John Day River

A group of us, three canoeists with one raft and drift boat are planning on

doing the Clarno OK to Cottonwood section of the John Day at the end of

June. We are all experienced white-water paddlers, although this would be

the maiden voyage for the drift boat. None of us have paddled the John Day

River before.

My question is: What is the maximum flow that would be recommended for

loaded canoes?

Today, June 1, the Service Creek gauge was about 10,000 CFS, average for

this time of year is supposed to be around 5000 CFS. Will it come down in

time? Or should we start looking for a plan B. trip?

Thanks in advance for any information and or advice on this.

Happy paddling,



– Last Updated: Jun-02-08 11:33 AM EST –

If no one else replies I would suggest the book, "Floating and Fishing Oregon's Wilderness River Canyons", [ It's not just fishing] and has some pretty detailed information on the J.D. Also, call the Service Creek Store, 541-468-3331. The book has a few shuttle services and their ph #'s.
With more than double amount of snowfall this year all the Oregon rivers are running high longer because of the snow melt and cool spring conditions. Hope this helps.

I’d suggest using the book
"Soggy Sneakers" as a reference. It’s written by members of the Lower Columbia Canoe Club (LCCC) and has most of the WW river runs in Oregon. They’re a mostly WW paddling club located in Portland. I took a WW canoe class with them. Anyhow the book gives the flow at 1,200-6,000 cfs, Gradient 11 fpm, Length 69 miles, class: 2(3), season: snow melt.

The book gives information on running the significant rapids. Anyhow, why don’t you send a note to the club since the members are serious WW paddlers and I’m sure they would be happy to help with your trip.

The John Day is beautiful- one of my yearly “must do’s” for a decade, now.

When it drops, it drops fast. I have seen it go from 10-15 thou down to 1500 in a week. This usually happens about late May, lst week June. This year, due to the big snowpack, the drop will occur much later.

Run it anyway. Even at 8-10thou, it is fun. At bigger flows, most rapids are flushed out, the run becomes somewhat easier, but very fast.

Two warnings.

There are fewer eddies at big flows, any mistake, and you better be able to self rescue. On the other hand, most rapids are just wave trains, in general there is little chance of a pin. Except for-

The start of Basalt rapid. There are some big rock in there, and the rapid is pushy at that level. Not a good eddy upstream to get out and scout, either. Be ready with a good back ferry to do a boat scout. Be cautious, but the rapid is fairly easy. But-

Clarno is a nasty rapid. It is worse at low flows (below 1500), where pins are a likely consequence of missing the line (of which there are very few). Plus, the runout is evil. Don’t swim there! At most flows it is class 3, but some argue that it is more of a 4-. At bigger flows, it has the push of a 4, but the consequences are less. As an indicator of severity, the portage trail (river left) is a deep trench.

Check out the pics of Clarno at 5500 cfs.

Have fun, it is a lovely place.


1 Like

Regarding John Day/books
thank you for the recommendation. I already have gone through Soggy Sneakers, and Oregon River Tours, plus the BLM John Day Recreation Guide. Lots of good basic information, but I always like to get additional information from people who have been there.


John Day
Thank you for your information. I was referred to a video clip on Yutube from the Cboat forum of lower Clarno at an unknown flow by a cataraft. I can understand the portage.

We were planning on doing this section as a five-day four night trip, will we be spending three days at the takeout?

Thanks again, I’ll keep watching the flows, but I bet the group goes for it.


Forecast data
Not sure if you have seen this site- most online sources only give current river levels. This one is good 'cuz it has a forecast program.

Check it out- it has already dropped from 10thou to about 8 1/2. By Thursday next week, it is forecast to be about 3000cfs.

Why did I mention next Thursday? Thats my put in day!


You’ll have fun, we are doing the day
stretch on the Deschutes this weekend. It is thumping at just under 9k right now.


Fun at that level
You doing the Maupin run?

Great fun at 9k!

Watch out for Oak Springs, however. Most flows, people paddle the right channel. But above 8k, it can be a nasty, channel wide hole. Keep your left elbow scraping the side of the basalt, and punch hard. Or, consider taking the center channel, and be ready to back ferry to dodge the multiple holes.

Have a blast! Wapinitia at this flow is near Grand Canyon size waves, super fun.


Oh god I’m so homesick
for Oregon…

Done it many times but never over 5k
this ought to be great. I’m wondering what the left hand run on Oak Springs will be like. Only have done that side once. Did the Colorado last year and love the epic big volume ww. Ran out of talent on a couple of the bigger drops but managed to do ok on everything else. Having 9k at the Deschutes will be fantastic. I caught the Walpole pix of your run down the day last year, looked like a great run and the fact you guys did it in open canoes seals your legend. Have a great trip and be safe.


Out west we are so spoiled for choice on
a daily basis. Consider this your recall letter and get your butt back out here on the rivers or the sea. Always good to have folks out having a good time to share in the events of the day. As Jim Morrison said, the west is the best.


I’ve done that stretch twice…
once in an inflatable kayak, once in a personal pontoon craft, both times in mid-summer and seriously smallmouth bass fishing. The last time I did it the flow was around 250 cfs. The other time it was probably about the same. Always wanted to float it in a canoe…when the wind comes up in that canyon (and always blows upstream) inflatable craft are no fun. We had wind all day every day the last trip, in the pontoon craft using double bladed paddles, and my shoulders took two years to fully recover!

Gorgeous river and TERRIFIC fishing when it’s low.

I’ll be there as soon as I can :slight_smile:

Oh…that Trillium
First time I saw you post, I looked up your profile. Hmmm, must have a Trillium Lake in Rhode Island…

But, maybe you are just fondly remembering the reflecting pool under Mt Hood?

Terrible place, Oregon. Rains all the time. Everyone should stay away.


Deschute/ John Day boat choice
Dog, on the Deschutes I have done the Warm Springs to Sandy Beach run, and from Sherars falls to the mouth many times, at many levels; using rafts, canoes, and kayaks.

Same on the John Day.

And years ago, I vowed I would only use a canoe on those rivers.

Desert rivers + canoes = tanned feet

Surf city, or Trestle hole, that is the only time I use a kayak anymore. And even at Surf city, a true whitewater solo canoe (rollable!) I find more fun. Especially when the temps hit the 90’s.

Looks like it will not be in the 90’s this weekend, so have fun yakkin!


The normal threshold for high water is 6,000 cfs on the John Day. R. I have run from Service Creek to Clarno at 6,600 in loaded canoes and we had our hands full. The Class II rapids get pushy with very large haystacks. It can be very difficult to portage or line boats in the canyons due to rock walls.

I let my brother and my dog out to run one rapid and it took them more than 45 minutes to walk around it. Watch the flow carefully. Wait a day or two if you have to. We sunk one boat and cracked it up but got it home with duct tape and eddy shopping.

By late June the problem is low flows, not high flows.
Clarno Rapid is a long bony rock garden by then.