Blue Basin Overlook Trail - John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Blue Basin Overlook Trail: a beautiful hike in Oregon

Have you ever heard about the Blue Basin Overlook Trail? This short hike in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Oregon) surprised me, it’s so beautiful! In this article, I’ll tell you a bit more about this gorgeous trail.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Painted Hills  Unit
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is located in the middle of the state of Oregon and has three units:
– Sheep Rock Unit
– Painted Hills Unit
– Clarno Unit

In this National Monument, you’ll learn all about the evolution of the climate, animals, and plants in this area. Many fossils have been found in the surrounding area, and you can see a couple of those fossils in the visitor center, which is located in the Sheep Rock Unit. The landscape is beautiful, you can see several colorful layers in the rocks and the mountains.

Most people only visit the Painted Hills Unit (which you can see in the picture above this paragraph), but I decided to check out the Sheep Rock Unit as well. I hiked a couple of short trails and the Blue Basin Overlook Trail was my absolute favorite.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a great stop during a road trip in the Pacific Northwest

Trailhead of the Blue Basin Overlook Trail

Trailhead Blue Basin Overlook Trail
You can find the trailhead of the Blue Basin Overlook Trail at the Blue Basin Parking lot, which is only a 5-minute drive from the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center (a good place to get some information and fill your water bottle). The trailhead is the start of two different trails: the Islands in Time Trail and the Blue Basin Overlook Trail. Follow the sign and go left. The trail is flat and easy at first.

Start of the trail

It’s time to climb!

At some point, the trail makes a turn to the right, and that’s when you have to start climbing! Don’t forget to look back sometimes, the views are getting better and better. The trail also changes from sandy to a wooden boardwalk and back to sand.

Start of the climb
look back

There’s not a lot of shade, and that will be obvious when you reach a bench with a small sign next to it:

last bit of shadow

What a view!

It’s time to continue the trail after a short break, let’s climb to the top! Take it all in, the views are breathtaking.

beautiful view

Then, you’ll reach the top of the mountain. There are a couple of dead trees and a sign that will lead you to the viewpoint. It has a bench, so you can take a break and enjoy the scenic landscape.

Blue Basin Overlook view point

Then it’s time to go back to the trail. You can see how the trail follows the hills, and it looks gorgeous.

follow the trail

Hiking back to the parking lot

There’s so much to see when you hike back down. The landscape looks like it comes straight from a painting. Some of the hills have a red color, just like the famous Painted Hills.

scenic landscape
Painted Hills lookalike

At some point, you’ll see the valley and the John Day River and before you know it, you’ll reach the Islands in Time trail.

John Day River
Island in Time Trail

At the intersection, you can follow the Islands in Time Trail if you go right (one way), but you can also go left and hike back to the parking lot.

About the trail

The trail has a length of five kilometers and it quite strenuous because of the climb. There’s also very little shade, so I would recommend hiking during a cloudy day or in the morning. It will take you about 1 to 1.5 hours to complete the trail and it’s very easy to navigate since there are barely any intersections. You can get more information about these trails and the other trails in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.

Where to stay

The units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument are located in a deserted area in Oregon. The nearest big city is Bend, and it’s a 2-hour drive to get to the units.
It’s fun to stay in one of the tiny villages that are located between the several unites, like Dayville, Fossil of Mitchell.

I stayeds in a private rome of the Spoke’n Hostel in Mitchell, which is a hostel in a church.

There are not many gas stations in this area, so make sure you have enough gas before exploring this beautiful area.

Would you like to read more about hiking in the United States?

These are some great books to get inspired:

Moon Pacific Northwest Hiking: Best Hikes plus Beer, Bites, and Campgrounds Nearby

America’s Great Hiking Trails

Or check out one of these articles about the hikes I’ve mad in the USA:


As a girl from a small town in the Netherlands, I always dreamed of traveling. I thought it would always be a dream, but nowadays, I travel 6 to 8 months a year and I hike thousands of miles on the most beautiful hiking trails. On this website you can read all about my favorite destinations.

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