Coronavirus update (May 15th): All three units of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument have reopened, after closure on March 24th; only the visitor center remains shut
John Day Fossil Beds Map
The largest segment of the national monument is the Sheep Rock Unit
, extending 12 miles along the John Day River at the south end of highway 19, which joins US 26, an intersection 78 miles east of Prineville
, the nearest major city. Here are found a historic ranch, a museum and visitor center, several short trails to fossil sites and overlooks, plus one longer (3 mile) loop
around a deeply eroded ravine through blue-grey badlands. Thirty five miles west, the Painted Hills Unit
also contains fossil sites but the main point of interest is the beautiful, undulating, banded hills, variously yellow, brown and red in color, a landscape especially pretty near sunset. The smallest, most remote and least visited unit is Clarno
, 80 miles by road from Sheep Rock. This is centered on a cliff face on the north side of a John Day River tributary, in which are found a variety of embedded fossils. There is no entrance fee for any of the three units, no campground, and few facilities; apart from the visitor center, ranchhouse and museum at Sheep Rock, the national monument contains only trails, overlooks and picnic areas.