John Day, N. Fork - 1. Route 52 Bridge to Dale

John Day, N. Fork, Oregon, US


1. Route 52 Bridge to Dale

Usual Difficulty II-IV(V) (for normal flows)
Length 41 Miles

Typical NF John Day

Typical NF John Day
Photo taken 05/25/17

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-14046000 900 - 3000 cfs II-IV(V) 00h42m 189 cfs (too low)

River Description


This is a beautiful, wild, and very rarely run stretch of river starting high in the Elkhorn Mountains and dropping 2400 feet over its 41 mile course to Dale. The run is situated almost entirely in a designated wilderness area that is remote and rarely visited. The drive to the put in is magnificent in its own right.

The run starts where NF route 52 crosses the North Fork of the John Day river at river mile 101. In the first mile of this run the river is a crystal clear, broad, shallow,  fast flowing stream.  At river mile 100 the stream narrows and the gradient increases as it plunges down a steep gorge section with an average gradient of over 150 feet per mile for the next two miles. This section is devoid of eddies and there are frequent river-wide blockages due to fallen trees.  Fortunately, a trail parallels the river on river right, greatly simplifying the task of scouting and portaging. This section of river is difficult to negotiate.

At river mile 98 the gorge opens out, the river widens slightly and the gradient decreases to around 100 feet per mile. Eddies are scarce and log jams are frequent. Over the next 15 miles the river is swift and technical with miles of continuous class III whitewater punctuated by the occasional river wide blockage or short class III+ or IV drop. The average gradient is around 90 feet per mile until river mile 85. The river canyon is rugged and beautiful and the surrounding scenery is spectacular.

At river mile 87.5 the Granite Creek Pack Bridge crosses the river and Granite Creek enters on river left, doubling the river's flow.  Shortly downstream the river squeezes into a 10 foot wide slot and plunges over Granite Falls (class V).  This section can be portaged using the trail on river right.  If flows are high, it is worth hiking down from this bridge to scout out a closer eddy just above Granite Falls on the right.

Below the falls there are a couple of miles of exhilerating whitewater with numerous class III drops coming in quick succession, leading into a short, but more difficult class IV gorge section.  The hiking trail comes fairly close to the river both above and below this section, simplifying scouting and a potential portage. 

From here on down the river is wider and considerably less steep, averaging around 40 feet per mile. Negotiating the drops becomes much easier and you enter a section with miles and miles of continuous and delightful class II, II+ and III- water. The wider canyon also opens up many options for camping. In the steep and narrow upper stretches of this run, finding good camping spots is a challenge.

At Big Creek campground, river mile 76.5, the gradient drops to a much more relaxing 30 feet per mile and the river takes on quite a different character. Here you enter the transition zone between rugged mountainous scenery and the more open meadows and ponderosa pines of the Dale to Monument section of the North Fork John Day.

Throughout this entire run the scenery is wild, rugged and magnificent and the wildlife abundant. Abandoned gold mining/panning claims are found in the upper reaches of the run, and throughout you can gaze down through the crystal clear water to see golden flecks sparkling in the sand.


A trip report at 3300 cfs.


If flows are on the higher end of the spectrum, consider putting in on Granite Creek.  This option allows for trips over the recommended range.


The put in is at the bridge where NF route 52 crosses the North Fork of the John Day at river mile 101. There is a campground at the put in.
There are several possible take-outs. The earliest take-out is at  river mile 76.5 at Big Creek Campground at the end of NF 5506. From this point down there are several access points to the river from NF 5506 and there are several nice camping options.
Shuttle service is available through the Dale Store, which also provides shuttle service for the lower run from Dale to Monument.  They can be reached at 541-421-3484.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-03-01 00:04:29

Rapid Descriptions

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Associated Projects

  • Conservation System
    The National Landscape Conservation System represents the crown jewels of BLM lands and rivers.