Field Trip: The Painted Hills

Way out in the middle of north-central Oregon, the Painted Hills are one of three discontiguous units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, an under-appreciated gem in our inventory of public lands. All three are worthy of exploration, but the Painted Hills are something special.

Located near the weather-beaten hamlet of Mitchell (population: 130), the Painted Hills are unique in the Pacific Northwest: An otherworldly landscape of colorful badlands, reminiscent more of Mars than Oregon.

Trails wind up and through the multi-hued hills, offering a plethora of somewhat surreal vistas. A melted alarm clock would not be out of place in any of them. There are five short trails in all—if possible, walk every one. The changing light over the course of the day is remarkable.

Find a quiet place (there are many) and watch the cloud shadows dance across the fluted hills. The late afternoon light is something to see.

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