There are three units of this National Monument named for the John Day River that drains this region in the rain shadow of the Cascades. It is less green than much of Oregon, but that lack of vegetation allows the wonderful colors of the soil to show through in places like the Painted Hills and Blue Basin.
Scenic views, geologic formations, fossils, museum
The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center gets our vote for the best museum in the entire National Park Service System. Across from Sheep Rock, it has awesome exhibits on the 40-million years of mammalian history this monument protects. Plus, watch real laboratory specimens being prepared by archaeologists. Across the highway, have a picnic at the James Cant Ranch Historic District and learn about sheep and cattle ranching in this region.
The Blue Basin is accurately named at the end of the one-mile Island in Time Trail.
If you can only see one unit of the monument, make sure it is the surreal Painted Hills. Stunning colors on large clay hills with several interpretive loop trails describe the geological history and fossils found there.
Summer, though wildfires can cause road closures.
Dirt roads at the Painted Hills are passable with most vehicles when dry.
None within the monument, but there are several campgrounds in the area, including a nice one we stayed at in the town of Fossil, Oregon.
Explore More – Which unit of the National Monument is known for its fossil plants in mudstone?