John Day River

I am looking for advice on running the John Day River between 6,000-10,000 cfm. Service Creek to Clarno. I have run it at numerous times below this but never that high. We have a group of us that are planning on running it in canoes. We have an intermediate level of experience. Has anybody run it this year in a canoe?



Go for it !
Being another N.W. U.S.A. paddler you may not get much response to this post as most of the folks on this board don’t live anywhere near your area.

I want to paddle the Marias river form Tiber Dam to a bridge 11 miles downstream . The paddling traffic is so sparse that nobody seems to know jack about jack. At least us north westerners don’t have to put up with fees, crowds. theft and loud drunken assholes on our rivers !

Check with Paddle Shops or Guides
Hi Doug, I live in Albany, OR and find that checking with the local watersports shops can often provide good info. There is also a detailed book out on floating the John Day but I can’t recall the author at the moment. The Alder Creek store in Bend has been very helpful to me in the past. Eugene also has an active rafting/kayaking community. Maybe check with folks in that area. Willamette Kayak and Canoe Club out of Corvallis may be a place to try.

Good luck,


do they have to pay fees out east?

I have heard about boat ramp fees
in the more populated eastern states but it turns out that my state also has a few places where it cost money to paddle. Montana state trust lands require a state use permit. Whitefish lake ramp charges a fee and the best section of the Smith river requires one to enter a lottery for a permit and the lottery fee is not refundable whether you end up with a permit or not. I guess Mt. is becoming californicated faster than I realized !

John Day River
Am going to guess that you looking for information for running it next spring?

We, three canoes carrying all our personal gear, just finished doing the Clarno to Cottonwood section, putting on June 23 with a flow of 2500 CFS with one raft and drift boat for additional support. Two of the canoes were Whitewater canoes, the other a Merrimack tripping canoe.

At the flows you’re asking about, I would think the hydraulics would be interesting. It would also be a very quick trip!

Heidi at the BLM office is a wonderful source of information.

Have fun!


Send a note to Lower Columbia
Canoe Club and I’m sure you can get all the info you need. The club authors the book “Soggy Sneakers” that has most of the WW river in Oregon listed. It’s a big club located in Portland and has many hardcore WW paddlers as member.

Willamette Kayak and Canoe Club
Soggy Sneakers, published by The Mountaineers Books of Seattle, Washington, is currently in its fourth edition. It contains descriptions of hundreds of runs written by the members of the Willamette Kayak and Canoe Club who have paddled the rivers featured in the book.

La Pine, OR
If that’s anywhere near La Pine, OR, I heard the lakes there are beautiful and nice for paddling as well as the Deschutes River.


I have run it at 6,600 cfs. For loaded canoes it is difficult because the Class II rapids get pushy with huge haystacks. It is easy to swamp boats. Frequently the rapids are in rocky narrows with steep canyon walls making lining or portaging very difficult.

I let my brother and my dog out for one rapid with 4 foot waves. It took them over 45 minutes to walk around it.

We sank one fiberglass boat which was pounded back into shape and fixed with duct tape. We got it home with some bailing.

I would forget about that reach in a loaded canoe above about 7,000 cfs. If you have rafts for gear haulers, and run empty with flotation, skilled paddlers might be okay. It is on the edge of what most canoeists can handle.