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Oregon's Painted Hills

When we had arrived at Crater Lake National Park we still had some glaring questions as to our return route.  While I had secured enough lodging in the Glacier National Park region to know we were definitely visiting Montana, the dates I’d reserved were July 17-19 and July 20-22, which meant we still had to figure out the night of July 19, and that we also had over a week to venture from Southern Oregon to Western Montana.  

Luckily, while we were at Crater Lake I had noticed a one night stay for July 16 at Glacier, and the next day I found the exact same hotel available for a one night stay July 15.  I had the reservations combined and cancelled July 20-22, and finally we had a much more concise trip with four nights (July 15-19) at Glacier National Park — two nights at Rising Sun and two nights at Lake McDonald.  Now all we had to do was figure out how to spend the next six nights getting from Crater Lake National Park to Glacier National Park.

Morning view of the colorful terrain at Oregon’s Painted Hills.

We did some Idaho explorations last summer, so I was absolutely certain I wanted to go through Oregon’s Painted Hills and Washington’s Palouse region on our way to Montana.  I’d also wanted to spend a few days around Bend, Oregon, but last minute weekend lodging was so incredibly expensive that we opted to skip Bend and head straight to Mitchell, Oregon, the closest town to the Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  

Our visit to Mitchell, Oregon was just a short one night stay.  We arrived in the late afternoon, checked into our small motel and were surprised to find that even this small town of 130 people had a craft brewery restaurant where we enjoyed some brews, wings and burgers before heading out to the Painted Hills for sunset.  On the other hand, this small town of 130 people had only one gas station and it closed for the evening before we could fill up.  This meant we only had about 70 miles in the tank to make it in and out of the park twice (sunset and sunrise) before the gas station would open in the morning.  The park was 9 miles from town so we’d need at least 18 miles x2, which gave me around 30 miles for cushion.  It wasn’t really a big deal (we’ve done worse before) but it meant I couldn’t do any aimless morning driving explorations without a clear idea of how I was getting back to the motel. 

Smoky sunset over the Painted Hills in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Pink skies over colorful red mounds at Oregon's Painted Hills.
View of the Painted Hills Overlook at sunset.

We ended up at the Painted Hills Overlook Trail for a smoky sunset (which was a trend for the rest of our trip).  The following morning I returned to the park and revisited the Painted Hills Overlook as well as walked all the short trails in the unit.  I’ve always liked colorful badlands and it was definitely a nice stop, although probably good my husband had convinced me to just book only night in Mitchell (to start) since with the overall smoky atmosphere in Oregon it was good to keep moving.  He was also pleasantly surprised at the park.

Once I was back from my morning excursion and the husband and kids were all awake we packed up and drove over to the Sheep Rock unit and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument visitor center to get our National Parks Passport stamps.  We weren’t really sure to go after that, but eventually decided on Kennewick, WA for one night while we figured out how many days to spend in Washington’s Palouse region and whether to visit Spokane (WA), Coeur d’Alene (ID) or whether we’d find any longing around Montana’s Flathead Lake to spend some time on our way to Glacier.

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