OwSR No. 6: John Day River

John Day River

The John Day River at Cottonwood Canyon State Park | Photo: Zach Collier

Quick Facts

  • Managing Agency: Prineville District (BLM)
  • Designated Stretch: From Service Creek to Tumwater Falls
  • Designation Length: 147.5 miles (147.5 miles Recreational)
  • Outstanding Remarkable Values: Scenic, recreational, fish, wildlife, geological, paleontological, and archaeological and historical
  • Wild and Scenic River Designation: October 28, 1988

More Information

Celebrated by Zach Collier and Heather Wright on February 18th, 2017 by visiting Cottonwood State Park and Service Creek.


John Day River | Photo by Tim PalmerTim Palmer: Rivaling the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in length, the canyons of the John Day and its North Fork can be floated continuously for 225 beautiful miles from the Highway 395 crossing the North Fork to McConald Crossing, downstream from Cottonwood on the lower river. The upper reaches of this epic run are my favorite, with ponderosa pine savanna in great mountains of grassland and cake-layers of basalt outcrops. At the one big rapid, below Clarno, I carried my canoe, but the drop was no problem for the heavily loaded raft. This is a great river journey of two weeks or more in May, but must be done before the water drops in June....Tim Palmer, author of Field Guide to Oregon Rivers and Rivers of Oregon.

Fishing on the John Day RiverDanny Palmerlee: The John Day was my daughter’s first overnight river trip. She was eight at the time, and I’d never seen her so enraptured with her surroundings for so long a period of time. Four days, no cars, no motors, no phones, no screens—just her, her little fishing buddy Gabriel and a whole world of rocks and bugs and sticks and water. We floated Twickenham to Clarno with a loaded drift boat, an old nine-foot pontoon, five people and a very happy black lab. I get sucked in by the scenery on the John Day, but I think for her it was the moving water and the continuous floating, just doing nothing and watching the world go by. I guess it’s the same thing for me. It was a special trip, on a special river. I work for Western Rivers Conservancy, so I write about, visit, photograph and generally think about the John Day a lot because we’ve been working on the river for several years now. It’s great when those two worlds meet, and it did that week in a big way. You can read more about our work on the John Day here.

John Day SUPZach Collier: My first trip to the John Day River was to stand up paddleboard from Clarno to Cottonwood with my friends Dan Martin and Kevin Ely. We strapped lightweight gear onto our paddleboards and paddled 68 miles over three days. The rapids are generally Class I and II but there are a couple Class III rapids and one Class IV that really challenged us.

This was a trip that we planned with little notice since it's relatively easy to obtain permits to boat the John Day. This is probably because the best flows are in the spring and the whitewater isn't as thrilling as other more popular river trips. To learn more please read my John Day SUP Trip Report.

Learn about Oregon Wild and Scenic River No. 7: The Middle Fork of the Hood River >>


Northwest Rafting Company Exploratory Division