Cottonwood Canyon

Cottonwood Canyon State Park is rough and expansive, with vertical cliffs formed by the John Day River, deep side canyons, and barren, stony grasslands that stretch for miles. Sightseeing, stargazing, and pondering the natural forces that shaped this unique environment are all available on the park’s 8,000-plus acres.

With 252 miles of free-flowing water, the John Day River is a lengthy, distant natural river system. The lower John Day River has one of the finest wild steelhead runs in Northeast Oregon in the spring and fall. Catfish and smallmouth bass are also popular among anglers. J.S. Burres, throughout the river, is a famous rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and drift boat launch.

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Outside of the constructed area, the park is open to hunting. It is the hunter’s responsibility to keep up with the latest restrictions. Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, white-tailed jackrabbit, big horn sheep, and a variety of lesser species can all be seen by visitors. For raptor enthusiasts, both migratory and resident bird populations are a treat. Reptiles, along with at least six kinds of lizards, western rattlesnakes, and several nonvenomous snakes, are attracted to the rocky topography. The wildflowers put up a display in April and May.

Hiking is the only way to camp in the backcountry; no scattered vehicle camping is allowed. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department manages the BLM land surrounding the park as well as Starvation Lane. Backpackers can park at any trailhead and hike a minimum of one mile before setting up camp. If you have any queries about your vacation, please feel free to contact park staff.

The Pinnacles Trail and the Lost Corral Trail, both 4.3 miles one way, follow the John Day River downstream on each side. Hikers, bikers, and equestrians can all use the Lost Corral Trail, which starts at JS Burres. Bikers and hikers can access the Pinnacles Trail, which begins at the campground’s end.

The Hard Stone Trail is only accessible by foot upstream. Alternatively, you can venture into the backcountry on your own along old, unmaintained pasture roads. The J.S. Burres day-use area is a popular rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and drift boat launch.

Cottonwood Canyon is a remote, rough, and underdeveloped area. A few simple precautions will help you stay secure. Prepare your plan for your day and share it with someone. Cell phone service is not available anywhere in the park.

Carry plenty of water—for hiking in the heat, 20 ounces per person, per hour is suggested. Only the built day-use area and the campground have access to potable water.

Here you’ll find rattlesnakes and cougars. Leave the snakes alone; unless they are threatened, they will not bite. To keep cougars at bay, always hike in groups and make a lot of noise to alert them to your presence. Any cougar encounters should be reported to park staff.

Ticks reside in long grass and bushes and are most active in the spring and early summer. Awareness and prevention are the best defenses.

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