The main reason we had stopped by Portland was because we were on our way to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to see the Painted hills. Approximately a four hour drive from Portland, it is situated in the central portion of the state. There are three units within the park and we visited two of them: Painted Hills and Clarno. We managed to get to both within the day, but it did help that it was so hot we didn’t spend too much time at each place.
Although all three units are contained within one National Monument, the distances between them are quite long, with little rest stops. I would definitely suggest packing a lunch, snacks and water and absolutely check your gas before heading into the parks as service stations are hard to come by. We neglected to gas up and had a minor will-we-make-it moment, especially when we found that there was little to no reception in most of the areas we were in). On that note, I would also suggest grabbing a physical map (at the visitor information station) or loading offline maps on your phone because we found signs to each unit far and few in between.
The Painted Hills Unit had multiple stops and plenty of trails to explore. The roads to get into this unit are gravel, so it could be tougher on smaller cars (but it didn’t look like much of an issue for most people). The splashes of colour made the landscape enchanting, especially when seen from the view points up above.
The Clarno unit wasn’t as large as Painted Hills, in fact I think it is the smallest out of the three units, but it still had various trails you could hike. Driving through, you could already see a bit of a change in landscape, with rock faces reminiscent of Southern Utah in a smaller scale.
As a day trip from Portland, I would only suggest visiting two of the units. Stopping by all three units would take about two or three days, considering all the driving that has to be done. Also, visiting in the spring or fall would probably be a better idea – I found we weren’t fully able to enjoy the landscapes in burning 40 degree heat.