Scenic view of the Painted Hills

Visiting the Painted Hills of Oregon

Come and see.

This sight to behold. Something explained yet leaves you mostly seeing the unexplained.

The Painted Hills.

One of the more colorful canvases of the Painted Hills

Come and see this master work of God’s creation that looks more like terrain from the planet Mars yet sits about two hours east of Bend, OR, pretty much in the center of the Beaver state, north of the middle. Even a B movie production wouldn’t try to pass this off as an honest backdrop for a sci-fi adventure to a far off world.

As part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument that encompasses 14,000 acres of Badlands and Canyons, the Painted Hills represent one of three preserve units. From afar, the Painted Hills resemble the velvety landscape of a model train set but up close you see the dry, hardened clay or laterite that perfectly forms these mounds sometimes blending in as part of the surrounding high desert topography looking more like a cicatrix while others rise all on their own configuring untold elegance.

A close photo of the terrain that creates the Painted Hills
A close-up of the mounds of clay that form the Painted Hills

The backdrop of tan sometimes brushed with red or dotted with black (manganese) tells a story of a time when it was dry (the shade of tan) then when it was wet (the iron rich red).  Leave no footprints as strict rules prevent visitors from trying to climb the crunchy, dry clay slopes but one area provides a boardwalk to stroll among a smaller collection of the painted earth canvas that gets you up close to this shareholder in the Seven Wonders of Oregon.

Words fail to describe and photos hardly compete. So, come and see for yourself, but until then get a taste of a remarkable and out of this world panorama without the need for a Mars rover.

Red Hill at Painted Hills


Walkway at Painted Hills
Stroll along the boardwalk in this area surrounding you with colorful mounds of clay on both sides


Picturesque Painted Hills
A valley below some of the higher areas of the Painted Hills offer a look into another world


Tips for Visiting the Painted Hills

The drive from the Bend / Redmond area takes you through the great little town of Prineville. The two-lane OR 126 takes you the rest of the way with outstanding high desert scenery, farm land and mountain views.

Those on motorcycles will enjoy eating through the delicious curves and pilots on Adventure bikes or dual sport machines can take a side trip down any of the US Forest Roads clearly marked as excursion routes. I would not be surprised if Rush drummer Neil Peart made his way along this far and away destination during any one of his extensive rides between concerts.

The entrance to the Painted Hills jumps out so stay alert as you get close. I passed it even with GPS dictating my route.  It’s free to get in and the picnic area and visitor center offers free wi-fi. You will see some of the artwork as you take the six mile drive in but wait there’s much more waiting for you. This paved road gives way to a dirt road. Follow the signs that direct you to the Main Event.

The Painted Hills welcomes dogs just keep them on the leash and like humans, don’t let them walk on any of the colorful hills. Several trails take you away from the main viewing areas giving you access to see different vantage points.

You only need to remember one thing when visiting the Painted Hills:

  1. Bring your camera

Take your time and soak in the sights. Nothing compares  to the real thing so enjoy.


7 thoughts on “Visiting the Painted Hills of Oregon

  1. This is cool. What a real awesome place to have in your area to go to. It does look like Mars. Buried On Mars? lol

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