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“very interesting and well run”

Ranked #1 of 6 things to do in John Day
Certificate of Excellence
Attraction details
Level 6 Contributor
112 reviews
15 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 73 helpful votes
“very interesting and well run”
Reviewed July 24, 2010

Interesting place. The museum is excellent and it was interesting to look at the paleontology lab. We didn't have a lot of time and I'd like to go back

Thank travelprof57
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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342 reviews from our community

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Oregon Coast
Level 6 Contributor
1,048 reviews
429 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 2,680 helpful votes
“Well worth seeing: Painted Hills & Sheep Rock”
Reviewed June 26, 2010

John Day Fossil Bed National Monument consists of three separate sections, called "units". These are the Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno Units. We visited Painted Hills and Sheep Rock.

Painted Hills: Truly unique! There is a paved road that goes about 6 miles off the main Hwy 26 and leads to a picnic area and restrooms. From there the road is graded gravel for about another mile or so. It is suitable for smaller RVs. There is parking at the top and an easy trail (which used to be a road many years ago) follows the ridgeline slightly uphill to provide a great overview.

The hills are just splashed with colors -- red, pink, tan, yellowish, near-black -- all in "stripes". The colors are caused by various minerals weathering over the eons - pick up a free brochure and it explains it in much more detail. The view is very impressive.

Drive a little farther on to the Painted Cove Trail. This is a much smaller area where you can get right up close to the hills. There is a boardwalk suitable for wheelchairs that goes part way around, then the easy trail continues for a total of about 1/4 mile. In this area, the small hills are bright red.

As you drive in and out of the Painted Hills, you'll see hundreds of acres of rich bottomland farming, mostly alfalfa fields. Some of these farms and ranches have been in the same families for 150 years

Sheep Rock: This is where the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center is... but don't let that dry-sounding title deter you from visiting!

The visitor center is very interesting, even for children. There are several rooms with hundreds of items on display and beautiful, colorful wall size murals depicting all sorts of extinct animals. You are given a notebook to read as you go along, which provides more information about the displays. There is also a short movie.

Outside, there are dramatic rock formations and trails to walk along for nice views. The trails vary from short and easy to a more strenuous 3 mile overlook trail. The pretty John Day river winds through this area.

Just a short distance down the road is the James Cant Ranch, a restored 1917 ranch house that houses cultural and historical displays.

Although quite different, both these units are well worth visiting. Allow enough time to see them both!

13 Thank half-Brit
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Rocky Mountains
Level 4 Contributor
38 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 54 helpful votes
“A refuge for the independent traveler, while exploring this area”
Reviewed March 28, 2010

I love the landscape between John Day, Fossil and Mitchell. It is truly a "Journey through time", and the Visitor's Center of the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument is excellent. The area is not for everyone - this is not a place of action and entertainment. For the purpose of appreciating the solitude of this vast landscape, and if someone is an independent traveler who would like to stay in the area for a few days, I recommend "www.paintedhillsvacations.com" as a base. These are two cottages in Mitchell, and while Mitchell is a hamlet that does not look like much upon arrival, the cottages of "painted hills vacations" are truly a safe little refuge, surrounded by a beautiful garden.

1 Thank flying_about
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Level 6 Contributor
182 reviews
81 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 220 helpful votes
“Wish We Had More Time to Explore”
Reviewed October 13, 2009

We arrived at the Sheep Rock Unit of John Day Fossil Beds on a rather warm afternoon. We enjoyed the visitor center's air conditioning and watched the movie before we headed out for a hike. At the visitor center, you can see mammal fossils on display that have already been excavated and also watch scientists as they work on new finds. A short drive North brings you to the Cant Ranch house and The Blue Basin area. The Blue Basin reminded me a lot of Badlands National Park...but bluer. Like the Badlands of South Dakota, if the sun is out, heat will radiate from the terrain. Remember to fill up your water bottles at the visitor center before you head out and use sun screen.

We then drove to the Painted Hills Unit, which is about an hour West of the Sheep Rock Unit. The facilities were closed for the day, but we could still drive and hike around the unit. Gorgeous, gorgeous color. The photos I took could not capture how beautiful these hills are. And it looks like under the topsoil of other hills, the same incredible landscape hides.

While The John Day Fossil Beds were out of the way, we were glad we made the trip and wished we had more time to explore the area.

1 Thank NPS_Tumbleweeds
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Bend, Oregon
2 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
“Beautiful and educational!”
Reviewed October 8, 2009

We went to the Painted Hills, which had such fantastic colors and then on to the John Day Fossil beds museum. I found that very educational, who know that the area was once home to all those animals and landscape.

1 Thank Sierra1975
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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