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“Outstanding - geology at its best”

Ranked #1 of 7 things to do in John Day
Certificate of Excellence
Attraction details
Reviewed August 22, 2013

As another reviewer pointed out, the national monument covers 3 sites, but we only had time to do the Painted Hills and the Sheep Rock. They are about an hour's drive apart, through some steep, 'interesting' mountain roads:). The Painted rocks were absolutely gorgeous, even though it wasn't the 'right' ambience, i.e. not sunrise\sunset, and actually drizzling, Even then, they were beautiful. Also easy bang for the buck, since all of it is visible basically from the parking areas. highly recommend also doing the short additional trails(Painted cove,), since they give an up close and personal view. The 'red' hill trail is just about ok, and may be skipped. The hills are way more beautiful in reality than in any photos, so don't miss them!

The Sheep Rock unit had a visitor centre(likely closed on weekends now due to budge cuts). Did the short trail from the visitor centre, and then the Island in Time trail from the Blue Basin. ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS! It's about 45 mins round trip, and the trail is accessible throughout. Highly recommended. If you have the time, also do the flood of fire trail, a very short drive further (half a mile or so). This is one of the most uniquely beautiful places in Oregon.

Note that the roads leading out of the national monuments connected to high mountain passes with little to no guard rails(we were driving to Pendleton). Would not recommend driving in the dark.

There are few to no gas stations close by, and Oregon being a full service state, gas up whenever you can.

2  Thank SeattleGirl111
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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"visitor center"
in 41 reviews
"the painted hills unit"
in 55 reviews
"million years"
in 11 reviews
"blue basin"
in 47 reviews
"clarno unit"
in 37 reviews
"john day fossil beds"
in 32 reviews
"overlook trail"
in 13 reviews
"eastern oregon"
in 13 reviews
"rock formations"
in 11 reviews
"short trails"
in 7 reviews
"cove trail"
in 18 reviews
"picnic area"
in 7 reviews
"gravel road"
in 5 reviews
"worth the trip"
in 11 reviews
"hiking trails"
in 10 reviews
"high desert"
in 5 reviews
"great exhibits"
in 4 reviews
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268 - 272 of 373 reviews

Reviewed August 6, 2013

The visitor center is truly impressive and the location among the painted rocks along the John Day River is beautiful.

Thank wdbrownusa
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 4, 2013

If you like to see geology in action, these hills include fossils with a museum displaying some of the finds. The rock formations are beautiful with so many colors displayed due the different mineral content.

Thank 4cents-worth
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 27, 2013

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument has three sites, and as these sites are separated by some distance you have to make a decision which one or ones you want to see because it's going to be tough to do all three in one day. We opted for the Sheep Rock Unit and the Painted Hills Unit, about 30 miles or so apart. (Incidentally, we visited these two places from Bend on a day trip and spent about 9 hours in total.)

The Sheep Rock Unit is a good place to start since it has the largest visitors center and the most things to see. The main attraction of this part of the park is the several trails that lead right into the multi-colored hills and ciffs on either side of the John Day valley, from which a good number of the Tertiary mammal fossils were extracted. We opted for the Island in Time trail, which can easily be covered in less than and hour and gives you some really wonderful views of the cliffs. A short drive to the north is the short Flood of Fire trail, which we combined with lunch at the picnic spot there.

The Painted Hills Unit is more immediately pleasing to the eye, with multi-colored, whale-backed hills composed of ash layers. You can actually see everything you need to from the parking lot, but the short Painted Hills Overlook Trail gives you a better perspective of these hills as it takes you closer in.

I would thoroughly recommend visiting any part of the John Day park if you can make it. Incidentally, the drive from Bend offers up some really great roadside views, so getting there is as much fun as being there.

4  Thank OilRover
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed July 12, 2013

We could not do much as it rained the whole day. So we spent majority of the time exploring the visitor's center. Beautifully done and worth the visit just to see it.
The park scenery even with the dark clouds is spectacular. One advantage of the heavy rain we encountered was the countless small waterfalls all around. Just magical.
Hopefully we will go back as there are many hiking & exploring options not to mention great town of John Day.

Thank KHL12
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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