John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Eastern Oregon is a "must do" if you are going to be anywhere near the area. Even if you haven't planned to venture this far east, you won't be sorry if you do. In this huge park you will see the geological history of Oregon and discover the diversity of animal and plant life that lived in the area thousands of miliniums ago.
The photo opportunities are endless. The scenery is fantastic even if you just drive through. Hiking trails lead you through some spectacular scenery. Some of these trails can even be navigated in a wheel chair. There are picnic areas where you can take a rest. You can even do a float trip on the John Day River. What you cannot do is dig for fossils, camp, or buy food and drink.
The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument covers a vast area and it is divided into three sections.
The largest unit is Sheep Rock and this is where the visitor center and headquarters is located. The closest towns are Mitchell and Kimberly. The visitor center has a fossil museum which kids especially enjoy. The historic Cant Ranch is nearby where you can picnic on the lawn and take a tour of the beautiful ranch house. These tours are given on weekends during summer months only. Also park rangers often give orientation lectures on weekends.
Some of the hiking trails are very short and easy. The longest is the Blue Basin Overlook Trail which is a three-mile loop and is quite strenuous. For a trail location map and description of each trail see Sheep Rock Trails.
The Painted Hills Unit is located off Highway 26 just nine miles from the town of Mitchell. The hills actually do look like they have been painted with a giant paint brush. For the most spectacular views it is best to visit here mid-afternoon to late-afternoon. The intensity of the colors can vary with time of day and moisture. They can change from one visit to the next. The wild flowers here are in bloom in spring and early summer.
There is a picnic area where you can relax and have a bite to eat. There are four trails here and they are all very short. Two of the trails are accesible by wheelchair--a wide boardwalk makes it easy. There are also benches along the way where you can stop and rest or just drink in the scenery. For a trail location and description map see Painted Hills Trails.
The Clarno Unit is 18 miles west of the town of Fossil. The prominent terrain here is the Palisades. There is a picnic area and three short hiking trails where you can actually see fossils in the rocks including petrified wood in the face of the cliff. You can see a map and read about the trails at Clarno Trails.
If it is disappointing to you that you cannot dig for fossils in the park, you can still dig for your own by driving to the town of Fossil. The dig area is in back of the high school.
The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument of open 365 days a year during daylight hours. The visitor center is open daily in the winter months from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. During the summer months it is open 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Day, and President's Day.