Cottonwood Canyon opened as Oregon’s newest State Park on September 25, and Outdoor Project is proud to say we were the 124th official visitor to this expansive wilderness and recreation preserve.
The John Day River snakes through Oregon's eastern plateau, cutting a deep and rugged gorge as it flows northwest toward the Columbia River. At 252 miles long, the John Day is the Pacific Northwest's longest free-flowing river; it is also home to the nation's longest stretch of Wild and Scenic river, a total of 148 miles of federally protected water. The absence of dams and the presence of federal protections helps to create one of the region's healthiest habitats for runs of summer Chinook salmon.
Formerly known as J.S. Burres State Park, Cottonwood Canyon State Park now encompasses roughly 16 miles of this 1,250-foot deep canyon corridor. It totals over 8,000 acres in size, making it Oregon’s second largest state park after Silver Falls State Park (9,064 acres). In 2008, Western Rivers Conservancy raised donations to acquire property along both sides of the river, including the Murtha Family Ranch and their Bureau of Land Management grazing lease. They then ceded management of the preserve to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, which reintroduced the land back to the public in 2013.
Currently the park is an ideal spot for fly fishing and initiating or wrapping-up a river trip, and it also features over 10 miles of hiking trails (including the Pinnacles Trail) and equestrian trails, a 29-site campground, and a day use area with picnic shelters, restrooms and the old Murtha Ranch barn.
When you visit, be sure to bundle up during the winter months and bring plenty of water and sun screen during the summer, as the exposed canyon is host to extremely cold winter nights and intensely hot, shade-less summer days. Though this section of the John Day River gorge deserves an enchanting name like “Cottonwood Canyon,” you won't find any cottonwood trees of any respectable size to provide relief from the canyon’s intense heat.