A Guide To The Painted Hills, Oregon

Post Summary: What To Expect When Visiting The Painted Hill In Oregon

Because of our easy mobility, we experienced so many new places on this trip – from natural coastal bridges to epic sunsets in Yosemite to here…magnificent red rock! If you’d like to see our full itinerary and even plan your own Pacific Coast trip, check out this post for resources, maps, and tons of photos.

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Our plan that day was to drive from Bend to Portland, with a detour to the Painted Hills.

Driving there added about 4 more hours to our day, but at this point, we were used to it. As we were doing our research on places we could see along the route, this one immediately caught our attention.

We love finding unique and weird places (like visiting the moon in Idaho) so wanted to see this red rock with our own eyes.

Exploring Oregon's Painted Hills. TheMandagies.com @themandagies

What To Expect At The Painted Hills In Oregon

We’ll start off by saying we definitely took a detour to get here.

The Painted Hills are located in north-central Oregon, south of the Columbia River Gorge and north of the Ocho National Forest. Often, this is the first stop on an Eastern Oregon road trip – one of many geological wonders that you will encounter in this part of the state!

If you want to spend more time out here, keep reading because we’re sharing places fairly nearby that you can visit as well! 

Quick Facts about The Painted Hills:

  • 4-hour drive from Portland, Oregon
  • 2-hour drive from Bend, Oregon
  • This area used to be a floodplain, and the river deposited laterite (rich in iron and aluminum) to create that rusty colored landscape
  • The Painted Hills are a part of the greater John Day Fossil Bed National Monument

Exploring Oregon's Painted Hills. TheMandagies.com @themandagies

Exploring Oregon's Painted Hills. TheMandagies.com @themandagies

Our original plan was to come here and catch the sunrise in all its splendor over the colorful hills. We woke up at 3 am in Bend, and began our ~ 2-hour drive to the park.

Unfortunately, as you can see from the photos, it was an exceptionally cloudy day. We didn’t get an epic sunrise, but we did get to see the valley slowly wake up and come into full color – you win some you lose some!

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There are a handful of short trails in the area, but the star of the show is the Painted Cove Trail.

This is the one with fiery red soil, which makes you feel like you are walking on another planet! The Painted Cove Trail is located about 20 minutes into the park, with clear signs and a convenient parking lot to guide you to the boardwalk.

Exploring Oregon's Painted Hills. TheMandagies.com @themandagies

Before arriving, we were under the impression that this boardwalk was a winding pathway that would go far through the hills.

In reality, it’s only about 200 yards from end to end, curving in between the red hills just enough for you to pretend you are on mars for a few moments. That doesn’t take away from its beauty though – the color is as magnificent in real life as they are in pictures!

Exploring Oregon's Painted Hills. TheMandagies.com @themandagies

Exploring Oregon's Painted Hills. TheMandagies.com @themandagies

Exploring Oregon's Painted Hills. TheMandagies.com @themandagies

Exploring Oregon's Painted Hills. TheMandagies.com @themandagies

Exploring Oregon's Painted Hills. TheMandagies.com @themandagies

Exploring Oregon's Painted Hills. TheMandagies.com @themandagies

The Painted Hills are pretty far from any large city, so it’s a nature lover’s paradise. We saw tons of wildlife here (birds and rabbits especially!) and it has a certain peaceful presence that was much needed after our whirlwind of a trip. With the Ocho, Umatilla, and Malheur National Forests nearby, get creative and make a camping tour of Oregon’s central wonders!

Camping Around The Painted Hills In Eastern Oregon

There are tons of campground options to stay around the Painted Hills in Oregon! To find the ones that are best for you and your group, we suggest downloading an app called The Dyrt. This is the largest campground find app on the market, with tons of ways to filter through and find the perfect spot!

Try their pro membership free for 30-days when using our code MANDAGIES!

Read More: Camping In The Pacific Northwest

Read More: How To Survive Camping In The Rain

Painted Hills Map from National Park Service
Map Courtesy of www.nps.gov

Other activities to do near the Painted Hills

  1. Go hiking in the Ocho National Forest (about an hour’s drive away)
  2. Camp in the Umatilla National Forest or Malheur National Forest (both are to the East of Painted Hills)
  3. Explore the entrepreneurial city of Bend Oregon (you must stop at this coffee shop!)
  4. Go climbing and watch the sunrise/sunset at Smith Rock State Park (1.5-hour drive)

Read More: Things To Do In The Umpqua National Forest, Oregon

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As we mentioned earlier, this was our last planned stop on our Pacific Coast Road Trip.

Living in a van was an incredible experience. Berty and I learned a lot about how we travel together, all the essentials to bring, and the opportunities that van life provides. If you want to read more about what living in a van was like, we wrote a big post about it here! You can also email us with questions any time – we love talking with fellow travelers!

([email protected] / [email protected])

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We are excited to return to Oregon in the near future.

Still on our list is to visit Crater Lake (it was blizzarding last time we went!), explore Mt. Hood National Forest, and camp in the Willamette National Forest.

In June, we purchased an America The Beautiful Pass, which lets us access * for free!* all the national parks, as well as national forests. Who knew this would come in handy and save us a ton of money in the long run!?

Have you explored the Painted Hills? Let us know in the comments below!


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  1. I wish I looked that cute when traveling on an outdoorsy trip! I almost went to the painted hills this summer, glad to know they look just as stunning on a grey day as a sunny day.

  2. Oh my gosh I hadn’t heard about the painted hills until your blog post! I’m pinning this post and adding this beautiful place to my bucket list!

    xo, emma

  3. Okay, I had NO IDEA there was anything this unique in Oregon! We have been talking about a west coast family road trip and this would be super fun!