About the park

Cottonwood Canyon State Park is the 2nd largest state park in Oregon at over 8,000 state owned acres, only Silver Falls with 9,000 acres is larger. The park is surrounded by an additional 10,000 acres owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is maintained and managed in cooperation with Oregon State Parks. What this means, is Cottonwood Canyon encompasses over 16,000 acres of canyon land, 16 miles of the John Day river, 15 miles of maintained trail, and miles more of unmaintained trails and roads.

Cottonwood Canyon State Park officially opened September 25th 2013. Originally owned by the Murtha and the Burres families, Cottonwood was operated as a cattle ranch; JS Burres sold his property within the canyon to Oregon State Parks in 1964.

The Murtha family sold their property at Cottonwood Canyon, and it was purchased by Western Rivers Conservancy in 2008 with money funded by the Wyss Foundation on a no interest loan.

Western Rivers, looking for a way to protect the canyon and allow for public use far into the future, sold the property which was to become Cottonwood Canyon State Park to Oregon State Parks for their original purchase price of $7.9 million. Since 2013 Oregon State Parks has spent over $4.6 million to rehabilitate the property and develop the area for outdoor recreation.

The vision for Cottonwood is a near wilderness experience for visitors. The canyon walls rise 1250 feet above the river below to sprawling wheat fields and wind farms. The John Day River flows 284 miles unimpeded by dams (the largest free flowing river in the western United States) and is part of a network of Wild and Scenic Waterways. This National designation prevents construction along the waterway, and protects it from alteration.

The Lone Tree Campground at Cottonwood Canyon currently has 21 primitive campsites, a group campsite, 7 hiker/biker campsites, and 4 rustic cabins. Potable water is available at the park year round.

Future plans include a boat launch area at the north end of the property. Additional back country camping opportunities miles of hiking trails, trailer dump station and electrical hookups are planned at later dates.

The weather at Cottonwood Canyon can be extreme. Average high temperatures hover in the low 30’s December through February, and reach triple digits in July and August. The rest of the year, we enjoy temperatures in the high 60’s to mid 80’s. With a yearly average of 7 inches of rain per year, we are truly in a desert!

2 thoughts on “About the park

  1. Christine, THANK YOU for posting that this is “not for the faint of heart!” I was gnashing my teeth at a meeting of horse people last night when I heard a couple of comments about “how much can we ride because it’s so hot over there in the summer??” (Uh…ride early in the morning, and late in the evening. Avoid July and August. That gives you at least 6 months of late spring and early fall to play with.) Another question was “will there be trees??” (Uh, no. Bring a dining canopy, sunblock, and be prepared to sweat.)
    I grew up in Pendleton, lived in La Grande in college and after that for 10 years, and LOVE the high and dry. Friends and I go to Corncob Ranch every year over near Spray and LOVE the riding offered there. Sagebrush, Juniper, pine, wheatgrass and rye, rabbit brush, and so on are beautiful to me. Driving down through Cottonwood Canyon on the way over and back we are always marvelling and saying “oh that’s so beautiful!!” Hay Canyon is amazing as well.
    Anyway, if you want lush, green, shady forests, please look on the West side of the Cascades! If you want wide open spaces, huge canyons, unlimited views, challenges in weather and terrain, then this section of Eastern Oregon will offer it.

  2. I’m in Olympia WA and this area has been on my radar for a long time. I can’t wait till we can come visit. Hopefully, this October.

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