John Day Wild and Scenic River
Guide

Introduction

Known as the second-longest free-flowing river throughout all of the continental United States, John Day Wild and Scenic River has endless recreation and relaxing opportunities for RV adventures. Located in northwestern Oregon, the river is named after John Day, a local fur hunter who worked in the area during the early 1800s. Day had a reputation for being a great man, but little is known about him other than his job and that he owned land in the area. While there are some walk-in primitive camping areas within the wilderness area, there are no RV-appropriate free dry campgrounds in and around the John Day Wild and Scenic River.

The John Day River runs for over 240 miles and has been recognized as one of the most important waterways in the country as a member of two river preservation programs. The federal National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the state Oregon Scenic Waterways Act combine to protect the river as much as possible since its environment is so vital for the surrounding flora and fauna.

There are so many activities to enjoy on the river, including swimming, fishing, and boating. The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is also close by where you can view some ancient fossils and learn more about the history of the area. One of the special regulations of the river is that you need to obtain a permit from the BLM if you wish to use the river for boating, so be sure to get your permit before your arrival.

RV camping options are aplenty near the John Day Wild and Scenic River thanks to the many BLM managed campgrounds. All of the BLM campgrounds have a small fee and are primitive campgrounds, but if you want to stay at a developed campground there are many for you to choose from. Peak season at John Day Wild and Scenic River runs from March to October.

RV Rentals in John Day Wild and Scenic River

Transportation

Driving

Driving to and from the John Day Wild and Scenic River is very straightforward and there are many different areas where you can access it. The John Day Highway actually follows the river from Service Creek until all the way down to the town of Kimberly before the river veers north and heads to the north fork where the North Fork John Day Wilderness lies. The highway is kept in great condition and the majority of access roads to the river are very short since the highway is so close to the water's edge.

Depending on what area of the river you plan on visiting there will be multiple towns you can choose from if you need to stop and get any supplies. Spray and Monument are two of the easiest to find since they are also located right on the river, but you can also check out the towns of Fossil and Condon that are along the John Day Highway.

River access during the wintertime is a lot more limited, but if you are visiting during this time it is best to stick to the river access points that are near the highway. If you want an update on road conditions you can contact the BLM office.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in John Day Wild and Scenic River

Campsites in John Day Wild and Scenic River

Reservations camping

Private RV Campground

Since the John Day Wild and Scenic River is over 240 miles long, there are many options for RV campers wanting to stay near the great waterway. One of the more popular private campgrounds is around nine miles south of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument where there are seven sites suitable for RVs up to 60 feet in length. These large sites all come equipped with full hookups and feature trees in between each site to provide privacy and shade for campers.

Located close to the river, the campground is on the smaller side but is very well-kept and features an old-time rustic charm that many visitors enjoy. The campground also features showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities so you can keep clean during your stay.

Since the campground only has seven sites we recommend that you book a reservation in advance of your arrival. The campground is open from the end of March until the end of October each year.

First-come first-served

Big Bend Campground

One of the many BLM operated campgrounds along the John Day River is the Big Bend Campground. Located around three miles north of the small town of Kimberly, Big Bend Campground features incredible river views with each site only a stone's throw from the water.

There are five sites for you to choose from within the campground, all of which feature no hookups. Each site consists of a flat camping pad with some trees to provide you with privacy from your neighboring campers. These trees will be the only shade within the campground, so keep that in mind before you depart for the campground. Other amenities within the campground include access to a fantastic swimming hole, a vault toilet, and a quiet place to stay.

All of the sites at the Big Bend Campground do require a small fee and are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Peak camping months run from March until October.

Muleshoe Campground

Another great RV campground under the BLM umbrella that is located along the river is the Muleshoe Campground. The campground is a great place for travelers who want to stay near the middle of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument while still being on the banks of the river. You will have to pay a small fee to use this BLM campground, but it is well worth it.

The campground consists of six gravel RV sites that are known for being level and large enough for RVs up to 50 feet in length. There is plenty of room between each site so you won't be camping in close quarters with your neighbors. There are no hookups at Muleshoe but there are two vault toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. If you need to use a dump station you will have to visit the nearby town of Spray. If you are looking for cell phone reception you may struggle to get any within the campground.

Muleshoe Campground is mostly used on the weekend but all sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Seasonal activities in John Day Wild and Scenic River

Off-Season

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

For RV adventurers visiting the John Day Wild and Scenic River, you must take some time to check out the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Separated over three different units, you will have the chance to view ancient fossils at the Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center, hike cliffs in the Claro Unit and view the mesmerizing layers of fossil soils that are found in the Painted Hills Unit.

Since the monument is massive, we recommend that you visit it either before or after you have finished camping as you will need to drive to each individual site.

Fishing

One of the most popular activities for visitors to the river is to cast out a line and wait for the fish to bite. There are near limitless fishing opportunities thanks to the 284 miles of river that are open to fishing.

You will find many quiet spots to go fishing from the banks of the river and there are so many fish that call it home, including steelhead, bluegill, trout, and smallmouth bass, which is the most popular species to target. A handy tip before you cast out a line is to check the river flow. The best conditions for fishing is when the river is flowing under 7,000 cubic feet each second.

Boating

Along with fishing, boating is another main attraction for visitors to John Day Wild and Scenic River. The river is controlled by the BLM and is a little different than most in the country. In order to access this amazing waterway you will have to purchase a permit. The idea is to control the number of people out on the river.

There are permits available for heading upstream and downstream from Spray and they can be purchased online. Popular activities on the river include whitewater rafting, fishing, and kayaking.

In-Season

Swimming

During the warm Oregon summers, jumping into the John Day Wild and Scenic River is a fantastic way to escape the heat. There are many great swimming holes to be explored in the third-largest un-dammed river in the United States, including at the Cottonwood Canyon State Park.

Located at the northern end of the river, the part of the river is a great place to swim due to the slower flow. There will be no lifeguards on duty at the park, so swim with caution and be wary of the current.

Picnicking

There are so many great picnicking areas to choose from along the John Daly River, but one of the best is located within the Spray Riverfront Park. Operated and maintained by the local county, the park is located right on the banks of the John Daly River just below the town of Spray.

One of the best things about choosing this spot for a picnic is that you are very close to a grocery store if you need to purchase any food or drink. There is a large picnic shelter available on a first-come, first-served basis along with restrooms and water collection points.

North Fork John Day Wilderness

Located within the Umatilla National Forest, the North Fork John Day Wilderness is the perfect place for travelers wanting some off-grid adventures. The wilderness area is a great place for hunting, hiking, and wildlife viewing. It contains over 121,560 acres waiting for you to explore.

The only way into the wilderness area is via one of the many trailheads that are accessible from the surrounding areas. During your visit, you may also come across some old gold and silver mining equipment from when the area was a hotbed for these precious metals.

Find the perfect campsite.