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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Road Trip Destination: John Day Fossil Beds

John Day Fossil Bed Travel Information Provided by Happy Campers RV Rentals
Adventure Into The Past

“No region in the world shows a more complete sequence of Tertiary land populations, both plant and animal than the John Day Basin.”

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is just as captivating for travelers today as it was for renowned paleobotanist Dr. Chaney in the 1930’s. This magnificent geological map of our planet’s history is located less than two and a half hours (112 miles) from Bend, Oregon, proximity that cannot deter the call to adventure emanating from this striking National Monument.

With this beautiful and unique monument so close by, Happy Campers RV Rentals wants to help make this year’s National Parks Week your most memorable by highlighting some of the incredible natural features Oregon has to offer. Discover why John Day Fossil Beds should be at the top of your bucket list for your next vacation!


John Day Fossil Beds Fun Facts:

  • As the name suggests, John Day Fossil Beds has been the site of countless prehistoric fossil discoveries and is one of the few places on the planet where fossils can be found so well preserved.
  • Not only are the layers of the Painted Hills beautiful to behold, but they also tell a detailed story of how the land has changed over 50 million years.
  • The John Day Fossil Beds cover over 20,000 square miles of Eastern Oregon, which is managed by the park, state, federal, and tribal agencies.
  • The Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center is home to over 500 fossil specimens that are open to the public who wish to learn more!

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Travel Restrictions for John Day Fossil Bed National Monument

Travel Restrictions for John Day Fossil Bed National Monument

At this point during the pandemic, everyone is aware that certain locations have been hit harder by Covid-19 than others. This can make it tough for visitors who aren’t familiar with the area to know where some guidelines end and others begin. Happy Campers RV Rental has got you covered for the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument located in Grant County.

Currently, Grant County is at a Moderate Risk level which means the surest way to protect yourself and others is to continue practicing health and safety measures, such as wearing masks and limiting gatherings to small groups.

Travelers should anticipate:

  • Indoor dining allowed at 50% or 100 people, seating limited to 6 people per table
  • Outdoor dining allowed, seating limited to 8 people per table
  • Bars, Restaurants, Breweries & Wineries have an 11:00 p.m. closing time
  • Hiking and Camping allowed
  • Shopping centers have a maximum capacity at 75%; curbside pick-up is encouraged
  • Temporary suspension of indoor services due to Covid-19, so places like the Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center and Cant Ranch are currently closed
  • Indoor Recreation & Fitness at 50% occupancy
  • Maximum 8 people for indoor social gatherings
  • Maximum 10 people for outdoor social gatherings

One perk for choosing John Day Fossil Beds National Monument as your next destination are the numerous open-air trails in all three units: Sheep Rock, Painted Hill, and Clarno. Although face masks are required in NPS-administered land when physical distancing cannot be maintained, at the John Day Fossil Beds, there are more than 14,000 acres to spread out from one another.

** Disclaimer: We at Happy Campers RV Rentals do not intend to promote unsafe travel and encourage everyone to adhere to all Covid-19 regulations strictly. Our intention is to educate our readers so that all travelers may be as safe as possible.

For status updates on Grant County, please visit: https://bit.ly/3syDTTy
For regulation expectations based on county risk-level, please visit: https://bit.ly/36el66J
For updates on John Day Fossil Beds Covid-19 information, please visit: https://bit.ly/3sDxm9W

Places to stay near John Day Fossil Bed National Monument

Top 5 RV Campgrounds near John Day Fossil Bed National Monument

After a full day of “ohh-ing” and “aww-ing” at well-preserved layers of fossilized plants and mammals from the Eocene and Miocene period, you’re going to likely want a shower and a comfortable bed. Lucky for you all of our Happy Campers RV Rentals are equipped with both, plus some additional amenities that will enhance your overall R&R.

While camping is not allowed within the three units of the monument, we’ve put together a list of our top 5 recommended campgrounds near John Day Fossil Bed National Monument! In our list, you will find RV Parks, Campgrounds, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas.

*This information was pulled in March 2021.

15 Google Reviews
Lone Pine Campground near John Day Fossil Beds
  • Phone: 541-416-6700
  • Location: BLM latitude/longitude 44.131359, -120.823479
    • 20 mins (16.1 mi) away from John Day Fossil Beds
  • Price:
    • $8/night- Dry Camping (tow vehicle included, adtl vehicles @ $2 each)
  • Amenities:
    • Fires Allowed
    • Pets Allowed
    • Picnic Tables Available
    • Drinking-Water Available
    • Toilets Available
    • Trash Available
    • 42’ Maximum Vehicle Length
  • Phone: 541 763-4075
  • Location: 105 First St, Fossil, OR 97830
    • 1 hr and 11mins (59.5 mi) away from the destination
  • Price:
    • $35/night or $210/week – Full hookup
    • $25/night or $150/week – Partial hookup
  • Amenities:
    • 3 full hookup sites & 2 partial hookup sites
    • Free WiFi
    • Pets accepted upon approval (must remain on leash)
    • 35’ Maximum Vehicle Length
16 Google Reviews
Fossil Motel & RV Park near John Day Fossil Beds
143 Google Reviews
Fish House Inn & RV Park
  • Phone: 1-541-987-2124
  • Location: 110 Franklin, PO Box 143, Dayville, OR 97825
    • 6 mins (4.7 mi) away from John Day Fossil Beds
  • Price:
    • $40/night- Full hookup
  • Amenities:
    • 7 RV Sites (water, electric, and sewer)
    • 60’ Maximum Vehicle Length
    • John Day River within walking distance
    • Barbecue grills
    • Horseshoe pits
    • Outdoor sitting areas
  • Phone: 541-233-5352
  • Location: 780 OR-402, Monument, OR 97864
    • 34 mins (27.6 mi) away from the destination
  • Amenities:
    • 5 RV Sites
    • Full Hookups (water, sewer, and electric)
    • 30 AMP Hookups
    • 60’ Maximum Vehicle length
    • Picnic Tables Available
    • Gas Barbecue
    • Laundromat
    • Toilets Available
27 Google Reviews
Monument Motel & RV Park near John Day Fossil Bed
11 Google Reviews
Barnhouse Campground near John Day Fossil Bed
  • Phone: 541-416-6500
  • Location: NF-12, Mitchell, OR 97750
    • 30 mins (21.4 mi) away from John Day Fossil Beds
  • Price:
    • Free
  • Amenities:
    • 6 total RV sites – No Hookups (Dry Camping)
    • First come, first serve
    • Fires allowed
    • Pets allowed
    • Picnic tables available
    • Toilets available
    • No sewer, electric, nor water hookups
    • No Dump Station
    • 25’ Maximum Vehicle Length
Top 5 Activities Not To Miss when visiting John Day Fossil Bed

5 Activities You Can't Miss at the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument

The main difference between a National Monument and a National Park lies in the reason for preserving the land. National parks are protected to preserve their scenic and recreational value. In contrast, a National monument is protected to preserve objects of historical, cultural, and/or scientific interest. The John Day Fossil Bed National Monument is home to 55 million years of plant and animal evolution and one of the most complete fossil records in the world.

That said, this destination is meant for those who love to learn, especially when it’s outdoors! The monument is free of charge to visit and consists of three units, and each unit is about an hour’s drive away from one another. While it is possible to see each of these units in one day, we do not recommend this, however, we do recommend that you take the time to visit each unit.

Read on for Happy Campers RV Rentals’ Top 5 Activities you won’t want to miss at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

1. Take a Hike

Painted Hills of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon, USA

The Painted Hills Overlook trail will lead you to the spot that most of those gorgeous photos of sunset hues, rolling hills were taken. This out-and-back trail is an easy 0.6 miles with 78 ft of elevation gain, located in the Painted Hills Unit of the monument. Dogs are allowed on the trail but will need to be on a leash.

Happy Campers recommends tackling any of the Painted Hills trails on a sunny day when the colors are intensified. We also recommend using the bathroom prior to departure as there are no facilities at the trailheads.

*Other trails to consider for those colorful views are Painted Cove Trail (0.3 mi) and Red Star Knoll (0.5 mi).

Island in Time is an out-and-back, easy 1.2 mi trail with a 252 ft elevation gain. We recommend taking your time to stop and read the signs, so plan for this hike to take about 45 mins. This Sheep Rock Unit trail begins at the Blue Basin Trailhead and ends with rewarding views seemingly off the set of Star Trek. Your leashed furry friends are allowed on this trail, however, the many bridges they will need to cross are not meant for their paws- prepare to carry them over bridges or leave them in the RV.

Happy Campers would like to remind all hikers that rockfalls happen (especially in Spring.) Trails through historical rock formations are prime hikes for potential rock falls, so be careful and listen for shifts in the rocks above.

*Alternatively, for those wanting a bit more of an exercise, check out the Blue Basin Overlook (3.25 mi loop).

Island in Time trail located in the Sheep Rock Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Trail of Fossils located in the Clarno Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

While you won’t find dinosaur fossils at the monument, you will be able to see plant and mammal fossils in the rocks on the Trail of Fossils. This out-and-back trail is an easy 1.3 miles with 249 ft of elevation gain, located in the Clarno Unit of the monument. In order to get to this trail, type in “Palisades Trailhead” into your GPS and prepare for a scenic drive with views of golden hills and the Palisades. The trail is rather exposed so bring sun protection and, while you’re at it, a leash for your dog(s) and sturdy shoes for the steep elevation.

Our favorite part of this trail is that every step you take in the direction of the restrooms represents another 37,000 years, adding up to a grand total of 50 million years. This leads us to believe that, there must have been some very profound thoughts while hovering over those pit toilets.

2. Dig for Fossils

The location where Wheeler High School was built, was originally a shallow lake from the Oligocene time period. This lake collected fallen leaves and aquatic vertebrates that over time, became fossilized ancestors of modern specimens. Although digging for fossils at the monument is prohibited, here you can collect fossils in a safe location with guides that help identify your findings. Individuals can get digging for $5 or $15 for a family of four.

Closed – 4/1/21
Address: 333 West Fourth Street, Fossil, OR 97830
Phone: 541-763-4480

Visit Wheeler High school in Fossil, OR to dig for fossils

3. Rustle-up Some Grub

Eat at the Oxbow Restaurant & Saloon near John Day Fossil Beds

The energy you exert exploring the monument will need to be replenished. If you’re not planning on cooking in the RV one evening, head over to the Oxbow Restaurant & Saloon. Despite their location in seemingly the middle of nowhere, vegetarians and carnivores alike will find something tasty to eat on their menu. This American-style restaurant has 4.5 stars with 74 Google reviews and is currently open for dine-in and takeout (4/1/21). Plan on eating at the Oxbow for dinner between 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm (Wednesday- Thursday), or 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm (Saturday – Sunday).

Open – 4/1/21
Address: 124 Front St, Prairie City, OR 97869
Phone: 541-820-4544

4. Wet Your Whistle

Wet your whistle with a pint brewed in-house, leveraging local ingredients at 1188 Brewing Co. This brewery represents Grant County’s first modern day pub and is roughly 40 mins away from the monument. 1188 offers a number of their own brews, as well as guest taps from smaller breweries around Oregon. This local gem also offers a full menu suitable for the heartiest of appetites. At a 4.6 star rating with 185 Google reviews, be sure to visit 1188 for dine-in or takeout (4/1/21) during your visit to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

Open – 4/1/21
Address: 141 E Main St, John Day, OR 97845
Phone: 541-575-1188


5. Brush Up on History


At the Thomas Condon Paleontology & Visitor Center you can see and hear scientifically accurate mural depictions and audio representations of a time millions of years ago. The exhibit displays over 500 fossil specimens found in the John Day Fossil Beds. As you walk around the center you can also watch an 18-minute park orientation film and paleontologists actively performing fossil science in their lab.

Closed – 4/1/21
Address: 32651 Highway 19, Kimberly, OR 9784
Phone: 541-987-2333

Learn about the late 19th and 20th century from the point of view of a Chinese apothecary/general store/social hub from the 1800s. The Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site is the best-preserved example of a Chinese apothecary and it’s located just outside of the Painted Hills Unit, in John Day, OR. Call ahead to schedule your 45 min guided tour (8 people/tour)!

Closed – 4/1/21
Address: John Day, OR 97845
Phone: 541-575-2800

Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site near John Day Fossil Beds
Cant Ranch Historic Home & Museum near John Day Fossil Beds

Currently, the Cant Ranch Historic Home & Museum operates as the present-day John Day Fossil Beds headquarters. The original structures were built in the early 1900s and have its modern ranch complex has been preserved throughout the years. Visit the Cant Ranch during the summer months and be sure to call ahead to ensure your visit aligns with one of their limited open days. Otherwise, the outdoor areas, trails, and overlooks are open during daylight hours for self-guided tours.

Open for self-guided tours only – 4/1/21
Address: 32651 Highway 19, Kimberly, OR 97848
Phone: 541-987-2333

  1. This is seriously one of the best lists! Fossil digging at the High School is so much fun. One of our favorite stops when headed out there is Painted Hills Pastry and Tiger Town Brewing in Mitchell. We stayed at the Fish House Inn RV Park in Dayville and it was perfect – clean, quiet and big bathrooms. The owners are super nice.

    1. Kat Courtney

      Thank you Jason! Fossil digging sounds like so much fun and such a cool experience. Also, that whole trip you took sounds amazing!

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