Visitor’s Guide to the John Day River Basin
Where to Stay
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 sites that are available first-come, first-served basis.
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.
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
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 Painted Hills Vacation Rentals
These three cheery cottages set admidst beautiful gardens can be rented individually or together for larger groups.
Learn more at www.paintedhillsvacation.com or call (541) 462-3921.
Service Creek Lodge
At the junction of Highways 19 and 207
Learn more at servicecreek.com or call (541) 468-3331.
The Skyhook Motel
101 US-26, Mitchell, OR
Learn more at skyhookmotel.com or call (541) 462-3569.
Hyatt House Bed and Breakfast
828 Main Street, Fossil
Learn more at Hyatthousebnb.com or call (541) 763-2151
Wilson Family Ranches Retreat
Learn more at wilsonranchesretreat.com or call (541) 763-2227.
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.
Bridge Creek Flora Inn
828 Main St. Fossil
Call (541) 763-2355.
202 S. Main Street, Condon, OR
Learn more at hotelcondon.com or call (541) 384-4624.
Where to Eat
Painted Hills Pastry, 204 West Main Street, Mitchell
Route 26 Espresso, junction of Highway 207 and Highway 26, Mitchell
Tiger Town Brewing Co., 108 W Main St, Mitchell
Cross Rifle BBQ Bar and Grill, 415 1st Street, Fossil
The Condon Local, 201 S Main Street, Condon
Hikes and Other Activities
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.Get a Permit
Visit the Kam Wah Chung State Historic Site
In the late 1800s, thousands of Chinese miners came to Eastern Oregon in search of gold. Among them were two men - Ing "Doc" Hay and Lung On - who opened a store and herbal apothecary called Kam Wah Chung located in the town of John Day. Their Chinese medical clinic, general store, community center and residence is now on National Historic Landmark register and offers an incomparable glimpse into the past.Learn More
Look for Painted Formations 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.Learn More
Ride the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway
Bike through millions of years of history stacked up in neatly stratified ribbons of tan, black, and red in the Painted Hills, check out the cragginess of Sutton Mountain, and enjoy the cool breeze coming off the John Day River as you ride between the small communities of Fossil, Service Creek, Spray, Kimberly, Mitchell and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The full loop is 161 miles, with out and back options, too. You can start and end your ride in any of the communities on the bikeway. As Travel Oregon notes, "The moment you leave town, you’ll savor the solitude—it’s just you, your bicycle and the glorious views."