Yes, they’re real…although you may be forgiven for thinking that Oregon’s Painted Hills look like they’ve undergone a round of photo manipulation. The area’s extraordinarily colorful hills – striped rust reds, grainy tans, golds and ochres from ancient volcanic ash flows – are so unique they made Travel Oregon's list as one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon.
Simple visual appeal aside, what makes the Painted Hills a great spot to visit year-round is its seasonal versatility. The slopes' colors change and intensify with weather shifts, and erosive forces are constantly revealing new layers, shades and sights.
However, for a postcard-perfect experience, drop by in the early evening on a spring day. You may have to endure a little Oregon rain, but when the thunderheads roll away, the setting sun and rising mists bring out shockingly saturated hues from the hillsides.
The Painted Hills are part of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, but they’re not always a terrific place for hiking – cross country treks can leave last footprints, like on the moon. Still, the Hills Overlook is highly recommended for a stunning view (especially when a herd of antelope wander by).
Determined hikers can try the nearby Blue Basin Overlook loop, which offers a set of snapshot-worth vistas of the hills. There are also a handful of shorter hikes with similar panoramic views in the area.
For those planning a trip, take note: no campsites or lodgings exist within the monument boundaries. The nearest national-chain amenities – including gas stations - are over 50 miles away at either Prineville or John Day. However, one nice affordable option nearby is the Oregon Hotel in Mitchell: http://theoregonhotel.net.
For more information, contact the folks at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument at 541-987-2333 or visit the official National Park Service website at http://www.nps.gov/joda.