Each boating group is required to obtain an online launch permit to boat year round on all river segments of the mainstem John Day River downstream of Kimberly, and the North Fork John Day River downstream of Dale. Each permit is issued for a specific river segment and launch date. Only one launch permit is required per group, with a maximum group size of 16 persons. Daily launches are limited during the high use season to reduce crowding and ensure that overnight boating groups are able to find a suitable campsite on public land for each night of their trip.
Launch permits are limited for all trips that travel any distance within Segment 2 (Clarno to Cottonwood) or Segment 3 (Service Creek to Clarno) during the high use season of May 20 to July 10, for both day-use and overnight trips.
Priest Hole Exception: For short day-trips taking place completely within Priest Hole Recreation Site (a distance of one mile between River Mile 136.5 and 137.5), self-issue permits are unlimited and may be obtained at Priest Hole year-round.
Operating a commercial business on the John Day River requires a Commercial Special Recreation Permit; please call 541-416-6718 for information. A trip is considered to be commercial if the group fails to meet any one of the following requirements for a non-commercial trip:
- There is a bona fide sharing of expenses
- No fees are collected in excess of the actual expense of the trip
- There is no financial gain by any member of the group
- No salary is directed from shared expenses of the trip
- No charge is collected for use of the equipment
Terms and Conditions of Permit
- Fire Closure: Due to high fire danger, the John Day River is closed to all campfires and charcoal fires from June 1 through September 30 each year. Propane and white gas stoves and shielded lanterns are permitted. Smoking is permitted only in a closed vehicle, while standing in the water, or while in a boat on the water. Using or possessing fireworks is prohibited at all times.
- Firepans: Ground fires and rock fire rings are not permitted. Fires and ash must be completely contained in a metal firepan with sides at least two inches high. Locate the firepan near the river, away from dry vegetation, and elevate the firepan on rocks to prevent fire scars. Burn wood from home, charcoal, driftwood, or dead and down vegetation. Standing vegetation, either dead or alive, may not be cut or gathered. All campfire residue must be carried out of the canyon.
- Pack It In, Pack It Out: Remove all garbage from the river canyon, including cigarette butts, toilet paper, and nut shells. Food scraps should be picked up from the kitchen area and packed out, to keep insects and mice to a minimum. Do not bury trash; animals will dig it up. Trash receptacles are not available at take-out sites. Trash must be transported home for disposal.
- Carry Out Human Waste: On overnight trips, all boaters are required to carry and use a leak-proof, portable, reusable toilet system to remove solid human waste from the river canyon. The toilet must be large enough to service the entire party for the complete length of the trip. Toilets using plastic bags are not acceptable, with the exception of the Wag Bag or similar human waste pouch designed for this purpose, which are permitted. Used Wag Bags must be transported in a leak-proof container. River toilet dump stations and special Wag Bag disposal containers are available at Clarno and Cottonwood take-outs. A list of RV dump stations is posted on BLM bulletin boards. Disposing of Wag Bags in a river toilet dump station or vault toilet is prohibited.
- Maximum Group Size: Group size is limited to 16 persons while boating or camping.
- Motorized Boating: The John Day River is closed to motorized watercraft year-round between Clarno and Cottonwood Bridge and is closed seasonally from May 1 to September 30 between Service Creek and Clarno and between Cottonwood Bridge and Tumwater Falls. (An exception is made for small electric motors, 40 lbs. thrust or less, which are permitted between Service Creek and Clarno.) There are no motorized boat restrictions upstream of Service Creek. The river is closed to personal watercraft (jet skis) year-round upstream of Tumwater Falls.
Report violations of the above regulations to the Prineville District BLM Office (541-416-6700) or BLM Law Enforcement (1-800-333-7283).
Safety: Many sections of the John Day River are remote, emergency access is difficult, and cell phones are unreliable. Facilities are located only at put-in and take-out sites. Depending on the water flow and the section of river you choose to float, you may encounter Class lll to lV rapids. Water flow, water temperature, and weather can be variable and extreme. Oregon Marine Board regulations require a Type III or V PFD (life preserver) for all persons on a boat. An approved PFD must be worn by all persons in a boat in any section of waters rated Class III or higher, and children 12 and younger must wear a PFD at all times while riding in a boat. Each boat is required to carry a whistle and an emergency throw rope. The BLM recommends that each group carry a first aid kit, repair kit, extra oars/paddles, and a pump for inflatable craft.
Invasive Species: To reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species, the Oregon State Marine Board 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.
Photo records of vegetation on the John Day river show that noxious weeds are spreading like wildfire. Weed seeds are spread by wind, water, livestock, wildfire, vehicles, and people. You can lessen the spread of weeds by limiting your travel through weed areas. When setting up camp, locate your kitchen, tent sites, and toilet carefully, so that you don't encourage foot traffic through weeds. If you would like to help control weeds by hand pulling, you may pull and bag weeds (be sure to wear gloves) and leave bags at the take-out for pick-up.