Bend Oregon History & Museums: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon

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John Day Fossil Beds

Home to amazingly well-preserved fossils dating back tens of millions of years, the John Day Fossil Beds, a famous U.S. National Monument located northeast of Bend, is one of Oregon’s most fascinating natural attractions.

  • View the spectacular vivid colors of the Painted Hills.
  • Fascinating fossils of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago.
  • Hike on several trails through this fascinating National Monument.
  • Ranger-led hikes provide insight into Oregon’s ancient past.

Overview

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is actually comprised of three units that are located in different areas of Oregon northeast of Bend. Spanning over 14,000 acres, the fossil beds were designated as a U.S. National Monument in 1975 and are managed by the National Park Service. The Painted Hills consist of over 3,100 square acres of unusually formed hills with colorful striations of vivid red, gold, yellow, and black hues. Sheep Rock, with its colorful layers, towers 1,100 feet above the beautiful John Day River. The giant Palisades at the Clarno Unit were formed from volcanic mudflows that occurred around 44 million years ago.

Location & Information

The John Day Fossil Beds, Oregon, are located east / northeast of Bend in three different areas. Painted Hills and Sheep Rock are approximately 42 miles and 80 miles east (respectively) of Prineville via Hwy 26. The Clarno Unit is approximately 89 miles northeast of Bend by taking Hwy 97 north, then Hwy 218 east to Clarno.

Contact Information

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, 32651 Highway 19, Kimberly, Oregon 97848. Phone: 541-987-2333. Visit the website here.

Activities

  • River rafting - With many portions designated as Wild and Scenic, the beautiful John Day River is excellent for a multi-day raft trip through some of Oregon’s most breathtaking scenery.
  • Hiking – There are several trails that wind throughout these Oregon Fossil Beds that offer spectacular views. There are also free ranger-led hikes that give visitors a more in depth history of the area.

Fun Facts

  • 50 million years ago, this high desert part of Oregon was once almost tropical with palm trees and crocodiles.
  • The John Day Fossil Beds are believed to contain the earliest rhino fossils in the world.
  • The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center at Sheep Rock provides visitors with excellent up-close views of many fossils.
  • The Painted Hill’s colors are most vivid in the afternoon.