HikingRugged canyons, and prehistoric fossil beds, the John Day River Territory is a playground for nature lovers. The region’s natural beauty invites visitors to stay awhile; to bike, hike, fish, swim, paddle and savor life slowed down to perfection. It’s the perfect destination for those who want to trade in life’s hustle and bustle for a few days of peace, serenity, and awe-inspiring views. Cottonwood Canyon State Park Sheep Rock Unit of the Painted Hills National Monument Painted Hills Unit Fossil & Beyond Cottonwood Canyon State Park Cottonwood Canyon State Park is one of the largest in the state of Oregon. The area is very popular among hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. The Lost Corral Trail and Pinnacles Trail are two of the most trafficked options in the park and are great ways to explore the park's beautiful landscape. The John Day River is a popular destination for anglers. Visitors often catch steelhead, bass, and catfish. Those looking to stay overnight can either stay in the campground or rent one of the park's rustic cabins. This park is a wonderful respite from the busy urban life of Portland.Best trails in Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Oregon | AllTrails Sheep Rock Unit of the Painted Hills National Monument Picture Gorge. From the outside, it looks like a geological wonder, a deep crevice slicing through the jagged rocks and hillsides, but the real treasure lies on Picture Gorge’s walls: sacred, centuries-old pictographs. The pictures, depicting humans, animals and geometric designs, were painted by Native Americans using pigment made from local minerals.Just past Picture Gorge lies the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The area is distinguished by its Turtle Cove strata, a striking blue-green rock layer produced by millions of years of volcanic ash accumulation.The Sheep Rock Unit is equipped with picnic areas and plentiful hiking opportunities to take in the area’s awe-inspiring natural beauty and learn about the flora and fauna that inhabited these lands over the past 25-30 million years. Painted Hills Unit Don’t miss the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, the crown jewel of the Monument. Large bay windows allow visitors to peek into this working paleontology lab where scientists gently unlock the fossil remains from their rocks. An impressive exhibit hall showcases the fossil record found here with colorful dioramas, replicas of animals and plants, and a soundtrack to match. There are exhibits designed for children too, as well as a chance to handle replica skulls and other bone fragments through daily ranger-led talks.Backtrack on Highway 19 and continue west on Highway 26 to Mitchell and the Painted Hills Unit of the Monument just beyond.One of Oregon’s 7 Wonders, the Painted Hills are named for the vibrant mounds of gold, red, black and orange soils that punctuate these hills. The Monument welcomes guests with a shaded picnic area, restrooms, and interpretive signs. Short hiking loops throughout the park allow visitors to get a close-up view of the unique, multicolored bentonite soil. Fossil & Beyond The third unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is located off Highway 218 near the aptly named community of Fossil.The rocks of the Clarno Unit capture a period in time where tiny four-toed horses and massive rhino-like brontotheres roamed hills covered in lush, dense vegetation. As you drive through today’s desert-like scene — palm trees replaced with juniper and sagebrush — it’s hard to imagine this region as the semitropical forest it once was.Roughly 44 million years ago, a series of volcanic mudflows swept up plants and vegetation from this period and preserved them in the Palisades. Scientists have identified petrified wood from 173 unique species of trees, as well as leaves, fruits, nuts, seeds and shrubs, vines and other plants preserved within the Clarno Unit’s rock layers. You can get a better look at them via the Trail of Fossils, a 1/4 mile loop that snakes its ways past boulders containing the visible remains.While digging is prohibited in the Monument, budding paleontologists can unearth prehistoric treasures in the rich fossil beds behind Wheeler High School. Roughly 33 million years ago, the area was the bed of a shallow lake. Today, it is one of Oregon’s only legally accessible fossil digs, containing the fossilized remains of deciduous trees that grew along nearby streams and wetlands. Loaner hammers, shovels, and buckets for toting rocks are available. There is a small fee for each explorer.Nearby, the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute is a hub for hands-on exploration, offering interactive displays focused on the John Day Basin’s geological history. Be sure to call ahead for hours.20 miles north, Condon is a prime spot to fuel up for the rest of the day’s adventures. Country Flowers, an old-fashioned soda fountain with locally-crafted gifts and an Eastern Oregon branch of the famous Powell’s Bookstore, anchors the charming, historic Main Street.A short detour east on Highway 206 and Lonerock Road leads to a beautiful valley and the quaint community of Lonerock, a once booming pioneer town. Look for the huge rock — the town’s namesake — which looks as if it fell from the sky and happened to land next to the sparkling Methodist church.30 miles northwest of Condon lies Cottonwood Canyon State Park, where jagged cliffs, steep canyon walls, and the untamed John Day River provide the backdrop for Oregon’s second largest state park.Or head north to Arlington, a peaceful riverfront community where visitors can try their hand at windsurfing or stand-up paddle boarding on the mighty Columbia River or just spend a lazy afternoon taking in Eastern Oregon’s beautiful outdoors.