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Travel Guide: Painted Hills, Oregon

A couple of weeks ago Andrew and I set out East to visit the Painted Hills here in Central Oregon. I had recently purchased a book called Bend Overall that highlights some amazing spots here in Oregon to see and what time of year to visit. Painted Hills was one of the places on the list and after doing a quick search on Google, I knew I had to visit.

So when Andrew wanted to do a day trip out there, I was so down haha! It was supposed to be a rainy weekend but turned out to be absolutely beautiful. The sky was filled with puffy clouds and the temp was comfortable and cool.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Related – Travel Guide: Key West, FL

Getting to Painted Hills

Painted Hills is part of the John Day National Monument and is one of three units. Only 1.5 hours from Bend, Oregon it’s the perfect destination for a day trip or a weekend road trip getaway. I used Google Maps to direct us there and it took us right to the National Monument.

Painted Hills is pretty far from civilization so you won’t have cell service. There are restrooms there and various informational exhibits. Be prepared to drive on a rough gravel road and be sure to drive slow because there’s a No Dust policy in place to preserve the surrounding landscape.

Exploring Painted Hills

Painted Hills Overlook Trail

There are multiple sites in Painted Hills to explore. When we first arrived, our first stop was the Overlook Trail. You can’t miss it and it’s the first parking area as you come in. This trail is only .5 miles long and goes to a beautiful overlook. It is pretty accessible and there are multiple benches that you can sit on, on the walk up.

Painted Cove Trail

Painted Cove trail is the most famous trail that you seen all over Instagram. You can just look up the location on Instagram and the famous photo of people walking on the wooden foot bridge through the beautiful rich red structures, that’s here.

One thing I have to note about visiting Painted Hills especially at the Painted Cove Trail where you can get really close to the hills, please pledge to #DontHurtTheDirt. It was really disheartening to see that someone jumped of the bridge and made a run for it up the Painted Hills. And it wasn’t just in one spot, it was multiple spots.

If you see someone do that please let them know that there are signs to stay off. If you’re a parent with a child, please stress the importance of preserving natural wonders like this. If you’re tempted to it yourself, think of how you are damaging to site and the experience for others to enjoy.

Look at the hills, take photos, and take in the beautiful views but always follow the Leave No Trace Principles here and other places your visit around our beautiful country.

Leaf Hill Trail

This trail was such a cool trail. It’s a short 0.25 mile loop that circles around a hill of fossils. There’s an exhibit that shows some cool leaf fossils and talks a little more about the history.

I was mind blown at the amount of fossils that lay on the hill in from of me.

Red Scar Knoll Trail

This trail (aka Red Hill) was the last on the road through Painted Hills and is very accessible to anyone. The hills behind me are rich reds and yellows. Each color of these hills has a story to tell and a deep history behind it.

When to Visit

We just went the last part of January and it was perfect. If you’re into cooler temps the winter would be a great time to visit. Just be sure to check the weather before planning your visit.

I would love to visit again during spring when the wildflowers are in bloom. The suggested time to see the wildflowers is April and May. Also, visiting in the later afternoon is preferred because it’s not only cooler but the sun is lower and provides a glow to bring out the rich colors of the landscape at Painted Hills.


I hope you get to the Painted Hills soon. I love exploring places all over this beautiful country and plan to check off all 7 Wonders of Oregon in 2020! Happy exploring and feel free to comment or email me (hello@collectivelychristine.com) if you have any questions at all!

xx // christine

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