Springtime in the canyon
The rangers at Cottonwood Canyon State Park are sharing a little secret: the early spring is one of the best times to visit. The weather is mild between rain showers—daytime temperatures can vary from 50 to 70. The infamous ticks and rattlesnakes are still in hiding until mid-April, and some of the wildflowers are in full-blown bloom. In fact, March and April are the only time you will see the vast burnished brown landscape transformed to a brilliant, fresh green.
Where to go
Park at the northeast end of Lone Tree Campground for a 4.3-mile, one-way hike or mountain bike along the Pinnacles Trail. Or turn southwest at the park entrance and park at the Hard Stone Trail. Hike 1.5 miles one-way, or even farther, as the trail continues on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Both trails follow the John Day River. In addition to tiny tufts of yellow, white and purple wildflowers, these mostly flat trails also treat you to views of the dramatic vertical cliffs and rocky expanses of sagebrush. You may even spot some of the wildlife that live here, including Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, coyotes and raptors.
Plan your trip
Stay in one of the park’s 21 primitive sites for small RVs and tents (keeping in mind temperatures drop to the 30s at night), or book a room in one of the nearby towns of Wasco or Condon. The Dalles, 60 miles away, is also a good base for exploring the park.
Have a plan for your day, and tell somebody about it. There’s no cell phone coverage in the park. Carry plenty of water; don’t be deceived by the cooler temperatures. And watch for ticks and rattlesnakes starting in mid-April.