Hires_Images - PAINTED HILLS - G14014_0086.tif_mini
Named for the delicate layers of reds, yellows, golds and blacks in its soil, the Painted Hills is one of the three units that make up the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. (Photo credit: Chantal Anderson)

When you travel to the Painted Hills, you can see millions of years of history revealed in the layers of mountains of earth, one color at a time. A journey to the hills is a journey through ancient and recent history; here’s how to see this wonder for yourself:

Painted Hills: Named for the delicate layers of reds, yellows, golds and blacks in its soil, the Painted Hills is one of the three units that make up the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Seeing the hills makes you feel a bit like you’ve stepped onto another planet, though you’re actually taking a peek into our own earth’s history. The sunset hues of the hills are ever-changing with moisture and light levels, making each visit to them different.

Thomas Condon Paleontology Center: Scientists study 50 million years of plant and animal evolution and a collection of 40,000 fossils here, and you can learn how early cousins of elephants and sabertooth tigers roamed Eastern Oregon.

Journey Through Time Scenic Byway: Take a journey through history on this scenic byway, which meanders through ghost towns, past farms and along the beautiful John Day River. Plan a stop at the Sherman County Museum in Moro and to take a peek into Oregon pioneer life at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

Kam Wah Chung Museum: If you’re interested in Oregon history, plan to stop at the site of this mid-1800s general store and herbal medicine shop that operated when Chinese laborers worked in the region. Chinese businessman Lung On and herbal doctor Ing Hay worked out of this building, and the museum contains well-preserved artifacts of this time period.

Little Pine Cafe: Fuel up for a day of exploring at this café in nearby Mitchell, where they make their pancake batter with ice cream and boast some of the best burgers you’ll find anywhere in Oregon.

about author Emily Forsha

Emily Forsha is Travel Oregon’s Content & Community Manager. When she’s not road tripping around the state with her husband and two young boys, this proud native Oregonian is cooking up new recipes in her kitchen, sampling the latest craft brews and cheering on her beloved Oregon Ducks.

This Oregon Story includes one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders. See one, or better yet, see them all!

Learn about all of Oregon’s 7 Wonders
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These maps and directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results. For travel options, weather and road conditions, visit tripcheck.com, call 511 (in Oregon only), 800.977.6368 or 503.588.2941.

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  1. Michael says…

    I am from the Eugene-Springfield area of Oregon and have been to the Painted hills of Oregon in the past. I love this whole area and cannot wait to visit again. The beauty and wonder of this place is simply amazing. These pictures, although very good, do not even do it justice. Especially as the sun sets over the hills and the breeze blows in the cool evening air. This is definitely a MUST see for anyone either from Oregon or out of state. Worth the drive!

    Written on May 29th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  2. Rod says…

    Thanks to you we will be planning a trip to see this area, it’s stunning.
    Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Written on May 29th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  3. Pete Ambler says…

    Great photos… sure would be helpful to us out-of-state folks to have a small Oregon state map on these pages showing the locations within the state. For instance, when I am driving the coast, are the Painted Hills anywhere near??

    Written on May 29th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  4. Patricia says…

    where is the closest place to stay to get to Painted Hills? is there really only 2 places to stay in Mitchell?

    Written on May 30th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  5. Chris says…

    Thank you for the inspiration! The Painted Hills looks incredible!! I will get there soon!

    Written on May 31st, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  6. Christine Purdy says…

    I am truly blessed I am figuring out… As a Kid my parents took us to so many places. I have seen so much of our beautiful state. I take it for granted. thanks for encouraging others to explore our diverse state and see the beauty that is around us every day. .

    Written on June 1st, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  7. Claudia Bullington says…

    I am staying in Warm Springs Oregon. Planning to go to the Painted Hills in two days. How is the road? I have done a lot of miles on many highways but narrow, winding roads scare me a bit, especially those without railing. This would be the fourth wonder wonder in Oregon I visit. Although, I think Oregon has many more than just seven wonders.

    Written on July 28th, 2014 / Flag this Comment
  8. Kat C says…

    Looking to move here

    Written on March 4th, 2015 / Flag this Comment
  9. Kathleen (Kathy) Cushman says…

    I live “next door” in Washington. I visit Oregon all year long. You only gave me ONE CHOICE for a season I would visit Oregon. I wish you had given me more choices. Thank-you for anything you send I know I will probably visit most of whatever you send.

    Written on May 25th, 2017 / Flag this Comment
  10. Iva says…

    Terrible map. Not helpful for finding location of sites.

    Written on July 13th, 2017 / Flag this Comment
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