Park FAQ

Some of the most common questions we receive can be found here…

How did you acquire the property

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department acquires new state parks from willing sellers. Sometimes the sellers are private landowners who have decided to put their land on the market. After researching the property, and sometimes discussing the issue with other partners and local officials, our citizen oversight commission gives us permission to make a deal. We do appraisals and negotiate terms much like anyone else who buys real estate.

Cottonwood Canyon State Park was formerly owned by the Murtha Family. They farmed and ranched the area for several generations. The family decided to put the ranch up for sale several years ago, but we weren’t in a position to buy it even though it clearly was the kind of rugged, beautiful John Day canyonland to make a great park.

The land was eventually sold to the Western Rivers Conservancy, a private non-profit that specializes in river restoration projects. We negotiated with them, and in 2009 agreed to purchase the property, one piece at a time, from Western Rivers over several years:

  1. 2,400 acres adjacent to JS Burres Wayside on 206 for $2.2 million dollars, 2009
  2. 2,200 acres comprising the Murtha Ranch homestead and surrounding property for $2 million – 2011
  3. 2,111 acres surrounding Hay Creek for 2.2 million – 2011
  4. 1,300 acres south of hwy 206 for $1.5 million – 2011

The total state park property totals 8,015 acres at a final price of $7.9 million dollars, which is what the Western Rivers Conservancy paid for the property.

Where does OPRD get the money for this?

The $7.9 million purchase price and $5.3 million development cost were funded using Lottery dollars dedicated to parks by Oregon voters in 1998 and 2010. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department invests these funds, not tax dolars, to improve the state park system.

Park visitors and recreational vehicle owners provide most of the funding to operate 130,000+ acres of state parks, though Lottery money is used for daily operations, too.

Why is it called Cottonwood Canyon?

Cottonwood Canyon is the location of the primary entrance to the park. You can expect to see other names inside the park—trails and trailheads, parking areas, camping spots—that echo local traditions, names, and locations. 

Is There Cell Service at the Park?

No. There is no cell phone coverage at the park, including the campground, day-use area and river trails. Do not rely on cell phones for emergency communications.

Can I Bring an RV?

No problem if the RV is self-contained. Cottonwood does not have sewer hook-ups; electric hook-ups or individual water hook-ups. There is no sewer dump station. The nearest dump station is approximately 30 minutes away.

Can I make a Reservation?

Campsites at Cottonwood Canyon are first-come first-served. Our 4 cabins, Experience Center, picnic shelter and day use area are reservable. For more information, please see out Camping & Reservations page.

Can I have a Campfire?

Campfires are allowed in the campground in designated fire rings. Campfires are banned from early summer to late fall, typically June 1 to Sept. 30.

Smoking is permitted only in a closed vehicle, while standing in water, or while in a boat on the water.

Is Trapping allowed in the park?


Is Hunting/Fishing allowed in the park?

Yes, hunting is allowed 1 miles outside of developed areas. Both fishing and hunting are allowed following ODFW regulations.

I have a boat with a motor. Can I use the John Day River?

The John Day River is closed to motorized watercraft year-round between Clarno and Cottonwood Bridge and is closed seasonally from May 1 to September 30 between Cottonwood Bridge and Tumwater Falls. The river is closed to personal watercraft (jet skis) year-round.

Do Rattlesnakes live there

Yes, but leave them alone; they won’t bite unless threatened. Look for more information at the park and trail heads. If you’re bitten by any kind of snake, get to a hospital emergency room as quickly as possible.

Do ticks live there?

Yes, they active in spring and early summer, they find their way to you in long grass and brush. Although not poisonous, ticks can spread diseases.

To see the statewide list of FAQ’s check out and be sure to visit our know before you go page.