Water Flow

August 28, 2020 Update: An online permit is required to boat between Service Creek and Tumwater Falls. Permits to launch from July 16 - December 31 are available on this website, except for trips on Segment 1A and 1B (Cottonwood to Tumwater Falls) in the Fall (September 1 – November 30), which are available at Recreation.gov.

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.