Visiting the Infamous Painted Hills in Oregon

It was the day before my 26th birthday, and we decided to go on a little road trip to the Painted Hills in central Oregon to celebrate. Leaving from Hermiston (heading West on I84), it was about a 2 hour 45 minute drive. Here’s a little insight on our adventure, along with a few tips that will help you if you’re planning a visit of your own.

One of the little towns you will pass through is Condon. We ended up stopping here on our way back because it was a Sunday, and all of the businesses in the surrounding area were either closed for the day, or closed early. We were in desperate need of some food, and the pizza at The Round Up Grill was actually really tasty! Totally not the kind of food we were expecting from a bar in such a tiny town.

You’ll pass through so many small towns that have the coolest old barns and abandoned houses! They really give you those eerie ghost town shivers down your spine.

All the way from Arlington, the road only has two lanes. It’s also full of lots of curves, sharp corners, and quite a bit of gain in elevation. Talking to the locals, they couldn’t stress it enough for us to drive safely. Although it’s a gorgeous drive, I can definitely see how dangerous it can be, too. So, be cautious!

This is definitely cattle country. Since it’s spring, we got to see an abundance of the cutest calves! As you start to get closer to the Painted hills, you’ll notice stunning mountain peaks that are dusted with snow. Of course, I had to stop and take a picture of them, and the baby cows were more than happy to pose for me, too.

This is the first of the natural “painted” wonders you will see on your way to the hills. It’s about 20-30 minutes before the actual park, a ways off the road to your right, and isn’t marked with any signage. We just happened to notice the beautiful hues of rusty orange and turquoise, and had to pull over for a quick glimpse.

Right as you’re pulling into the site, you see this marvelous hill with stripes of the most vibrant red colors. This surely gets you excited to see what else lies ahead! The cows here are free to roam throughout the park, and there were quite a few of them walking in the road. So again, be sure that you’re paying attention and driving slow and careful!

Ah, at last! The most photographed spot of the Painted Hills! From here on out, you’ll be driving on nicely kept dirt roads (so don’t even bother washing your car before this trip!). There are several trails that you can hike, and they all have signage to help you find their trail heads. Most of the trails are easy hikes with little elevation. Photos don’t really portray how HUGE these things are… Seeing them in person is definitely more special.

We are so glad that we visited in the earlier part of April. It was actually really quiet and peaceful, as there weren’t many tourists in the area. Plus, spring brought in the prettiest wild flowers!

This is the Painted Cove Trail. It’s basically just a small circle that goes around this beautiful red hill. This spot is especially popular for photos, because of the boardwalk. Standing up above, you can see a spectacular view of the Painted Hills Reservoir. The road to this lake has a sign that says, “No Trespassing”, so we were respectful and didn’t venture onward. It appears to be part of someone’s personal property, so stay out.

The Overlook Trail is the last one we decided to check out. It’s an easy hike, with a beautiful view above the main hills. All around the park, there’s plaques with interesting blurbs of history. I enjoyed reading about the area, and how it used to be a jungle millions of years ago. They go into detail about each of the colors, and how they got there. When you visit, make sure you take the time to read these, because they are really fascinating!

As we were leaving, we stopped to admire these large, cone-shaped rock formations. The whole drive is simply breathtaking!

With this trip, there are a few things that I wish we would have done differently.

 I’m going to share them with you, so that you can have the most pleasant experience possible when you go!

#1: Have proper driving directions to the park

I didn’t realize that when I plugged the directions into Google Maps, that it was actually taking us to the defaulted location of the Painted Hills Vacation Rentals. We wound up in the small town of Mitchell, and felt completely lost. We ended up going into an antique store to ask the owner for directions and found out we were about 6 miles from the Painted Hills. Make sure to place these directions into your GPS when you’re on your way:

37375 Bear Creek Rd, Mitchell, OR 97750

This will take you right to the beginning of the sight. To your left, there’s a small picnic area and kiosk with brochures of the trails and some other useful information.

#2: Bring enough food

Joe and I brought little snacks (pop corn, cashews, and fruit snacks are our favorites on the road, but they definitely don’t fill your hungry gut after a hike). Like I said before, all of the towns that you are going to pass through are extremely small. There were a few small burger joints and markets that had produce and canned food, but they all closed early. And you definitely won’t be seeing any McDonalds along the way.

#3: Allow yourself enough time

Of course, we stayed up a little late the night before and didn’t head out until around 9:00am. You’re going to want to stop along the way to take in the beautiful scenery and wildlife. We really wish we had more time to go on all of the hiking trails, so we’ll be going back in the future to accomplish this.  If I could do it again, I would have allowed us at least 2 more hours in the park. We also didn’t have a chance to check out Clarno, Sheep Rock, or the John Day Fossil beds nearby, so maybe we’ll be planning a camping trip so we can stay over night and see everything.

#4: Be prepared to not have cell phone service!

There is seriously NO service once you leave Condon, which is about 60 miles away. I kept our GPS location running the entire trip. If you close out of the directions at any time, you’re going to have to track down a map and do things the old fashioned way (which is a fun adventure on it’s own, though!).

#5: Plan your trip by viewing the map before you leave

I just got this map from . It’s a website that lets you download free PDFs of national park maps from all over the US! I found this site to be super useful, since the maps you find on google images are usually grainy, and unreadable. Which hikes will you be exploring? Most of them are suitable for children, and some are wheelchair accessible to a certain extent. Please see the detailed descriptions for each of the trails, located above this map.

If you have any questions about this trip, feel free to leave a comment!

I’d be more than happy to answer them for you.  🙂

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12 Replies to “Visiting the Infamous Painted Hills in Oregon”

  1. This is awesome and thank you for writing this blog😀😀. We are planning on going this summer and also going to hells canyon.

  2. There is so much more to this area than you could ever explore in one weekend. Been visiting a friend out here for 10 years now. Big horn sheep, waterfalls, elk heards, antelope, pioneer cemeteries, homesteads only reachable by hiking(no trails), swimming holes, secret fossil spots(sorry I’ll never tell), caves, hieroglyphics, beaver, otter, rattlesnakes, scorpions, cougar, bear, eagles and nests, secret painted hills outside of the park bounderies (on blm land), canyons of all sizes, natural springs in the middle of desert , 4 wheel drive only roads with indescribable views, and much more. All within minutes of where you were hanging out 😆
    You should definitely go back!

    1. Oh my goodness! You just got me so excited!! Thank you. We will definitely be going back soon! The pioneer cemeteries sound really interesting. We have one here in Echo!

  3. #6: Call Before Coming August 2017
    Mitchell & The Painted Hills are in the path of totality for the 2017 Solar Eclipse ( Monday, August 21). Most accommodations have been booked since as early as summer 2016. Many are arriving early, staying the weekend to take in the sights you have mentioned.
    If you are planning a trip during this time be prepared for heavier than usual traffic and a lack of overnight accommodations.

    Correction on Cell Coverage:
    About 20 miles outside of Condon is the town of Fossil. While cell service is spotty to non-existent in the John Day River Territory, in Fossil there is cell coverage for US Cellular, Verizon and Sprint. AT&T*, T-Mobile, and some prepaid plans do not receive service here.
    *There is a hot-spot in Fossil at the intersection of Main and First streets that some have found gets AT&T service.

    Cell service is planned for Mitchell, but is still a ways off.

  4. Hi,

    Great pics, I really want to do this!! When you say no cell service, put this address in your GPS does that mean your maps was still working on your phone or you have an actual separate GPS??

    1. My (Google) maps was still working because I entered our directions before taking off.. but when it was time to go home, I had already exited out of the directions and was unable to pull them back up. We had to head home just based off of memory. Hope that answers your question!

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