In the rolling, juniper-dotted hills of north-central Oregon are several isolated pockets of colorful volcanic ash and clay. These places have gained fame in the scientific community, because they preserve a remarkably complete fossil record of North America’s plant and animal life over the last 55 million years. But you do not have to be a paleontologist to appreciate this region; admiring the colorful scenery takes no expertise. Although most of the trails are short, by combining several hikes you can enjoy two full days of very scenic hiking. Note: Collecting fossils is prohibited on national monument land.
For the best overview of the Painted Hills, take the well-graded Carroll Rim Trail from the small pullout beside the ridge-top road junction. It begins from the north side of the road, then makes one long switchback up an open, sun-exposed hillside to a ridge-top viewpoint at .8 mile. From here you have a thrilling view of the colorfully striated hills.
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