Painted Hills is part of the National Day Fossil Beds of John Day and dogs are allowed.
There are 3 land units that make up the national monument to John Day’s fossil beds, and the Painted Hills unit is one of them (Clarno and Sheep Rock are the rest).
This is the most remarkable of the three and perhaps the most visited … with good reason! The landscape is very unique and beautiful.
Before you get in the car and head to these colorful hills, there are a few things you need to know.
About Painted Hills Oregon
Where are Painted Hills?
The Painted Hills, part of the John Day National Monument, is located in northern Central Oregon, USA, in the high desert.
It is approximately 4 hours east of the southeastern part of Portland, Oregon.
The closest cities to Painted Hills are:
Mitchell – 11 miles east; very few Fosil services – 52 miles north; the small town of Prineville – 51 miles southwest (above a mountain pass); the larger city of John Day, 80 miles east; the largest city
How are dogs allowed on painted Oregon hills?
Many people are confused by the fact that dogs are welcome because Painted Hills is part of a national monument.
While dogs are allowed to enter national parks, as a general rule they are not allowed on trails. So how can they be admitted on trails in Painted Hills?
Note: just because they are limited to roads and developed areas such as parking lots, does not mean that you can not enjoy the National Park with your dog.
John Den’s fossil beds are designated as a national monument, not a national park, so the rules are different.
The rules differ for national monuments – some allow dogs and others do not – but they are allowed in the National Day of Fossil Beds of John Day (part of which are the Painted Hills).
How are painted hills created?
For geology lovers like me who are curious, you can delve into how the Painted Hills formed here.
For most people, however, this explanation is enough:
The painted hills are composed of banded clays from a series of volcanic ash eruptions that formed the Cascades (mountain range) during the Oligocene era about 32 to 35 million years ago.
9 tips to make visiting painted hills with your dog more enjoyable
When you know what to expect and can plan ahead, your visit anywhere will be more enjoyable.
Here are my best tips for visiting the Painted Hills.
1) The famous location of the photo on Instagram
If you are like many people these days, you will find your inspiration for traveling on Instagram.
If the pictures of cute dogs on a promenade with rolling red hills in the back first caught your eye and you want to head to Painted Hills to duplicate this, you’ll need to know something important.
Almost all the Instagram photos of dogs I see were taken at the seaside (described above) and marked “Painted Hills Overlook.”
BUT you will not find this nature in neglect.
Although the view is worthy of photos in itself, you want to head down the road, but even more so to see the famous pavement.
The path with the red mounds in the background is along the path of the Painted Bay.
2) When is the best time to visit the Painted Hills?
In my opinion, the best time to visit the Painted Hills is in spring or autumn. In particular, early spring and late autumn.
I hear wildflowers come out in April and May, so they can convince me to come back later in the spring.
If you visit in the summer, temperatures may be too hot for your dog (can reach 100F / 43C) to get out of the car.
Summer is also the busiest time in the Monument, so finding a parking space can be difficult and all your photos will probably have other people in them.
If you visit in the winter, you can find the colorful hills buried under snowy feet.
The season on the shoulders will be cool enough and you will meet fewer people and dogs.
3) When is the best lighting for photos?
Most photographers agree that sunrise – and the hour after – and sunset – starting an hour before the light turns golden – are the best times to take pictures.
When I visited Painted Hills, I personally thought sunrise was the better time, based on the angle I wanted to make and the direction the hills faced.
Other highlights that are great for photos are:
On cloudy days when the light is softer (I like to call clouds the soft box of nature) Just after rain, when the saturated soil of the hills produces more vivid colors
4) Save the monument for others
You can reach out and touch these soft clay mounds from some paths, but please don’t.
Also, make sure your dog stays on the trail (especially the part of the Painted Cove curb).
These mounds have been formed for thousands of years and are very fragile.
While we were there, we saw dog prints in the mud, and someone had carved a stick into a mound right off the trail.
It is good to follow the principles of “Do not leave traces on dogs” at all times when visiting natural places.
5) The device for painted hills is not so big
The device for painted hills is small and can be easily seen in one day. There are MANY options for photos packed in a small space.
The trails you can explore with your dog are:
Path overlooking the painted hills (0.8 km) Carol Rome trail (2.6 km)
You can also stop on the road where there is a stopping place without obstructing traffic, and enjoy the scenery from there.
6) You can’t post to IG O Call your mother from there
I have Verizon, which has pretty good coverage in remote locations. There was no admission to a cell in Painted Hills.
I couldn’t even find one in Mitchell’s nearby “town.”
I drove to Prineville so I could send a message to a friend who was trying to meet me.
If you have a satellite messenger for hiking, I will bring it to you in case you need to contact someone in an emergency.
7) Where to eat, sleep and refuel
If you are staying in Painted Hills overnight, there are campsites nearby.
Oregon campsite with painted hills
Most of the camping sites near Painted Hills are located on BLM land, are accessible only on dirt roads, must have amenities (except casual toilets), are free, dogs are allowed and are first come and served first.
These campsites include:
Recreation Area of Priest Hole Burnt Ranch and Lower Burnt Ranch Camping Hidden Springs Meeting Camping Service Creek (sites are just walks) Camping Barnhouse (USFS) Camping Ochoco Divide (USFS – there is a fee for this)
Although these sites are technically open all year round, please check the road conditions before leaving. Some are inaccessible in winter due to snow.
There is a campsite with RVs attached nearby – the Mitchell City Park campsite – but there seems to be no privacy and parts of it are mainly a car park.
This campsite charges a fee. Check ahead to make sure it’s open if you’re traveling in the winter.
Hotels near Painted Hills Oregon
If camping isn’t your thing, there are hotels in Prineville, 50 miles south, and John Day 80 miles east.
There also appear to be several AirBnB rentals available at Mitchell.
Where to eat near Painted Hills Oregon
There are, of course, restaurants and grocery stores in John Day and Prineville.
Mitchell is the nearest town, if you can call it that. Tiger Town Brewing Co and Bridge Creek Cafe offer food.
The brewing company seemed very popular. I will definitely eat there if I come back.
8) Refuel before painted hills
Mitchell seems to have a gas pump in the feed store. It looks like the type that may or may not have gas, depending on the season.
You must 100% fill your gas tank as you pass through Prineville, Fossil or John Day on the way there.
And go back for gas when there’s only 100 miles left in your tank … because you may need most of it to get back to the gas station.
9) Decide in advance whether the painted hills will be a destination opposite Pit Stop
Located in the desert in north central Oregon, there is nothing else to be noted near Painted Hills. Not that I’m already aware (I may look harder next time).
The other units of the Monument are 1-3 hours away.
I suggest either doing a Painted Hills pit stop on the way to somewhere else, although you’ll probably need to extend your route to get past this place, or stay nearby and take a few days to see all 3 units. .
The other two units in the Monument – the Clarno and Sheep Rock Unit units – are worth exploring, but keep in mind that they are a considerable distance from each other.
Painted hills are worth seeing at least once in your life. The views are rivals to those of the national parks, BUT dogs are allowed on the trails here.
You can see the best parts of the Painted Hills Unit in a few hours or spend a few days exploring and taking pictures in different lighting conditions.
You can also take a multi-day vacation by visiting the other two units and exploring nearby areas (the 284-mile John Day River is the fourth longest free-flowing river in the neighboring United States).