Saturday of Labor Day weekend
Oregon’s Painted Hills, aptly named for their kaleidoscopic mix of geological layers, are part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and located northwest of the tiny, peaceful town of Mitchell in Wheeler County. The Painted Hills display layered bedrock in bands of different colors corresponding to different geological eras, and to the delight of photographers, often put on a bedazzling display as the sun cracks the horizon on a summer morning. The perfect time to visit the Painted Hills and the nearby John Day Fossil Beds is Labor Day weekend, when you’ll have plenty of time not only to take in the natural wonders but also attend the fun-filled Painted Hills Festival in Mitchell.
Painted Hills Festival – USA Festivals Photo Gallery
Launched in 1995, this jovial festival offers not only a little something for just about everyone but also a glimpse into the Eastern Oregon small-town pride that justifiably permeates this close-knit community.
The locals—there are less than 200 of them—embrace visitors and eagerly share information about this beautifully rugged part of the state. The Painted Hills Festival begins with a series of fun runs—a half marathon,
10K, and 5K—first thing Saturday morning. The half marathon begins at the picnic area (“Painted Hills Park”) at the Painted Hills nine miles from town, and the shorter races begin along the half-marathon route so that all three events end at the finish line in Mitchell. A shuttle bus is available to deliver runners to the starting lines. After the races, an awards ceremony is held at the city park in Mitchell and runners can use the showers at the Mitchell School.
By the time the races end, the weather typically begins to heat up, and the Painted Hills Festival activities in town kick into high gear, beginning with a parade down Main Street featuring horse riders, vintage autos, motorcycles, pioneer-era wagons, fire trucks, the Red Hat Society ladies, and more. Next come the festival games. Can you devour watermelon at an alarming rate? Then test your limits by entering the popular watermelon-eating contest; or take the kids to the children’s games area, and check out the quilt show and raffle. Throughout the day, vendors fill the city park, offering an eclectic variety of goods, including plenty of food options, and live music entertains the crowds, culminating with a street dance in the evening.
The Painted Hills Festival perfectly captures the small-town America spirit, celebrating the local culture and proudly presenting it to welcomed guests from afar.