Painted Hills, Oregon for Camping

Being relatively new to the Portland area, I had never explored much outside of the city. I had gone to the coast a handful of times and had obviously explored the gorge as well but never anything more than an hour and change away. With this in mind, and the weather starting to feel more like spring than winter (finally), my friends suggested a camping trip to Painted Hills. I was immediately onboard!

We met up around 6:30 AM on a Saturday and loaded our gear into two cars. There were Nine of us total so two cars were necessary. Our plan was to go “car camping” so we didn’t hold back on bringing anything! We packed tents, tarps, a camp stove, coolers, food etc… Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly a “light” load but, with all of our comforts and amenities, we hit the road.

The drive took around 5 hours to complete. We hit every type of weather along the way including rain, fog, heavy snow (in Mt. Hood), intense wind, and eventually sunshine! Nevertheless, it was an amazing drive. The views were gorgeous the entire way. The majority of the area is considered High-Desert which is something I personally had never seen before so I was excited about the landscapes.

We arrived at the Painted Hills Viewpoint and it took My breath away. The different layers of soil, each a different color, each representing a different era in the history of the landscape. It was completely different to anything I had ever seen before. We enjoyed the views from there for a while and then decided to go set up camp.

The land out there is majorly public so camping is essentially allowed just about anywhere. We had found that there were 3 or 4 sites on Burnt Ranch, about a 20-minute drive down a dirt road from the viewpoint, that also had a bathroom so we decided to stay there. (**watch for cows in the road while driving!**)

The site was GORGEOUS. It was right on the John Day River and we were the only people there. We took a hike up to the top of a hill in the area to get a better view of our surroundings and enjoyed the fresh air. After the hike, it was certainly time for a nice cold beer! We got back to camp and poured a couple IPA’s from our pressurized growlers (the uKeg by GrowlerWerks), did some last minute touch-ups on our tents and tarps and then started a fire to prepare for dinner. We enjoyed potatoes, vegetables, chili, and spicy sausages over the open fire. Finishing off with S’mores for desert (obviously). The moon was just about full but the stars still put on a show! We enjoyed staring up into space and counting shooting stars with a few beers and glasses of wine in hand. (I would recommend trying to go when there is less of a moon if you are a fan of the night sky).

The next morning brought great weather! It was 60 and Sunny by 9 am. We had made breakfast tacos and ate some Avacado and oatmeal as well, packed up all of our gear (making sure to get all the trash), and hit the road. We spent the day exploring the rest of the Painted Hills area. We did a few short hikes and got to experience the region from many different viewpoints.

Overall, the trip was DEFINITELY worth the drive. We were only there for one night this time around but I would 100% go back for longer.

Insider Tip

Head to Blue Basin for a fun, easy hike that takes you to an amazing place to hang out and enjoy some peace and quiet.

Where I stayed / started

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