Boating General Information
Attention Boaters - Important Information for the 2013 Boating Season
- A permit is required to boat the John Day River. Continuing in 2013, boaters are required to obtain an on-line launch permit in advance for overnight and day-use trips within Segment 2 (Clarno to Cottonwood) and Segment 3 (Service Creek to Clarno) launching from May 20 through July 10. No fees will be charged for boating in 2013.
- Information on how to obtain an advance launch permit is available HERE.
- The Clarno East river access point, located on private property four miles upstream of Clarno Bridge (River Mile 113 Right), has been closed until further notice by the landowner. This is courtesy information; please plan accordingly.
Boaters must comply with all permit regulations. It is important to become familiar with the permit regulations as you plan for your trip so you are prepared with the required boating equipment when you arrive at the launch point.
Aquatic Invasive Species prevention permit: The Oregon State Marine Board now requires operators of canoes, kayaks, drift boats, inflatable rafts, and other manually powered boats 10 feet or longer to carry an Aquatic Invasive Species prevention permit. Permits are available where fishing licenses are sold. For more information please visit the Oregon State Marine Board.
The John Day River has no dams to control water flow; therefore flow levels fluctuate widely in relation to snow pack and rainfall. When planning a trip, it is helpful to consider the Long Term Flow Forecast, which is updated regularly, and the historical average flow levels available on the Summary Hydrograph (select the 50% exceedence level).
- Current River Flow information is available from the US Geological Survey, or from the River Service Center in Portland, Oregon at 503-261-9246.
- Short Term Flow Forecast and Long Term Flow Forecast is provided by NOAA.
- Summary Hydrograph
- Snow Pack Information
The difficulty of rapids varies with river flow level. Prior whitewater boating skills are necessary to navigate all sections of the river. The most popular multi-day float trips are
- Service Creek to Clarno: Class II-III - 48 miles, average trip length = 3 days
- Clarno to Cottonwood: Class II-IV (Clarno Rapid III-IV) - 70 miles, average trip length = 5 days
Recommended minimum flow levels are
- Drift boats: 800cfs
- Inflatable rafts: 500cfs
- Canoes: 300cfs
- Inflatable kayaks: 200cfs
Clarno Rapid (III-IV) can be unrunable at low water; scout left, portage on either side, line right. Canoeists floating at levels above 2,500 cfs should have whitewater experience and carry floatation bags.
The busiest launch days are Fridays and Saturdays from Memorial Day weekend through the end of June. During this time period, the least crowded launch days are Tuesday or Wednesday for Segment 2 (Clarno to Cottonwood), and Sunday through Wednesday for Segment 3 (Service Creek to Clarno).
Private land is interspersed with public land in all river sections, so it is essential to carry a good map showing land ownership. Please respect private property by camping and hiking only on BLM lands. Prepare ahead to handle possible emergencies in a remote setting, as road access to the river is extremely limited and cell phone coverage is unavailable. The maximum party size is 16 persons between Service Creek and Cottonwood Bridge. Dogs are allowed and are not counted in party size limits. Due to high fire danger, campfires and charcoal fires are not permitted from June 1st to October 1st each year. Fishing regulations are available from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Maps and Guidebooks
The BLM has two maps available of the John Day River. The 2011 Lower Deschutes and John Day Rivers map covers the mainstream between Highway 26 near the town of Dayville and the Columbia River, including Service Creek to Cottonwood Bridge ($8). The 1991 Upper John Day River map covers portions of the North, Middle and South Forks, as well as the mainstream from the town of Kimberly upstream to the headwaters (free). The maps identify public and private land ownership, river miles and topography and are available by contacting the BLM at 541-416-6700 or by email at BLM_OR_PR_Mail@blm.gov.
The John Day River Recreation Guide (with floater's guide) is available for purchase. Pick one up at the Prineville District Office (3050 NE Third St, Prineville OR 97754) or order by phone (541-416-6700). Cost is $5.00 per book. Visa/MC and debit cards accepted.
Currently, the following guidebooks are available through most bookstores. The first two books listed below contain valuable river logs with information on rapids and campsites for the John Day River and other Oregon rivers. The historical guide offers detailed information on the colorful history of the river canyon.
Oregon River Tours by John Garren
Garren Publishing, 1991, ISBN# 0-941887-01-4
Soggy Sneakers, A Guide to Oregon Rivers by Willamette Kayak & Canoe Club
Mountaineers Books, 2004, ISBN-10: 0898868157
John Day River Drift and Historical Guide by Arthur Campbell
Frank Amato Publishing, 2003, ISBN-10: 0936608110
Decision Record for John Day River Study Environmental Assessment (EA) Now Available
The Prineville District of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the Decision Record for the John Day River Study Environmental Assessment (EA) on December 30, 2010. The decision prescribes a maximum capacity for boating use and a corresponding number of launch permits that will be available for reservation each day for Segments 2 and 3 of the Lower John Day River (Service Creek to Cottonwood) during the peak boating season of May 20 to July 10. The decision will be implemented for the 2011 boating season.