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Mitchell: Exploring the Painted Hills


A view of Mitchell from SE High Street. Due to its location in a narrow canyon, the town is susceptible to floods.
  • A view of Mitchell from SE High Street. Due to its location in a narrow canyon, the town is susceptible to floods.

Relatively new to Central Oregon, I was open for suggestions as to where to venture on a day trip outside of Bend. Mitchell, which offers scenic views, trails and historic buildings, seemed right up my alley.

When my boyfriend and I drove down on Thursday of last week, it was snowing and the plows hadn't caught up with the snowfall from the previous night. It was slow going at first, but the drive was beautiful.

Who This Trip is For:

Outdoor Lovers. There's quite a bit to do in and around Mitchell.

Where to Stay:

The Oregon Hotel offers rooms for $50-$110 per night. The original hotel was built in the late 1800s, but burned down twice before the current iteration of the building was constructed in 1938. Accommodations include suites, apartments with kitchenettes, and a hostel.

If you're looking for something a little more secluded, there are a handful of Airbnbs around the area as well. Thanks to a friendly waitress for that tip.

What to Do:

The beautiful Painted Hills.
  • The beautiful Painted Hills.
The drive up is easy and scenic. Make a weekend of it—stop for fishing at the Ochoco Reservoir outside of Prineville (winter or summer) or play at the Ochoco Divide Sno-park just 20 minutes outside of Mitchell. Fishing, camping, hunting, hiking—Mitchell even has scenic bikeways.

Dubbed one of the "7 Wonders of Oregon," The Painted Hills offer a colorful display of gold and red clay, formed over 35 million years ago by volcanic activity. Part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the Painted Hills are only 10 miles from Mitchell off of Highway 26. The hiking trails and scenic outlooks are a perfect way to spend an afternoon. Pack a lunch, there are picnic areas surrounding the site and multiple hiking trails.

We didn't get to check out Lucky Strike Mines while we were in Mitchell, but if you're into rocks, geodes and don't mind getting dirty, you may enjoy digging for thunder eggs. Their hours vary by season, so it's worth checking in before planning a trip.

Where to Eat:

At 9:30am on a Thursday, Mitchell was pretty quiet. We had plans to have breakfast at a cute little place with a '50s vibe called The Sidewalk Cafe and More, but they were closed (along with a few of the other joints in town). Winter is Mitchell's slow season, but as our waitress, Karen, told us at the Bridge Creek Cafe, restaurants in town often take turns opening on slower days. It takes a village, right?

The Bridge Creek Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but closed Wednesdays and Thursdays (we lucked out, Karen opened on a Thursday!).

If you're looking for lunch and a beer, Mitchell has its very own brewery—Tiger Town Brewing Company. located on Main Street.

Population: 121

TIME from Bend: 1 hr. 40 min

Fun Facts:

Mitchell has survived three major floods, in 1884, 1904 and 1956.

The Historic Oregon Hotel has burned down two times; the current structure was built in 1938.
  • The Historic Oregon Hotel has burned down two times; the current structure was built in 1938.

Residents banded together to rebuild the town after three major fires.

Kate Paul of Mitchell was Miss Oregon in 2010.


If you're into historical facts, stop by Judy's Place on your visit to Mitchell. Judy saw us milling about across the street and welcomed us into her store, asking us if we wanted to see photos of "Old Mitchell." She'll tell you everything you need to know about the history of the town—and a few cute stories of her dog to boot.

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