Visitor’s Guide
to the John Day River Basin

See for yourself the rugged allure of the John Day River Basin, with its vast expanses of windswept high desert, endless mountains, and picturesque meandering rivers.

Within a few hours drive of Bend lies a scenic wonderland of big sky and stunning geography. The John Day River Basin offers day hikes, backcountry rambling, river rafting, fishing, and hunting. This visitor’s guide highlights some of our favorite John Day adventures, with the hope that you will use these as a starting point for your own adventures.

Where to Stay

Camping

Primitive camping can be found throughout the National Forest lands. If you’re looking to camp with a few more amenities, we’ve listed a few of our favorite campgrounds in the area below.  

Cottonwood Canyon State Park, 15 miles from Wasco, Oregon on Highway 206

This beautiful 8,000-acre park offers 21 primitive sites for tents and self-contained RVs, and seven hiker/biker camp with seven sites that are available first-come, first-served basis. Please note: This park was established 2013; some online mapping services may not show the park name or location, and older reference materials will not have it listed. Season: year-round.

Mitchell City Park, downtown Mitchell, Oregon

Located along Bridge Creek, this park offers various tent camping possibilities, as well as four RV spots, on a soft grass lawn. Within walking distance of the restaurants and other amenities, this well-maintained park is frequented by cyclists. Contact (541) 462-3121 with questions. Season: year-round.

Shelton Wayside Park and Campground,  13 miles southeast of Fossil, Oregon on Highway 19

This open, ponderosa-filled park offers 34 sites, ranging in size from small to huge. Bring cash to pay for your site via an “iron ranger.” No reservations, no hook-ups or sewer for RVs and trailers. Contact (541) 763-2010. Season: mid-April to mid-October

Bear Hollow Park and Campground, 7 miles southeast of Fossil along Highway 19

Situated at 2,250′ elevation,  this 20-site park with 20 sites is scented by the ponderosa pines and true firs that surround it and deer wander through the nearby meadows. No reservations, no hook-ups or sewer for RVs and trailers. Potable water only. Learn more at the Wheeler County Courthouse and Jeanne E. Burch Building or by calling (541) 763-2010. Season: year-round

Lodging

The Oregon Hotel: 108 E Main St, Mitchell OR

Simple dorms and rooms, some with shared bathrooms, in a quaint 1930s hotel that serves free breakfast. Learn more at theoregonhotel.net or call (541) 462-3027.

The Skyhook Motel, 101 US-26, Mitchell, OR

Learn more at skyhookmotel.com or call (541) 462-3569.

Spoke’n Hostel: 300 US-26, Mitchell

This is a beautifully rustic donation-based hostel for cyclists and adventurers. Learn more at spokenhostel.org or call (541) 462-3333.

The Painted Hills Vacation Rentals, Mitchell

Learn more at www.paintedhillsvacation.com or call (541) 462-3921.

Hyatt House Bed and Breakfast: 828 Main Street, Fossil

Learn more at Hyatthousebnb.com or call (541) 763-2151

Bridge Creek Flora Inn: 828 Main St. Fossil

Call (541) 763-2355

Service Creek Lodge, at the junction of Highways 19 and 207

Learn more at www.servicecreek.com or call (541) 468-3331.

Wilson Family Ranches Retreat, Fossil

Learn more at wilsonranchesretreat.com or call (541) 763-2227.

Hotel Condon, 202 S. Main Street, Condon, OR

Learn more at hotelcondon.com or call (541) 384-4624.

Where to Eat

Sidewalk Café & More, 204 West Main Street, Mitchell

Route 26 Espresso, junction of Highway 207 and Highway 26, Mitchell

Little Pine Café, 100 East Main Street, Mitchell

RJ’s Restaurant, 415 1st Street, Fossil

Country Flowers, 201 S Main Street, Condon

 

Activities

Recommended Hikes

To see how we define hike difficulty, please see our Hike Difficulty Ratings.

Spring Basin

This hike is best enjoyed with a plant identification guide in hand.

Hike It

Cregg Large

Black Canyon

You're likely to see wildlife and guaranteed to enjoy the scenery.

Hike It

Devlin Holloway

Other Attractions

Float the Lower John Day River

With fewer rapids than the nearby Deschutes and Grand Ronde rivers, the Clarno to Cottonwood stretch of the John Day River offers a more leisurely float with scenic views of tall canyons, native wildlife, and—if you’re lucky—Native American pictographs. While the water is relatively flat, be prepared for one Class IV rapid (Lower Clarno rapid) at mile 104. Another excellent choice is the stretch that takes you between Cathedral Rock on the west bank and the Spring Basin Wilderness Area on the east bank.

Go Fossil-Hunting on Sutton Mountain

Many people trek to the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds to see its brightly colored paleosols (the exposed fossil soils buried within volcanic deposits), but few people know that Sutton Mountain also boasts an abundance of these painted formations. Layer upon layer of ash, lava, and volcanic mud trapped ancient plants and animals, preserving them for millennia. Over time, erosion has revealed these ancient fossils and sediments, creating a diverse, beautiful geological story dating back as far back as 40 million years. To experience this marvel without the crowds, take a trip to the western slope of Sutton Mountain or visit Stovepipe Springs, a unique, vivid-colored clay formation. The Oregon Paleo Lands Institute, based in Fossil, can provide more information.

Thomas Condon Paleontology Museum

Learn more at the National Park website.

Oregon Paleolands Institute

Learn more at their website.

Gilliam County Historical Museum

Pop into a brothel-turned-barbershop and other century-old buildings to enrich your knowledge of Gillam County. Learn more.

Land Manager Contact Info 
Bureau of Land Management – Prineville District Office
Dennis Teitzel
District Manager
3050 N.E. 3rd Street
Prineville, OR 97754
Phone: (541) 416-6700
E-mail: BLM_OR_PR_Mail@blm.gov
https://www.blm.gov/tag/prineville-district-office