John Day Fossil Beds

Island in Time Trail

  • Moderate (Blue Basin overlook)
  • 4-mile loop
  • 1180 feet elevation gain
  • Open all year
  • Use: hikers only

  • Easy (4 Painted Hills Unit trails)
  • 2.6 miles round trip
  • 360 feet elevation gain

  • Easy (2 Clarno Unit trails)
  • 0.6 miles round trip
  • 280 feet elevation gain

Clarno Unit

Painted Hills

More than 50 miles of highway separate the three parts of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Stop at each to take some short hikes. Collecting fossils is banned in the national monument, but from April to October you can hunt in the shale beds behind the high school in the city of Fossil (expect a small fee).

Consider planning a two-day trip so you’ll have time to explore. For a place to stay, try ... To start your tour, drive Highway 26 …

For the first recommended hike, …

Four trails explore the Painted Hills …

… The rock began as a volcanic mud flow 44 million years ago, and is riddled with leaf fossils from a subtropical forest inundated by the eruption. The other short trail climbs uphill to the left from the message board for 0.2 mile to the rimrock itself, where water erosion has carved a tall hollow into the cliff, topped with a dainty 10-foot arch. At this desert viewpoint, crickets chirp, crows squawk, and peregrine falcons swoop past, hunting cliff swallows.

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon.