Stream: This Eastern Oregon overnight run starts out at 5600', and has more water than most streams you would encounter at that elevation in Oregon. It runs from snowmelt and has a nice long season in the Spring/early Summer.
The stream is clearly immature up near the put in, with minimal incision and migrating channels. You get the high desert experience, with more action than the Grande Ronde, or lower sections of the John Day. The run is II-IV(V).
Matt Pearson and I did this run over Memorial Day weekend in 2017, this is the only time I have done the run. We had a good time, the stress level was a bit higher than I like on class III runs due to the lack of eddies and the wood concerns though. I would choose less water next time, probably shooting for 2,000-2,500. Keep the water level in mind as you read the report, less water would change the experience.
The first mile offers a nice warm up, at one island we went left when we should have gone right and had to hop over a log jam.
Matt Pearson warming up.
The start of the significant whitewater is clear, the first rapid can be boat scouted, but as the river bends to the left, hop out on the right and climb up to the trail. It is worth scouting out the next mile of stream if levels are healthy from the river-right trail, while the whitewater is class III/IV the eddies can be scarce, and the wood ever present. On our trip this section was both fun, and stressful with levels peaking over 3,000 cfs.
Matt holding in one of the few eddies in this section.
After scouting the first mile, we chose to walk our boats along a hundred yards of it, due to the obstacle and others like it visible in the photo.
We put back on, and ran some fun stuff before scrambling into an eddy above a log we hadn't seen. Fortunately it was an easy portage and we were back at it running some more fast and fun stuff. The relentless nature of this section keeps up until the confluence with Trout Creek, which comes in on the right at a point where a large log is in the river. It looks bad from above, but further inspection proved to offer easy passage on the left.
Matt in the final portion of the first onslaught of class III+ whitewater.
Downstream the gradient drops slightly, and the wood decreases. Diligence is still required as wood in the wrong place could be tricky, eddies were still rare at our flow, and the corners can be blind. The logs are spread far enough, and the portages easy enough that they don't detract much from the trip at this point.
A couple of the logs on the NF John Day
The further one goes, the less blind the corners, the less steep the rapids, and the less hidden the log hazards.
There is a section of good rapid in the mix a number of miles below the first onslaught. This view is the indicator that you are about to enter this section of whitewater.
10-15 miles downstream of the put in, you cross under a bridge and Granite Creek comes in on the left. I recommend hopping out at the bridge if levels are high, as just around the corner is Granite Falls, a rapid that should be scouted and is often portaged. If you miss the opportunity to exit the river at the bridge, there is a decent last minute eddy at the lip on the right.
Foot bridge, Granite Creek comes in just below on river left.
Granite Creek Falls.
The couple miles below the Granite Creek confluence is the highest quality whitewater of the trip, the longest and steepest can easily be scouted from the right bank along a trail.
The whitewater is still pretty continuous below here at high water, and long miles of class II are often broken by fun sections of class III. The wood situation and visibility improves drastically down here, from this point on the river was read and run. Don't hold out for the picture perfect campsite, by the time you find one you will be within access of a road that comes upstream along river-right and one does not do a wilderness trip to fall asleep to motors. We found an island that worked ok for us not far below Big Creek, and only one intrepid motorcycler had made his way that far upstream.
Big Creek confluence.
Our chosen island to camp on.
The floating eases further below Big Creek, and there is miles of lazy floating down to about a mile below the bridge at Trough Creek.
When we were there a sign warned of downstream danger, and a scout was mandated by this sign. We were unsure if the sign was related to the fish-counter not too far downstream, or a section of fun class III+ rapids further down.
The most interesting formations were in this lower roadside section.
Eventually the stream eased off completely, with some class II's downstream of Dale. Knowing we were near the end it was pleasant just floating along slowly and taking it in. We were further lulled into relaxation knowing the shuttle was already run. After reaching the take out we leisurely loaded our gear before making the drive back to the Willamette Valley. We took the route back through Redmond for the views, I passed up one gas station while at half a tank and very much regretted that.
Beautiful and new to me roadways helped me ignore the gas-light that had come on.
I pulled in to a Redmond gas station a few hours later, an hour after the gas light had gone on. I found out that by really finessing the gas consumption our Toyota Yaris can have a tank range of 399 miles.
Back in Redmond was a reminder of why we had the three day weekend.
Flows: 3,000 cfs is the max I would recommend putting on at the NF-52 bridge. It was stressful due to lack of eddies and wood in the upper reaches. If I came back at similar or higher flows, I would put on to Granite Creek. The section of the NFJD below Granite Creek was fun and not very stressful, with better and more challenging whitewater than what we encountered upstream. If the levels were lower I would put in at the NF-52 bridge again.
Flows the days we were paddling the NFJD, Memorial Weekend 2017
Access: We hired the owner of the Dale store to run our shuttle, we were happy with the fair price and the job he did.
The entire route is paved.
We took out at a bridge a couple miles downstream of Dale. To get to the put in we headed North 15.3 miles on Hwy 395 from Dale. Turned right, and another right 1.3 miles later in Ukiah onto Camas Street towards Granite. This road becomes NF-52 and 40 miles from Ukiah crosses the NF John Day at the put in.