Active Science & Spectacular Scenery Colorful rock formations at John Day Fossil Beds preserve a world class record of plant and animal evolution, changing climate, and past ecosystems that span over 40 million years. Exhibits and a working lab at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center as well as scenic drives and hikes at all three units allow visitors to explore the prehistoric past of Oregon and see science in action. Thomas Condon Paleontology Center (Sheep Rock unit) Daily hours: Through May 22, 2014: 10am - 5pm Friday, May 23rd - Saturday August 16: 9am - 5pm August 17, 2014 to May, 2015: 10am - 5pm There are no anticipated closure dates for the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center through the winter season other than Federal holidays from Veteran's Day in November through Presidents Day in February, and December 24th and 31st. Cant Ranch House (Sheep Rock unit) Winter/Spring hours are 9am - 4pm, Monday - Thursday. It is open some Fridays when staff is available. It is closed on weekends. The Cant House may have to close without notice if there are not enough staff available. It will be closed on Federal Holidays from Veteran's Day in November through Presidents Day in February, as well as December 24th and 31st. Summer hours remain 9am - 4pm Monday - Thursday and open most Fridays. The Cant House museum is also anticipated to be open 10am - 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays Memorial Day weekend - August 15, 2014.
This is a 6.4 mile loop.
If you're driving.
Otherwise, the Carroll Rim trail (which is also on AllTrails) is the only hike in the Painted Hills. There are several small loops you can do after driving to them, but if you're looking to hike, well, this isn't your place. The hills are cool enough, but after your 6.4mi graveled drive to varied .2mi "hikes," you might want to venture elsewhere for some exercise.
On the other hand, if you're fresh off the tourbus or looking to gas-guzzle your way through an interesting piece of geology, well... man: is this is the place for you! Bring your camera, all your cousins, an umbrella, and every digital camera your family owns, 'cause it's ON!
The Blue Basin trail is the longest trail in the entire John Day Fossil Bed system, coming in around 4 miles including the Island in Time trail. We are completely unused to hiking in a desert environment so took frequent breaks for water and to catch our breath in the warm afternoon sun (doing this trail early in the day is recommended). We climbed around 800 feet up above the Basin, where we were treated to 360 degree views of the surrounding areas and a view straight down into the blue-green rock formations that comprise this area . This loop took way longer than we thought it would due to some sketchy footing and exposed areas that caused concern with my wife's balance (trekking poles are recommended). But we enjoyed the scenery along the way and descended without incident, shooting down the Island in Time trail to get an up close and personal look at the Basin. If you are in this area and enjoy solitary hikes, put this one on your list. You won't be disappointed. We only saw two people on this trail on a beautiful Saturday in May. Also, do your research ahead of time so you know the history of what you are looking at :).
Shortish (slightly under 4 miles) hike around and then into the beautiful Blue Basin, part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The trail goes up to the ridge overlooking the blue basin and provides amazing views of the basin itself as well as the John Day River's valley. While the trail is under 4 miles, the climb to the ridge is a bit steep and would get slippery in wet weather. If you walk the loop clockwise you will have the option to finish with the short spur into the basin before heading back to the parking lot.
this was a long drive to get here, but the views are worth it. there is no camping in the park itself so be prepared. there are a bunch of little 1/2 mile hikes. there is no shade and can be very hot in the summer, bring lots of water. all in all really liked it!
The Painted Hills are not located near anything so it is a long drive along winding roads just to get there. On top of that it won't take long to explore the entire area because it isn't very big. That being said the color of the scenery is gorgeous and definitely worth seeing. 4 of the trails are something like 1/2 mile in length or shorter and the 5th trail up to the top of the ridge looking down on the hills is only something like 3 miles round trip so you mine as well get them all in. None of them are difficult. They recommend late afternoon as the best time to visit because the hills will have the most color in the afternoon sunlight and I would have to agree with that. There are very few trees so bring sunscreen and bring your camera.
I guess I was the luckiest girl to experience these magnificent painted hills in winter time when the weather was absolutely beautiful, sunny, and no crowds......I had the whole place to myself and I could hardly get enough of it! I stayed for 2 nights in Mitchell, which is the cutest little town, with one pup/restaurant, 1 store, and a gas station, which is open during the day, and not on Sundays!. I stayed at The Painted Hills Vacation Cottages, which was so wonderful, and so well equipped, with everything you need, including a well equipped kitchen and a lovely clean place all together, and I highly recommend it.
As for the hike........well, it is the most interesting and awesome place and a photographer's paradise. The 6 mile hike through the park is easy, but I can imagine it gets quite hot there in the summer months. The Park entrance is just 6 miles from Mitchell, so that is really the best place to stay if you would like to spend some time here, and trust me, if you're an outdoor adventurer, this is what you'd want to do.
Make sure you take lunch and water, as there are no amenities anywhere near there.........just solitude and raw beauiy!! Go and enjoy!