The Painted Hills have been deemed one of the “7 Wonders of Oregon” for a reason – the scenery is some of the coolest & most unique in the entire state! You will not want to miss the opportunity to have a Painted Hills elopement if you’re looking to elope somewhere out in the Oregon desert, and if you want some pretty freaking epic + otherworldly views. This guide will give you all the info you need to know to elope at the Painted Hills in Oregon, one of my all-time fave places to take couples!
First, let’s talk about where the Painted Hills are + how to get to them!
The Painted Hills are part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument about 10 miles northwest of the town of Mitchell, in eastern Oregon. If you’re driving from Bend, it’ll take you about 2 hours. The national monument area actually encompasses three different locations: the Painted Hills Unit, the Sheep Rock Unit, & the Clarno Unit, but the Painted Hills unit is definitely the most popular of the three!
The Painted Hills is only accessible by road, so you’ll need a car to drive there. I recommend renting a car at PDX if you’re flying into Oregon for your elopement! Follow signs to the town of Mitchell, turn onto Burnt Ranch Road, then Bear Creek Road, and then you can follow signs to the Painted Hills parking area!
The closest airport to the Painted Hills is Portland International Airport (PDX), which is a 195-mile or approximately 4-hour drive. Click here to see driving directions from PDX to the Painted Hills!
YES! You can absolutely get married at this freaking stunning national monument, and I highly recommend it – as long as you get the correct permit if you need it. You’ll need a Special Use Permit (see below section) if your wedding/elopement will involve more than 20 people, including you, your guests, & your vendors. Keep in mind that the max group size is 75!
The cost to get married at the Painted Hills may vary depending on the location you want to hold your ceremony at, how many people you have, the date you choose, & other factors. But the one cost you can expect to pay for sure is the $50 application fee to apply for a Special Use Permit if you end up needing one.
Nope – you can enter and park at the Painted Hills (or anywhere in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument) for free!
Yes, dogs are allowed at the Painted Hills! According to the NPS website, pets are allowed in developed areas (including overlooks, picnic areas, etc.) and on hiking trails. So feel free to bring your pup(s) for your hike and/or ceremony!
Getting the correct permits is a crucial part of elopement planning, and so is knowing in advance what fees you’ll have to pay or passes you’ll have to get. Here’s what you need to know about permits, passes, & fees to hold your elopement or wedding at the Painted Hills!
There are no entrance fees or passes required to visit the Painted Hills, or any of the units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument 🙂 One less thing you have to worry about!
Although you won’t have to pay a fee to simply enter the national monument area, you may need a permit depending on what your elopement is going to look like. If you want to hold your ceremony at the Painted Hills, and you’ll have a group size of more than 20 people (including both of you, your guests, & your vendors), you WILL need a Special Use Permit! The maximum group size allowed is 75 people.
Here’s how to get a Painted Hills Special Use Permit for your elopement or wedding if you’ll have between 20-75 people attending:
John Day Fossil Beds
32651 Hwy 19
Kimberly, OR 97848
If you have any questions about getting a Special Use Permit for the Painted Hills, you can reach out to the National Park Service contact via email at email@example.com , or call (360) 912-2771.
Finally, to get legally married via a ceremony at the Painted Hills, you’ll need to get your Oregon marriage license. There’s lots to know when it comes to getting your marriage license & learning about the state’s marriage laws, so I created a separate blog post for you – pause and head over to this Complete Guide to Oregon Marriage Laws + Licenses in 2022 for all the deets!
One of the reasons I LOVE the Painted Hills as an elopement location: it’s freaking beautiful all year-round! Of course every season is different, and the weather changes, but compared to other outdoor locations in Oregon that I recommend for elopements, the Painted Hills are one of the most consistently accessible & equally beautiful throughout all four seasons.
In general, I’d say the best time of year to elope at the Painted Hills is from late spring to early fall, typically between May-September. Summer is when you’ll have the best weather, and trust me – you want the highest chance of sunshine you can get here, since the hills look so phenomenal with a blue sky above! The sunsets at the Painted Hills in the summer are also unreal, with absolutely gorgeous colors painted in the sky. And it’s an amazing spot to go stargazing since you’re not super close to any cities with a ton of lights!
You can elope at the Painted Hills in the winter, as long as you’re okay risking snow & not being able to see the full hills. You’ll still be able to access the lower elevation trails for the most part, and if you want to access any higher elevation trails, I’d recommend bringing snowshoes.
Ready to learn about 5 of my favorite trails at the Painted Hills & in the whole John Day Fossil Beds National Monument area?
The Painted Cove Trail is the iconic trail you usually see first when you look up photos of the Painted Hills! It’s where that boardwalk is located, right in the middle of deep red hills and blue sky in the background on a sunny day. It’s super easy to access, and CRAZY beautiful + otherworldly, so it makes sense why everybody goes right to it once they get to the Painted Hills! The loop takes just a few minutes, and is the perfect trail for people with dogs, wheelchair users, or simply anybody who wants stunning scenery without much effort (same here – I don’t blame ya!).
The Painted Hills Overlook Trail is equally as quick & easy, just 0.5 mi total, taking you along an old gravel road with the boardwalk all the way at the end. It’s perfect for elopements with guests (especially kids) who don’t want to have to walk far to get beautiful views of the hills!
If you’re looking for a slightly longer hike (but still nothing crazy), check out the Carroll Rim Trail! This hike is 1.6 mi total and takes around 50 minutes to complete without stopping. You can bring your dogs along, and you’ll get gorgeous panoramic views of the whole John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
The most challenging of these 5 hikes, the Black Canyon Trail is a 3.8 mi trek total – not too lengthy of a distance, but the whole thing takes you through a pretty dang steep canyon, and the trail is somewhat overgrown according to AllTrails. You’ll also have to cross a creek at the beginning, so be prepared to get your feet wet. If you’re up for the steep hike, you’ll get to see great views of the jagged rock formations and a super quiet, secluded experience!
And lastly we’ve got the Red Scar Knoll Trail, which is another popular and easy-to-complete trail at the Painted Hills. The trail is only half a mile total out & back, and is mostly level, meaning it’s super quick, and takes you to beautiful views of a yellow & red striped hill.
The Painted Hills are sorta out in the middle of nowhere – the closest town is Mitchell, about 20-25 minutes away. There definitely are places to stay in the Mitchell area, but your selection will be more limited since it’s a small town! I’ve listed the best Airbnb’s, hotels, & campgrounds near the Painted Hills that I could find, below, for you to browse through.
If you want to find a place that fits your taste better, and want a larger selection to choose from, though, I’d recommend considering making the drive out to the Painted Hills, then finding accommodations back in Bend!
Want to look through some more of the coolest Airbnb’s in Oregon? Check out this comprehensive list I put together of the 25 Best Airbnb’s in Washington & Oregon for an Airbnb Elopement!
If you’re ready to find a photographer to document your epic Painted Hills adventure elopement, count me freakin’ in!! I’ve shot at the Painted Hills SO many times that you can put all your trust in me to be not only your Painted Hills elopement photographer, but also your elopement guide, helping hand, & friend.
My Painted Hills elopement packages begin at $6000, and I’ll customize a package to tailor to all of your biggest elopement needs, dreams + desires! You can read more about what that investment looks like here, and inquire with me here to find out about my availability + start chatting allll things elopement-related – can’t wait to help y’all plan your dream day at this beautiful Oregon location!