John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, OR: Painted Cove

Explore John Day Fossil Beds' Painted Hills unit on four short hikes, offering both up-close and panoramic views of otherworldly prehistoric volcanic landscapes.
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Explore John Day Fossil Beds' Painted Hills unit on four short hikes, offering both up-close and panoramic views of otherworldly prehistoric volcanic landscapes.

From the small town of Mitchell, OR, follow signs west, then north, for 9 miles to the John Day Fossil Beds Painted Hills. The many points of interest are found along gravel roads through the area. All four hikes total about three miles; walking the road from point to point instead of driving would add another eight miles. Watch out for rattlesnakes, and consider the temperature - this place gets hot!
Start with the Overlook Trail, a 0.6 mile out-and-back that offers a spectacular view over the colorfully contoured Painted Hills unit. Later day light really illuminates the colors. Near the turnoff for the Overlook Trail, find the Carroll Rim trailhead that hikes 0.8 mile (one-way) up 400' to a plateau of resistant caprock that rewards with 360º panoramic views over the entire Painted Hills area and John Day River.
Next, follow signs to the Painted Cove and Leaf Hill trails, each 0.25 mile loops. The Painted Cove trail winds around several brilliant red claystone hills, partially on protective boardwalk, then alongside a colorful volcanic ridge. The Leaf Hill trail loops a small hill covered with rock scree displaying a variety of small flora fossils - look closely! A mile from Leaf Hill is an overlook of Red Hill, another brilFrom the small town of Mitchell, OR, follow signs west, then north, for 9 miles to the John Day Fossil Beds Painted Hills. The many points of interest are found along gravel roads through the area. All four hikes total about three miles; walking the road from point to point instead of driving would add another eight miles. Watch out for rattlesnakes, and consider the temperature - this place gets hot!
Start with the Overlook Trail, a 0.6 mile out-and-back that offers a spectacular view over the colorfully contoured Painted Hills unit. Later day light really illuminates the colors. Near the turnoff for the Overlook Trail, find the Carroll Rim trailhead that hikes 0.8 mile (one-way) up 400' to a plateau of resistant caprock that rewards with 360-degree panoramic views over the entire Painted Hills area and John Day River.
Next, follow signs to the Painted Cove and Leaf Hill trails, each 0.25 mile loops. The Painted Cove trail winds around several brilliant red claystone hills, partially on protective boardwalk, then alongside a colorful volcanic ridge. The Leaf Hill trail loops a small hill covered with rock scree displaying a variety of small flora fossils - look closely! A mile from Leaf Hill is an overlook of Red Hill, another brilliant red claystone hill (no access).
MORE INFO: www.nps.gov/joda/

-Mapped by Eli Boschetto, Bosco Mountain Photo

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 2.6

Waypoints

COV001

Location: 44.661988, -120.278784

Trailhead for 0.25 mile Painted Cove loop.

PNT001

Location: 44.649854, -120.26678

Start of the 0.3 mile Overlook Trail.

PNT002

Location: 44.645756, -120.264879

End of the Overlook Trail; nice bench to soak up the view.

PNT003

Location: 44.652116, -120.267259

Trailhead for 0.8 mile Carroll Rim Trail.

PNT004

Location: 44.653977, -120.265757

Viewpoint with small bench.

PNT005

Location: 44.655112, -120.268019

Summit of the Carroll Rim Trail with 360º views.

PNT007

Location: 44.642841, -120.285861

Look for small fossils in the rock scree on the 0.25 mile loop around Leaf Hill.

PNT008

Location: 44.635721, -120.292774

Roadside overlook of Red Hill (no access).

Painted Cove

Location: 44.661988, -120.278744

Trailhead leading to loop around multi-colored volcanic hills and outcrops. © Eli Boschetto

Boardwalk

Location: 44.661518, -120.278808

Raised boardwalk through the Painted Cove. Footprints here last for generations. © Eli Boschetto

Thru the Cove

Location: 44.66083, -120.279138

The color and texture of the Painted Cove hills changes with light and moisture. © Eli Boschetto

Cove Color

Location: 44.661045, -120.279621

Multi-colored hillside at the back of Painted Cove. © Eli Boschetto

Claystone

Location: 44.661852, -120.279262

Close-up of the Mars-like surface color and texture of the Painted Cove hills. © Eli Boschetto

Painted Hills

Location: 44.651246, -120.266476

The colorfully contoured Painted Hills of John Day Fossil Beds. © Eli Boschetto

Light & Color

Location: 44.648078, -120.266476

Late day sun illuminates the colorful Painted Hills. © Eli Boschetto

Painted Overlook

Location: 44.645895, -120.26506

John Day Fossil Beds' Painted Hills, from the top of the Overlook Trail. © Eli Boschetto

Carroll Rim Trail

Location: 44.652208, -120.266937

The start of the Carroll Rim Trail, ascending 400' to a volcanic caprock overlook. © Eli Boschetto

Painted Sunset

Location: 44.653909, -120.26566

Sunset on the Painted Hills, from overlook bench on Carroll Rim Trail. © Eli Boschetto

Moonrise

Location: 44.655047, -120.267785

Moon rising over John Day Fossil Beds' Painted Hills. © Eli Boschetto

Leaf Hill Trail

Location: 44.643163, -120.286329

Evening casts long shadows on the Leaf Hill Trail. © Eli Boschetto

Leaf Hill

Location: 44.642899, -120.287493

Small fossils can be seen in the rock scree on Leaf Hill. © Eli Boschetto

Red Hill

Location: 44.63549, -120.292536

Sunset on Red Hill, in John Day Fossil Beds' Painted Hills. © Eli Boschetto