Tim 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.
OwSR No. 6: John Day River
- The ninth longest National Wild and Scenic River designation
- Has the longest reach of undammed water in the Northwest (284 miles)
- Stronghold for Salmon and Steelhead
- Supports Oregon's largest herd of California bighorn sheep
- Known for summer steelhead and smallmouth bass fishing
- Also designated as an Oregon State Scenic Waterway
The John Day River at Cottonwood Canyon State Park | Photo: Zach Collier
Celebrated by Zach Collier and Heather Wright on February 18th, 2017 by visiting Cottonwood State Park and Service Creek.
Zach 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.