John Day River Cottonwood Bridge to Columbia River

John Day, Oregon

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This stretch of the John Day can be divided into three sections of very different character: the float from Cottonwood Bridge to Tumwater Falls, Tumwater Falls followed by the 0.4 mi Narrows, and Lake Umatilla as part of the Columbia River/John Day reservoir. This description is based on a lateseason run at 700 cfs in an inflatable kayak. Put in river right at Cottonwood Bridge. The first 25 miles are comparable to the last few miles of the John Day River: Clarno to Cottonwood run. The float goes through relatively open desert canyons, occasionally passing basalt cliffs, and past a few ranches. Stretches with jeep trail access alternate with stretches that have no road access. None of the few rapids in the first 25 miles exceed class 1+. At low water, gravel bars near islands may be a problem; take the narrower channel that drops just before the island; the other channel often ends in shallow gravel bars. Despite a few fences and “No Trespassing” signs, opportunities to camp are plentiful. The Barlow Cutoff of the Oregon Trail crosses the river at about 19 miles. An Oregon Trail monument can be visited a quarter mile up the dirt road on river left. Although the falls are more than 10 miles away, this is the last option to take out for those who do not want to portage around the falls. Character: desert canyon.

John Day River: Cottonwood Bridge to Columbia River Professional Review and Guide

"This stretch of the John Day can be divided into three sections of very different character: the float from Cottonwood Bridge to Tumwater Falls, Tumwater Falls followed by the 0.4 mi Narrows, and Lake Umatilla as part of the Columbia River/John Day reservoir. This description is based on a lateseason run at 700 cfs in an inflatable kayak. Put in river right at Cottonwood Bridge. The first 25 miles are comparable to the last few miles of the John Day River: Clarno to Cottonwood run. The float goes through relatively open desert canyons, occasionally passing basalt cliffs, and past a few ranches. Stretches with jeep trail access alternate with stretches that have no road access.

None of the few rapids in the first 25 miles exceed class 1+. At low water, gravel bars near islands may be a problem; take the narrower channel that drops just before the island; the other channel often ends in shallow gravel bars. Despite a few fences and “No Trespassing” signs, opportunities to camp are plentiful. The Barlow Cutoff of the Oregon Trail crosses the river at about 19 miles. An Oregon Trail monument can be visited a quarter mile up the dirt road on river left. Although the falls are more than 10 miles away, this is the last option to take out for those who do not want to portage around the falls. Character: desert canyon."

Activity Type: Whitewater Kayaking & Canoeing
Nearby City: John Day
Distance: 39.7
Class: Class II-V
Season: Best during snowmelt season; Flow: 700–6000 cfs
Driving Directions: Directions to John Day River: Cottonwood Bridge to Columbia River

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May 2018