The Painted Hills – Mitchell, Oregon

Central Oregon’s famous Painted Hills were born in a fiery cloud of ash approximately 33 million years ago and are a spectacular display of the colors of nature’s palette. A series of low clay hills striped in bands of orange, red, black, green, blue, and lavender, the Painted Hills invite visitors to explore the fragile area with designated hiking trails and interpretive signs.

(Photo By: Andrea Niemiec)

History: The unique colors of the Painted Hills were formed by volcanic eruptions that sent clouds of ash to settle over much of Central Oregon. Over time, layers of ash formed with different mineral compositions, which led to the bands of color seen today.

As the climate in the region changed, the layers of ash were covered by water and formed the bottom of a lake bed. After millennia, the lake eventually dried, and geologic motion in the earth’s crust thrust parts of the lake bed up, allowing wind and rain to begin the process of erosion. Exposed to air and water, the minerals in the volcanic ash oxidized and transformed into the vividly-colored claystone we see today.

Location: The Painted Hills Unit is 9 miles northwest of Mitchell, OR on a well-marked side road off of Highway 26. From both Eugene and Portland, the Painted Hills are roughly 200 miles and about four hours of driving.

Google Maps – Eugene to  Painted Hills, Oregon

Time Involved: If it’s a nice day at the painted hills you could easily spend the entire day hiking around and checking out all of the different areas of the park.

(Photo By: Andrea Niemiec)

Adventure Specifics – Hiking: While the landscape of the Painted Hills is delicate and closed to bushwhacking hikers, several trails allow visitors to see the geology close at hand. The 0.25 mile Painted Cove Trail takes you among low hills of multi-hued claystone, and signs explain in detail the processes that produced the incredible colors. The Overlook Trail (as its name suggests) offers a number of panoramic views of the hills. The 1.5 mile round-trip Carroll Rim Trail is slightly longer and more strenuous, but offers a sweeping view of the entire monument.

Amenities: There are numerous picnic and parking areas located throughout the recreation area. Just to the left of the entrance to the recreation area are pit toilets and a nice picnic/grassy area with tables and garbage cans.

Warnings: Please DO NOT hike on the Painted Hills themselves. The clay is very susceptible to erosion and outside damage. A couple of wrong footsteps could damage the hills for months.

(Photo By: Andrea Niemiec)

Best Times to Go: The Painted Hills are accessible year round, but may be partially covered with snow in the winter months. The absolute “Best” time to go is shortly after a rain storm in full sunlight. Recent rains tend to bring out the best color in the Painted Hills.

Other Adventures Nearby: Mitchell, Oregon; Ochoco National Forest, John Day Fossil Beds.


Find more photos and information on this post at Andrea’s Blog – Shoestring Traveler