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Springtime in the canyon


cottonwood

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.

Be prepared

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.

 

February camping and hiking at Cottonwood Canyon (2015)


Sometimes, you have to practice what you preach so we decided to try winter camping. Our family selected a date long before a weather forecast, but lucked out with a sunny Presidents’ Day weekend at Cottonwood Canyon State Park.

Cottonwood-Canyon-green

After setting up our campsite in the first-come, first-served campground, the first thing we noticed was the tinge of green on the hills and bluffs.

Cottonwood-Canyon-fogWe weren’t the only ones ready for a winter camping escape. Campers in tents, in their pickups and campers and even campers sleeping in their cars awoke Sunday to a thin fog layer hovering over the John Day River. The sun quickly dissolved the mist and melted the frost.

Cottonwood-Canyon-trail

The park has miles of trails along the river. Our longest hike took us upstream on the Hard Stone Trail. The trail is an old road and lives up to its name. We were glad for our sturdy boots.

Cottonwwod-Canyon-near-end

The park brochure shows the trail ending at 1.5 miles, but the trail continues for another three-quarters of a mile or so. We walked on to see the rock ledge meeting the river in the distance.

Cottonwood-Canyon-cliffs-2

And, we weren’t disappointed. We stopped for a break and realized we should have brought more drinking water. Something to remember for Cottonwood Canyon in all seasons.

Cottonwood-Canyon-moth

What are they? I don’t know their names but they brightened up the landscape on our way back to the campground.

Cottonwood Canyon State Park (park info and driving directions)

Park brochure, campground and trail map

Cottonwood Canyon State Park opens Sept. 28 (2013)


Hikes and fishing & birding clinics set for the weekend

Look for the Cottonwood Canyon brand at trailheads and in developed areas of the park. We asked schoolkids in both Sherman and Gilliam counties to help us create a symbol for the park -- a nod to the area's ranching heritage. We received more than 80 drawings and the final was selected by public vote. Cash Helms from Condon, Isabella Mills and Jordan Barrett from Grass Valley came up with most popular idea.

Look for the Cottonwood Canyon brand at trailheads and in developed areas of the park. We asked schoolkids in both Sherman and Gilliam counties to help us create a symbol for the park — a nod to the area’s ranching heritage. We received more than 80 drawings and the brand was selected by public vote. Cash Helms from Condon, Isabella Mills and Jordan Barrett from Grass Valley came up with the most popular idea.

You can camp, too, at Lone Tree Campground! The 21-site main campground is first-come, first-served and is designed for tents or self-contained RVs and has running water and vault-style restrooms, but no showers. Seven sites are available in the hiker/biker camp and the group tent camp has room for up to 25 people.

The campground sits near the John Day River, which is the spine of the roughly 8,000 acre park. About 8 miles of the river curves through the park, an oasis for elk, bighorn sheep, chukar, snakes, lizards and waterfowl. You can explore the riverbanks downstream along the Pinnacles Trail on the north bank and the Lost Corral Trail on the south. Both trails are 4.3 miles one way.

Events planned

Saturday, Sept. 28

  • 9-11:30 a.m.:  2-mile guided hike by Cottonwood rangers—meet at the trailhead parking lot near the campground. Learn about the area’s cultural and natural history, plus talk about the past, present and future of the park.
  • 10 a.m and 1 p.m.: Fishing clinic (for youth under the age of 12) and “Let’s Go Birding”
  • 1 p.m : “Wind and Water: The Legacy of the American-style Windmill” presentation

Sunday, Sept. 29

  • 9-11:30 a.m.:  2-mile guided hike by Cottonwood rangers—meet at the trailhead parking lot near the campground. Learn about the area’s cultural and natural history, plus talk about the past, present and future of the park.
  • 10 a.m and 1p.m.: Fishing clinic (for youth under the age of 12) and “Let’s Go Birding”

How do I get to the park?

The park is located on Highway 206 between Condon and Wasco. Because the park is new, online mapping services may not show the park name or location. Visit the park online map you’ll see a green pin that represents the latitude and longitude coordinates for the park entrance road.  Add your location and then select “Get Directions” for driving directions to the main park entrance.

Cottonwood Canyon State Park web page

Trail guide, campground map & recreation info

Cottonwood Canyon Lone Tree Campground site

Regular campsites are $9 a night May -September, then $5 a night October-April. The park and campground are open all year.