What I really want to say here is “definitely don’t go on the John Day river”. I want to write that because I don’t want a bunch of extra people finding their way to this magical place and destroying the solitude. But then I realize that that’s really optimistic on my part, to assume that I have enough followers to send droves of people to the John Day. Furthermore, I’m fairly sure it’s been “discovered” already and sharing is good. So I’m going to tell you about my recent paddleboard/rafting excursion from Service Creek to Clarno which was awesome. We went mid-week during our days off, which worked well to avoid crowds before the busy Memorial Day weekend.
Here’s what we learned and you should know regarding logistics if you are a first-timer, as we were to this particular river… you have to carry your poop out with you and dispose of it after the trip. Not a big deal. Options are available for groovers, wag-bags etc. If these words sound like a foreign language to you, come ask us at Tumalo Creek…we’ll get you dialed. A permit is required (as is the case on just about any river I know of) which can be obtained on the BLM website. Google it if you’re unsure. Don’t drive the shuttle yourself. Unless you have endless time and enjoy driving. Shuttles run about $65 and make life much easier. Just my opinion. It’s a gorgeous area and relatively untouched. Fire pans are required on this stretch and expected to be elevated to support “leave no trace” actions. Please follow these rules. It keeps the area more pristine for everyone. With all that said, this is a short multi-day and there’s virtually nothing that is so vital you can’t live without it you forget it. The one exception to this is water. Bring lots of water as there is no option to refill at any camp sites/stops.
The first day we got a late start putting on the river due to a wonderful side trip to the Painted Hills. Worth it. Once on the water we decided to push through 20 miles to give us a more leisurely two days after. The entire stretch is 49 miles of mostly frisky ripples. The first rapid that’s noted in the paddle guide book is Tap Horn rapids, rated at a Class 1-2. I’d say a solid 1. (This entire stretch is perfect for beginning whitewater paddle boarders. There are many friskies, and just three rapids rated at Class 2 and each of those very forgiving). We also went through Russo Rapids, the second of the noted rapids in the guide. Afternoon winds are common to this stretch and we certainly had some of that. Therefore, after about 15 miles on the paddleboard, I was pooped and opted to sit on the raft. In fact, I tried my hand at the oars, to give my partner a break, and so he could SUP/fish. A fun experience and also a perfect area to try rowing since I really couldn’t get us into too much trouble at “the sticks”. We found a great site with just enough time to set camp, eat a yummy dinner and enjoy our fire pan fire.
After a wonderful campsite experience the first night we got a leisurely start the next morning. We had another day of awesome paddling weather (not too hot or sunny…low 70’s and partly cloudy). The river continued to delight with Homestead, Burnt Ranch and lower Burnt Ranch- the noteworthy rapids on this stretch. Full disclosure…I nailed everything except for Homestead down to a knee for two of the waves within the rapid, and Burnt ranch down to a knee for half the rapid. Maybe next time I’ll stick it all. No worries, it’s early season and I’m slightly out of practice. However, on the last day I totally fell in…yup totally…and it was on moving flatwater with a funky eddyline/whirlpool proving that you really can fall in anywhere. This is a part of the sport and I’ll never NOT be falling in. It’s all okay.
The final day was a stretch of 13 miles in mostly moving flatwater. It was a perfect opportunity for me to get back behind the oars and enjoy being off the grid for some precious last few hours. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and recommend it for new paddlers getting into beginning whitewater (kayaking or paddleboarding). It’s also wonderful for families or couples (as was the case for us…muy romantico!!). If you’re intrigued but new to this stuff you can pop in and talk with us. I can nerd out on paddleboard-talk for hours if you get me going. For the record, I paddled the 9.6 Hala Atcha, my downriver whitewater board of choice, and my paddle was the Aquabound Challenge, an adjustable paddle which is nice for adjusting depending on conditions. BOTH AVAILABLE AT TUMALO CREEK. I also recommend getting the John Day paddle map if you’re new to the river. “Know before you go” is a good mantra to live by, even in stretches that are calmer, like the Service Creek to Clarno stretch.
Next time, we’re planning to do the lower stretch (Clarno to Cottonwood) which is a longer stretch with class 3 rapids. I’ll keep you posted.
Thanks for listening, and happy paddlin’….