheads for the Overlook and Carol Rim Trails. Head down the backside of the hill and continue for 2.3 mile and the Red Hill Trailhead (signage refers to this area as Red Hill) will be on your left right where a sign informs you that there are no trailer turnarounds beyond this point.

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.

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