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Oregon State Parks

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Central & Eastern Region
Painted Hills State Park
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Painted Hills State Park Painted Hill © Tom Miller
Painted Hills State Park Painted Hills © Tom Miller
Painted Hills State Park Sensuous © Richard Ferguson
Curves and color of the Painted Hills
Painted Hills State Park Red Beauty © Richard Ferguson
Summer color
Painted Hills State Park Watercolors © Richard Ferguson
Layers of ash blend softly together as if painted by a watercolor artist
Painted Hills State Park Viewpoint © Richard Ferguson
Sunrise over the park
Painted Hills State Park Moon Tree © Richard Ferguson
Tree fingers stretch to catch a gibbous moon
Painted Hills State Park Sleeping Giant © Richard Ferguson
Softly blanketed with hues
Painted Hills State Park Early Morning © Richard Ferguson
The Sun touches the Hills
Painted Hills State Park Desert Color © Richard Ferguson
High Desert sky over the Hills
Painted Hills State Park Painted Hills © Thomas Reiman
An HDR image of the Painted Hills in Central Oregon.
Painted Hills State Park © Michael Skourtes
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Painted Hills State Park is a mesmerizing natural wonder that boasts an array of vibrant and colorful geological formations. The park's name derives from the rolling hills adorned with layers of red, gold, black and orange soil - colors which change dramatically under different light conditions throughout the day. This surreal landscape was formed over 35 million years ago by volcanic ash deposits layered with plant material and minerals creating unique striations across each hillside. It's part of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument where visitors can explore trails leading to panoramic views or discover ancient fossils at its museum exhibits.

History of the Area
Located in Wheeler County, Oregon, the Painted Hills is one of three units within John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The area was named for its beautifully colored stratifications in the soil and has been a significant attraction since it became part of the national monument on October 26th, 1975.

The history of this unique landscape dates back over 35 million years when it was an ancient river floodplain. Its colorful layers formed from volcanic ash that settled here after eruptions occurred millions of years ago; different colors indicate various geological eras and changes in climate.

In addition to being visually stunning, these hills have also proven scientifically valuable as they contain numerous well-preserved plant fossils dating back to prehistoric times which provide insights into past ecosystems and climates.

Despite not having official state park status (it's managed by U.S National Park Service), visitors are drawn year-round due to its striking beauty with many hiking trails offering close-up views at every turn.

Over time efforts were made towards preserving this natural wonder while making it accessible for public enjoyment without causing damage or erosion. Today there are boardwalks installed around key areas allowing people to admire them up-close but still protect their delicate nature.

Painted Hills State Park is

1. Painted Cove Trail: This is a quarter-mile boardwalk trail that allows visitors to get up close with the vibrant colors of the hills.

2. Carroll Rim Trail: A 1.6 mile round trip, this moderately difficult hike offers panoramic views of the entire park from its highest point.

3. Leaf Hill Trail: An easy half-mile loop where you can see fossilized leaves and other plant life embedded in rocks along your path.

4. Red Scar Knoll Loop (Red Hill): It's an off-the-beaten-path one-third mile walk around a red hill which provides stunning photo opportunities at sunset or sunrise due to its coloration against light conditions.

5. Overlook Trails: These are short trails leading towards viewpoints overlooking different sections of painted hills providing breathtaking vistas for photography enthusiasts.

6. Fossil Beds Interpretive Area & Picnic Grounds: Though not exactly hiking trails, these areas provide leisurely walks through picnic grounds while offering information about fossils found within Park boundaries.

7. Painted Hills Unit - John Day Fossil Bed National Monument Hike: The main attraction covering all major points including leaf hill trail, overlook trail etc., it's approximately three miles long but relatively flat making it accessible for most fitness levels.

8. Bear Gulch Nature Trial: Located near Mitchell town outside state park boundary; however, worth mentioning as hikers often combine their visit here because they offer unique geological formations similar to those seen inside State Park.

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Nearby Hotels

1. Start by heading east on US:26 E from Portland.
2. Continue driving for approximately 120 miles until you reach the town of Mitchell.
3. In Mitchell, turn left onto Bridge St/US:26 E and continue for about 10 miles.
4. Take a slight right onto Burnt Ranch Rd/Ochoco Forest Camp Rd and drive for another mile or so.
5. Turn left onto Bear Creek Main/Bear Crk Mtn Loop Scenic Byway (signs will indicate "Painted Hills") and proceed for around 9 miles.

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Oregon State Parks