Where-to: Swim in the John Day Basin

Steve Roelof   Website

fact

Bitteroot

Bitteroot

Bitteroot blooms on north-facing cliffs in western North America.

The Paiute name for bitteroot is kangedya. Traditional Native American uses of the plant included eating the roots, mixed with berries and meat, and using the roots to treat sore throats.

 

voices

Terry Butler, 2018 Volunteer of the Year

Terry Butler, 2018 Volunteer of the Year

“If I have to pick a favorite place in Oregon’s high desert, it would be Sutton Mountain, but I’m excited about all of the Wilderness Study Areas,” says Terry, adding, “Each is a gem to explore, and I hope they all get protection someday… I love the scale of the physical beauty of the desert.”

watch

Stewardship Pronghorn Fence

Stewardship Pronghorn Fence

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

BLM

Priest Hole Recreation Site

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Nestled along the banks of the John Day River between Wasco and Condon is Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Oregon’s newest state park. Cottonwood Canyon encompasses 8,000 acres of rugged terrain with canyon walls reaching 1,250 feet deep and rolling hills home to all kinds of desert wildlife, including bighorn sheep and elk. Located on the northern end of the river where the flow is slower, the swimming opportunities here are top-notch, not to mention the boat launch that makes it a breeze to take a kayak, canoe or raft out to explore. 

Cottonwood Canyon State Park website

Overview of ONDA’s work in Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Priest Hole Recreation Site

Deep in the heart of John Day country is Priest Hole Recreation Site, a local favorite for swimming and fishing. The water here is the perfect temperature for swimming and can be an ideal spot to gaze at the impressive Sutton Mountain Wilderness Study Area towering over the river to the south. This site is right in the middle of the John Day Wild and Scenic River, which was designated for its incredible scenery, fish and wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and geological features. Camping at Priest Hole is free, and you can even set up your tent on a gravel bar where you can fall asleep to the sound of the river.

Priest Hole Recreation Site information

Ritter Road Swimming Hole

You may have heard of the popular Ritter Hot Springs, but that’s probably not on anyone’s agenda for this summer full of record-high temperatures (the hot springs are currently closed the public). Just a mile away from the hot springs, at mile marker 10 on Ritter Road, is a swimming hole along the Middle Fork of the John Day River. Ritter Road Swimming Hole is right at a slow-moving part of the river, where the water is an ideal depth for taking a dip. There’s even a cliff jumping spot for the sprightly swimmers among us, albeit one that’s none too high. You’ll find Ritter Road off of Highway 395 between Pendleton and John Day. 

Outdoor Project review of Ritter Road Swimming Hole 

Bridge Creek near Painted Hills

John Day River

Sage Brown

Big Bend Recreation Site

Like the Colorado and the Rio Grande, the John Day River also has its own “Big Bend.” The Big Bend Recreation Site is found a few miles north of the small town of Kimberly, at – you guessed it – a big bend of the John Day River. Given the large turn that the river takes here, the waters flow slowly enough to create a fantastic swimming hole. For those who’d like to stick around for more than a day, five campsites on the northern bank of the river offer incredible views of the John Day and surrounding desert landscape. 

Outdoor Project review of Big Bend Recreation Site

Bridge Creek Swimming Hole

Conveniently located between Highway 26 and Painted Hills National Monument off of Bridge Creek/Burnt Ranch Road is the Bridge Creek campground. This is an excellent place to stop on your way to or from Painted Hills, one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders. Whether you’re spending the night or not, this campground provides access to a lovely swimming spot on Bridge Creek, a 28-mile long tributary of the John Day. 

The Dyrt review of Bridge Creek/Burnt Ranch Campground

How ONDA is Working to Conserve Desert Waters

With yet another hot and dry summer upon us, there’s no question that addressing, mitigating and reversing the effects of climate change and drought needs to be a top priority for everyone. 

ONDA contributes to mitigating the effects of climate change in the high desert in two key ways:  through our riparian restoration program and by advocating for protection for critical desert rivers and streams. 

ONDA restores riparian areas – the green habitat zones along the banks of rivers and streams – by planting native, climate resilient tree species that provide much-needed shade for desert fish and wildlife that depend on cold-water habitat. We are also working to Congressionally protect these waterways, joining Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley to advocate for Wild and Scenic designation for more than 1,000 miles of desert rivers and streams included in their River Democracy Act. This landmark legislation would give these desert rivers and streams the protection they need to keep flowing and serving as lifelines in the high desert, carrying cold snowmelt down from places such as Steens Mountain and the Trout Creek and Pueblo Mountains to desert habitats below. 

Where-to: Swim in the John Day Basin

Author: Joanna Zhang | Published: July 19, 2021 | Categories: Where-to  Five fantastic swimming holes on the John Day River You might not think of heading to the desert when you want to go swimming. That’s quite understandable. While Oregon’s high desert isn’t pulsing with waterfalls and lush temperate rainforests, the dry side of...

Read More

Helping Fish, Addressing Fire and Drought

Author: Beth Macinko  |  Published: June 21, 2021  |  Categories: Look Back, Notes from the Field ONDA volunteers plant thousands of willow and repair fences in the Malheur watershed The native bull trout and redband trout in the Malheur River drainage, located south of Prairie City in the Malheur National Forest, can look forward...

Read More

Wild Waters Ahead

ONDA community members showed how much they value desert rivers, streams and creeks by nominating countless waterways for protection. Now, more than 1,000 miles of these waters could be protected under the River Democracy Act. Join us to learn more about the rushing rivers, hidden hot springs, and spectacular streams across Oregon’s high desert...

Read More

Meet the 2020 Alice
Elshoff Award Recipient

Author: Corinne Handelman  |  Published: January 19, 2021  |  Category: Profile Meet John Cunningham Like many ONDA volunteers, John Cunningham is up for any challenge — and his positive attitude and long-standing commitment to supporting ONDA’s conservation mission have landed him the honor of receiving our 2020 Alice Elshoff Conservation Award. “After 30+ stewardship...

Read More

Winter Wildlife Watching

By Scott Bowler What’s there to do in the desert in the winter? Watch wildlife! In many ways, especially at lower elevations, winter’s cold weather can provide some great hiking and exploring opportunities and it’s definitely a great time to be on the lookout for the rich array of wildlife species that inhabit Oregon’s...

Read More

Signs of Winter

by Scott Bowler Winter may seem harsh, and it is indeed a difficult time to live outdoors, but remember that snow on the ground is actually good insulation. It blocks the wind, thus protecting animals from the most serious cold, and keeping temperatures warm enough underneath to allow activity much of the winter. Many...

Read More

Recognizing Native American Heritage Month

Desert conservationists, did you know …  That Oregon’s high desert lands and waters are the traditional lands and waters of the Northern Paiute, Wasco, Warm Springs, Klamath, Modoc, Yahooskin, and Shoshone peoples?  That several of ONDA’s major restoration projects take place on lands currently managed by the Burns Paiute Tribe and the Confederated Tribes...

Read More

Healthy Escapism

“A Year in Oregon’s High Desert” offers escapism you can feel good about Feeling stressed? A dose of natural beauty could help.   Studies have shown that spending time in a natural setting, or even viewing scenes of nature, can lower stress level, heart rate and blood pressure and make people feel more trusting and...

Read More

The Halfway Point

By Zavier Borja, Latino Outdoor Engagement Coordinator for Children’s Forest of Central Oregon The Painted Hills of eastern Oregon are one of the seven wonders that we have here in Oregon.  Beyond the fact that it is a breathtaking geological structure out in what feels like the middle of nowhere,  I also hold this...

Read More

What Wild & Scenic
Looks Like

Did you know that, in addition to rivers, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act can also protect creeks, streams and lakes?  Wild and Scenic desert waters take many forms and every drop of desert water plays an important role in the desert ecosystem. From mighty salmon-bearing rivers, like the North Fork John Day, to...

Read More