This is a short loop that brings the kids up close to some of the clay hills in the area.
Depending on weather conditions in the winter, one or more areas of John Day Fossil Beds may be closed if the roads are not open or passable.
The "painted hills" are off limits to visitors as they are fragile landscapes and that can be damaged by people hiking on them.
The Painted Cove Trail is a short nature trail that passes through some of the colorful geologic features that can be found in the Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. There is a decent sized parking lot at the trailhead for vehicles of all sizes. You can choose to go straight or take a left and follow the boardwalk around the hills. This description follows the path to the left.
As you leave the parking lot, the trail goes off to the right and follows a boardwalk that works its way around a red and yellow clay hill. There are several signs that speak to the fragile nature of the landscape, urging visitors to stay on the trail and not traipse on the barren slopes that are void of topsoil or plants. The path allows you to see the texture of the hills up close. The clay particles that make up the hill absorb rain water and make it very difficult for plants to draw the water from the ground. Underneath the surface, the hardpan nature of the soil prevents plant roots from penetrating the ground. When combined with the poor nutrient conditions and hot, dry summers of the Painted Hills area, it makes sense that plants have a hard time growing here.
The trail departs the boardwalk and climbs a hill behind the hill. Sinkholes and a watershed can be seen in this area as you climb above the hills you just passed. In the distance, you can see private property that lies outside the park boundary, including a couple of ponds that keep the land irrigated and cattle fed. It's a nice view, and one of the better ones on this trail. The trail then descends along the backside of the hill, which is separated from the hills by a log barrier. The trail passes a Rhyolite Flow (a lava flow), which is the lavender-gray layer off to the right of the trail. A bench sits off to the lefthand side where you can take a break and enjoy the scenery. Passing a sign that talks about the erosion that shaped the area, the trail emerges back at the parking lot. Before jumping in your car, take the opportunity to enjoy the views of the surrounding hills.
Shared By: David Hitchcock