Exploring the Clarno Unit: Arch Trail

Exploring the Clarno Unit: Arch Trail

Location: Clarno Unit, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon
Round Trip: 0,5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
GPS Coordinates: N 44 54.794 W 120 24.562
Visitor’s Information Open: all year round

No Pass Required


Eastern part of Oregon will amaze you with a significant natural attraction – John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This fantastic national monument introduces the visitors to the 40 million years evolution history of plants and animals, showing also the change of climate and various ecosystems which existed throughout all these millions of years.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was created by the congress in 1975 and includes three segments: Clarno Unit, Sheep Rock Unit and Painted Hills Unit. Occupying the territory of 14,000 acres these units are attracting people from all over the world by their unique features. Each unit has its own appeal.

The Clarno Unit is the smallest unit out of three units of the National Monument , furthermore it is the most distantly located from any city or town. It is also considered to be the least visited by the tourists. But it comprises the oldest fossil beds of the region.
The grassy hillsides of the Clarno Unit are located on the northern side of Pine Creek, inflowing into John Day River. In the center of these grassy hillsides you will find rugged, eroded cliffs, lined up like some ancient giants. These stunning cliffs are called the Palisades. They were formed by volcanic mud flows more than forty million years ago. The fossils embedded into the cliffs and boulders scattered around reveal to the visitors the remnants of the leaves, trees and some animals from a tropical forest which had existed at this place instead of the arid, desert landscape which you can observe now.

To investigate the Clarno Unit you may hike three trails: the Geologic Time Trail, the Trail of the Fossils and the Arch Trail.

The Arch Trail is very short, about 0,25 mile, but it will show you some remarkable features. It starts at the Palisades Trailhead. The trailhead has a small parking lot, a water fountain and an information stand. After ascending for about 200 feet to the top of the hill, the trail will lead you to the natural arch created by time and erosion into one of the Palisade cliffs. Walking along the cliff you will also have a chance to see some petrified logs. Along the trail you can also admire the fascinating remains of the ancient tropic forest, ingrained into the huge boulders which you’ll find along the trail.

Photo: Roman Khomlyak
Photo Editing: Juliana Voitsikhovska
Information: Svetlana Baranova

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