Itinerary – Wild and Scenic Adventure, John Day River Territory


Rivers are the lifeblood of Eastern Oregon: irrigating crops, supporting wildlife, and providing abundant opportunities for swimming, fishing and other adventures. The wild and scenic John Day River is no exception. It’s mighty waters define the region known as the John Day River Territory and are a spectacular playground for outdoor lovers of all ages and interests.

Lower John Day Sunlight

Lower John Day Sunlight

If you’re an avid fisherman, the John Day River provides secluded, world-class fishing holes. The river is best known for its smallmouth bass, but there are also plenty of largemouth bass, summer and winter steelhead, trout, and bluegill to go around. Be sure to check out our list of Shuttles, Outfitters and Resources for the names of local outfitters that offer guided fly fishing trips.



Middle Fork Boaters

If rafting and relaxing is more your speed, we’ve got you covered too. The John Day River is relatively peaceful with few rapids. During the summer months, the water slows down and warms up, making it perfect for swimming and floating in the Eastern Oregon sunshine.

If you’re a nature lover, bring your binoculars and hiking boots and keep your eyes peeled for the elk, deer, big horn sheep, birds and other wildlife that call the John Day River’s rugged canyons home.

Just need to get away? Here in Eastern Oregon, we know there are few things more restorative for the soul than roaring campfires, roasting marshmallows, and nights spend under a canopy of stars. Luckily, there are plenty of peaceful places to unwind along the John Day River’s banks.

One worth singling out is Cottonwood Canyon State Park.

CottonwoodCanyonStateParkJagged cliffs, steep canyon walls, and an untamed river provide the backdrop for Oregon’s newest and second largest state park. The sprawling 8,000 acre oasis is a gateway to adventure, offering excellent fishing plus plentiful hiking, wildlife viewing, and star-gazing opportunities.

Cottonwood Canyon opened in September 2013 and includes a day-use area, primitive 21-site campground, and a nearby boat launch at J.S. Burres Park. There’s also a unique interpretive center, which introduces visitors to life on an Eastern Oregon ranch.

You’ll find no phone service and a pervasive what’s-your-hurry lifestyle here; the perfect combination for contemplating Cottonwood Canyon’s peaceful river, stunning landscape, and spectacular sunsets.

Whether you’ve got two days or a week, there are plenty of options to relax and take in the John Day River’s recreational opportunities and natural beauty. So pack up your gear and come see for yourself why we’re so proud to call this wild and scenic river home.

When To Go
The John Day River has no dams to control water flow, so water levels fluctuate widely depending on snow pack and rainfall. The best time to go is generally the late spring and early summer months. Before planning your trip, be sure to check the river’s current water levels. The U.S. Geological Survey provides handy information on its website:

Launch permits are required for boaters planning either day-use or multi-day trips on several sections of the John Day River. You may also be required to obtain an Aquatic Invasive Species Permit. For more information on permit requirements, fees, and the application process, please visit the Bureau of Land Management website:

The banks of the John Day River are a mix of public and private lands. The Bureau of Land Management provides useful maps, which include information about land ownership, river miles, and topography. To get yours, check out their website:

To ensure the John Day River remains a safe, pristine, and entertaining place for everyone, please be sure to follow the Bureau of Land Management’s Campfire and Leave No Trace rules.

Shuttles, Outfitters and Resources

Arrowhead Adventures
Arrowhead Adventures does a guided fly fishing trip for smallmouth bass.

Donna’s John Day River Shuttles
Reliable and affordable John Day River shuttle service based in Fossil.

John Day River Shuttles
John Day River shuttle service based in Fossil.

J & Z Shuttles
541-419-9561 or 541-561-5665
Based in Spray and offering shuttle service along the John Day River.

Little Creek Outfitters
Fly fishing adventures on Oregon’s John Day River.

Mah-Hah Outfitters
Lower your lure into the longest undammed river that flows into the Columbia. For a guided trip for smallmouth bass take a trip with Mah-Hah Outfitters.

Rattray Ranches
Recreational activities on the John Day River. This wheat & cattle ranch has direct access to the John Day River with a private boat launch and fishing, swimming, and hiking opportunities.

Service Creek Stage Stop
See nature in high definition by renting a raft and exploring the beautiful and scenic John Day River. Offers a variety of river equipment that includes rafts, pontoon boats, and canoes, as well as shuttle services.

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