First off, I had a great time staying here. Before I arrived I had some ideas of what my stay would be like and while I did have a nice stay, it was not exactly the trip I had expected. I am a female in my early twenties and was tent camping solo for the first time. I grew up camping with my family so I am experienced but this was my first time camping completely alone. When I planned my trip I assumed this was a spot where other travelers and campers would stay so I was hoping that the presence of other people would provide some comfort to counter the fact that I was camping alone. When I arrived there were people in the day use area but as I drove back to where people would normally camp there was nobody in sight. As the evening came I realized there was not going to be any other campers for miles. Needless to say I made it through the night just fine with no emergencies but I was so nervous the whole time that I had a very restless sleep with my hand practically on my bear spray all night.
I woke up the next morning, went on a beautiful hike with some amazing views and continued on my road trip. Overall the location is great, I would camp here again if I were with other people or if I were staying in a converted van or camper of some sort. But being a solo, young, female tent camper in this location without any other campers around for miles was a little too scary for my taste.
We tried to go to the GPS location stated at this listing but at one point the road was closed. We tried a different route and found couple of camping spots but without any signs. Luckily there was an other car camping there so we settled, and after all it was a beautiful location!
My husband surprised me with a trip to the Painted Hills! The views are amazing!! The little hikes to lead you to even more spectacular views are definitely worth it!! Loved it and can't wait to go again!!
This was by far my favorite place we stayed on our entire 4000+ mile road trip…. and it was free! We stayed at Priest Hole, which is a few miles past the Painted Hills visitor center on dirt roads. We saw a few vans and a pop-up trailer, but no RVs. The road was okay but not great, so not sure if regular RVs would make it or not. Fine for cars, trucks or vans.
It's Bureau of Land Management land, which means all camping is free. We camped right on the banks of the John Day River and it was amazingly beautiful. The water was the perfect temperature for swimming and crystal clear. There were people a couple hundred yards from us on either side, so not too crowded. We were there on a Thursday and pulled right up to an empty spot.
Only vault toilets. Bring your own water. No showers, picnic tables, etc. The only drawback, besides lack of a nice bathroom and not much natural shade, was quite a few earwigs and other bugs attacking the outside tent at night when we had our light on. Not the worst thing, but slightly annoying for the kiddos.
When the river is higher (sometimes in the winter) there's a large grassy area in the center of the area for tents, but a bit far away from the water. But in the summer when the river is lower you can camp in any of the rocky dry stream beds and be safely right on the water.
Good note: You can camp on BLM and Forest Service lands without a permit! This place is amazing. It's no wonder it's one of the seven wonders of Oregon. It's a quick drive from Bend, and to see the Wallowa burn aftermath is humbling.