Lower John Day Wilderness Study Area

landscape photo showing river and mountains

The Lower John Day Wilderness Study Area (WSA) (OR-5-6) borders the Thirtymile WSA on the north and extends northward for approximately 29 river miles of the John Day River. The Thirtymile WSA is located along approximately 8.5 miles of the John Day River, approximately 20 miles northwest of Fossil, Oregon, and 110 miles southeast of Portland, Oregon, and 40 miles southeast of The Dalles, Oregon. The river forms the boundary between Sherman and Gilliam Counties within both WSAs. 

Both encompass the John Day River and are basically oblong in shape and lie in a southeast direction. The Thirtymile WSA ranges 2 to 5 miles in width east to west, and is 5 miles long. The Lower John Day WSA is approximately the same width and is almost 8 miles long.

There are 19,467 acres of BLM land within the Lower John Day WSA and 2,433 acres of newly acquired land outside of the WSA. In addition, there are 120 acres of split estate land and 160 acres of private inholdings. There are also 160 acres of private land located at the end of a dead-end road, adjacent to, but excluded from the WSA.

Two parcels of private land totaling 320 acres separate the two WSAs.  These two parcels of private land form a portion of the northern boundary of the Thirtymile WSA and the southern boundary of the Lower John Day WSA. Private lands surround most of both and private land and a road separate them.

The eastern and western boundaries of both are formed by several primitive roads and adjacent private and public lands. Private, public and State lands border the Lower John Day WSA on the north. The southern boundary of the Thirtymile WSA is formed by a legal section line. A dead-end road 1.6 miles long enters the Lower John Day WSA forming part of the boundary.

The only legal public access to either WSA is by floating the John Day River. A put-in point is located at Clarno where State Highway 218 crosses the John Day River and a take-out point is at Cottonwood Bridge where State Highway 206 crosses the river.

Cutting a dramatic cross section through one of the largest continental basalt flow formations in the world, the John Day River flows northward to the Columbia River. Nearly 40 miles of the John Day River are within the two. The lush riparian vegetation along this river canyon provides excellent wildlife habitat and contrasts against an otherwise dry landscape. Both contain numerous side canyons and perennial springs. Side canyons with springs have small riparian zones containing thickets of chokecherry, red osier dogwood, mock orange, poison ivy and water birch. Vegetation in both is a big community with scattered juniper trees.

They were studied under Section 603 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and were included in the Final Oregon Wilderness Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) filed in February 1990.

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Leave No Trace

Please follow the regulations in place for this area, and use Leave No Trace techniques when visiting to ensure protection of its unique natural and experiential qualities. How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (e.g. eastern Oregon vs. western Oregon). Visit https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/ to learn more about the principles listed below and how they apply.

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors