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John Day River

Launch permits are unlimited in 2016. An on-line launch permit is required year-round and available here to boat all sections of the Mainstem downstream of Spray. Permits to boat upstream of Spray are encouraged and available here and at launch points. Notice: Boaters launching at Cottonwood Bridge (J.S. Burres) will need to take-out at Rock Creek or McDonald Crossing as there is no road access to the river at Starvation Lane.

Water Flow

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).

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.