John Day Oregon is a tiny urban center situated north of Canyon City and northeast of Bend. It’s named after famed John Day River, which takes its name from a member of the Astor Expedition of 1811. Founded at the turn of the twentieth century, and drawing thousands of annual visitors for the John Day fossil beds, John Day is an interesting stop during central Oregon tours, offering plenty of rewards for taking time to discover ancient bedrock filled Permian and Triassic period fossils, as well as plenty of fascinating additions from tectonic activity during both the Triassic and Jurassic eras.
The John Day fossil beds are some of the most popular of all attractions in the area. Just as the Painted Hills depict Oregon’s history, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument relays a ton of ancient information about the state’s distant past. Between the gleaming river, the fossil beds, and camping in John Day Oregon, there are many things to do and see to entertain all ages.
Several towns were founded around John Day Oregon throughout the mid-1800s. The basin around John Day was a treasure chest of prehistoric fossils that were discovered by geologist John Condon, a self-taught fossil expert. Four layers of particularly important geology froze into the John Day River Basin, caught between layers of sandstone and siltstone. The fauna found fossilized into the basin was that of a period much earlier than any current geologists thought, and much older than any fossils previously found, offering a look into life that existed more than 50 million years ago. Visitors exploring around John Day River and the national monument can see remains of ancient rhinos, camels, bear-dogs, and 45-million-year-old, carnivorous, cat-like animals.
The monument near John Day Oregon is sectioned into three distinct areas and spans more than 13,000 acres. It presents an expansive array of fossils, presents stunning landscapes, and is laden with a variety of top-notch hiking paths and trails. The Painted Hills is a geological feature that is purely striking and incredibly photogenic. Sheep Rock, another unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, is east of the hill close to John Day itself. It includes Thomas Condon Paleontology Center exhibits, while adjacent Cant Ranch House focuses on the history of humans throughout the ancient ages. Both scenic drives and hiking trails offer a close look at the many fossilized attractions, but it’s hiking that reaps the greatest attention. The Clarno Unit is the third section, revealing an ancient, petrified forest.
Once in John Day Oregon, visitors can either check into one of the Oregon hotels available, or head to a nearby campsite to set up before embarking on a discovery route. There are a host of camping areas all around John Day River that are well maintained, equipped, and picturesque. Some are closer to the fossil beds than others. Most camping areas have either no fee or a very low rate. Muleshoe offers the most campsites in one location, with a total of ten, that are about 35 minutes northwest of the fossil beds.
John Day River is ten miles beyond the park and the town of John Day Oregon is roughly 45 minutes beyond the river, slightly south and eastward. Other camping areas include Lower Burnt Ranch and Priest Hole where sites are dispersed, as well as Lone Pine, Service Creek, and Big Bend, all within the vicinity of the fossil beds. Those choosing to camp are rewarded with plenty of outdoor activities like white-water rafting, fishing, hunting, hiking, and horseback riding. In the winter months, outdoor activities are limited to skiing, hiking, snowmobiling, and camping (for the hearty). For those wishing to take home a fossil souvenir, head to the town of Fossil, about fifteen miles east of the park, where ossified wood and fossils can be safely collected.