Capturing Painted Hills

Oregon John Day Fossil Beds - Painted Hills Unit

Added by Lorene Voskinarian

  • Otherworld landscape of the Painted HIlls
  • Dramatic panoramic views
  • Easy access from Rt 26

The Painted HIlls is the most dramatic of the three units that make up John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Any trip to Eastern Oregon via Rt 26 requires a stop at the Painted HIlls to take in the unique landscape.

John Day Fossil Beds are fee-free and as you enter you will see an area with bathrooms, picnic tables, and water fountains. This is the only place to find them, so stop there first if you need to make use of the facilities. Otherwise proceed along Bear Creek Road until you see a parking area on your left. This is the Painted Hills Overlook. A pathway runs from the parking area up the hill, giving you different vantages to admire the scenery. Keep to the paths as there is tender vegetation and footprints can damage the Painted HIlls.

The best time to photograph the Painted Hills is after it's rained or at sunset, which brings out the colors. Sunset,the more predictable option, can be crowded but worthwhile. Take time to photograph the Painted Hills from different areas along the Overlook Trail as well as the hillside behind you. A wide angle lens comes in handy when trying to capture the hills.

Lodging: After a sunset shoot, you'll probably be looking for a place to stay that night. Camping and lodging in this area can be pretty limited, and you are not allowed to camp anywhere within John Day Fossil Bed Monument. The closest town, Mitchell, allows campers in it's town park for a small fee. Another close option with more privacy is Ochoco Divide Campground in the Ochoco National Forest. This campground has no running water so be sure to bring your own.

Pack List

  • Camera
  • Wide Angle Lens
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Skill Level:



Year Round



Easy Parking
Picnic Area

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5 months ago

Go on a sunny day!

The hills are beautiful, but I couldn't help but think how stunning they'd be beneath the sun. We went on a cloudy day, it was the only chance we had while in Oregon and I had to really edit my photographs to bring out the color.

5 months ago

10 months ago

Go in winter

If you're looking to capture the Painted Hills a bit differently, try going in winter. The low-angle light and colder temperatures provide a slightly different effect, and very occasionally the hills will actually get a soft covering of snow. Also, there's less people around in winter (although it is still a popular destination).

10 months ago

10 months ago

This area was much smaller than I expected, but it's still a beautiful spot. Due to its limited size, there are not a lot of options for original compositions but it's definitely still worth photographing; a long lens usually rewards the best compositions.

10 months ago

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