Area & Activities
The Journey Through Time
The beautiful Journey Through Time Scenic Byway stretches 286 miles through five counties of Oregon. Beginning in the community of Biggs along the Columbia Gorge, and ending in Baker City, this scenic route winds through ghost towns, small farming communities and rugged landscapes with canyons and looming rock formations that bring the Old West to life.
The wild and scenic John Day River, North America’s second undammed river – runs along much of the scenic route and adds greatly to the beauty of this special Byway.
Rich in history, the Journey Through Time tells tales of pioneers, towns that boomed and busted, and prehistoric creatures that wandered this terrain millions of years ago. Geology buffs – and anyone who’s curious about fossils – will take great pleasure in the interpretive trails at the 3 different units of the John Day fossil Beds National Monument spread out in different locations in Wheeler and Grant County, and all reachable on the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway.
Outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds will find that the route is a gateway to some of the most pristine natural places offering a taste of wilderness and many outdoor recreation opportunities.
While you’re here, make sure you drive the loop – one of Oregon’s most scenic byways.
An extra 65 mils of road – all of it located in Wheeler County – has been added to the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway forming a loop that incorporates the unique Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Picture Gorge, and other points of interest.
The new route follows Hwy. 26 from the Painted Hills through Mitchell, and on past different sweeping landscapes to join the original Journey Through Time on Oregon Route 19 in the Picture Gorge.
The other new section of the byway creating the loop, goes from Mitchell on Route 207 on a winding picturesque road with fantastic views around every bend. In Service Creek, it reconnects again with the original Journey Through Time on Oregon Route 19.
The loop connects the towns of Mitchell, Fossil and Spray, offering many great spots along its stretch for fishing, camping, boating, fossil hunting, wildlife observation, and plenty of exceptional hiking trails. It also connects all 3 units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument – the Painted Hills, Clarno, and Sheep Rock.
Most of our guests drive the Loop to see all the highlights, from fruit picking in Kimberly straight from the tree at Thomas Orchards, plunging into the river at Mule Shoe River Access or at the river park in Spray, then taking a detour to Fossil to go fossil hunting and enjoy lunch in Spray or Service Creek or returning to Mitchell for a meal at Tiger Town.
We are open all year, and so is the town of Mitchell and all of the monuments. Winter is a wonderful time to come and enjoy the peace and serenity of the area when it is free from crowds.
You can partake of other recreational opportunities, such as cross-country skiing in the Sno Parks of the Ochochos. After being outside exploring in nature, you can come back to your warm, cozy cottage and snuggle up with a good book or a great movie, and a nice cup of hot chocolate.
There are special hikes close to Mitchell that give you a glimpse of pioneer life, as well as the sweeping landscape of buttes in the wintertime.
There’s a special magic in the frozen landscape, when the creeks and river are rushing or are iced over.
Places To See
John Day Fossil BedsThe John Day Fossil National Monument has 3 units, surrounded by a geological wonderland. While you’re on your adventure, you’ll get to see astonishing vistas, all easily reached by driving the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway that winds through spectacular landscapes. In this ancient geological wonderland, you can view all sorts of colorful rock formations preserving a world-class record of animal and plant evolution, as well as climate change and a 40 million year history of past ecosystems.
The Painted Hills
The Painted Hills, one of the three units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, are the crown jewels of this region with their spectacular colors and sublime patterns that seem to have been hand-painted by the master stroke of Mother Nature’s brush.
Like on a painters palette, the colors shift and change with the difference of light, weather and the seasons. Every rainstorm intensifies the bands of red and orange, the generous splashes of yellow and gold, and the random streaks of black and grey leaving you speechless and awe struck. Between April and May, rivers of small yellow flowers run down within the cracks of the reddish hills forming golden pools to their feet – a magic sight that draws hundreds of landscape photographers and artists to the place.
Sheep Rock and Blue BasinAt Sheep Rock, which also houses the info center for all of the units of the John Day Fossil National Monument, the Thomas Condon Museum of Paleontology invites you for a glimpse of the prehistoric history of the region. Children and parents alike love its fantastic fossil collection, murals of plants and animals thriving here millions of years ago, and other wonders. The Blue Basin is only a few miles down the road and offers spectacular walks into a place that seems of a different planet.
The John Day River
The John Day River is one of the longest un-dammed rivers of North America. It flows wild and free through canyons, gorges, and picture-book wilderness, passing incredible rock formations and rugged landscapes, pastures, and sandy river beaches.
The John Day River curves its way through the wild and untamed land, is magical in all the seasons, and is inviting you to explore, discover, hike, swim, raft, and fish.
There are many areas off the beaten track where you can experience the river in all its glory, no matter what the season. There are many places along the John Day River beds that are brimming with wildlife, rare birds and plants. There is always something to see and discover!
Smith Rock State Park – another one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon – is about 1.5 hours away from Mitchell and located near the community of Terrebonne, close to Prineville.
Smith Rock – like the Painted Hills though very different in character – is another ancient geological wonderland with its towering dramatic cliffs of tuff and basalt, ideal for rock climbing of all levels of difficulty and popular for sport climbing, traditional climbing, multi-pitch climbing, and bouldering.
Smith Rock State Park also features many miles of developed trails for many wonderful hiking experiences including some paths that lead along the Crooked River and up into the steep rock formations looming high above the visitors. The trails feature many beautiful viewpoints overlooking the river and the dramatic rocks, and there is a park’s day-use area with picnic spots as well as a visitor center.