Quiet Cottonwood Canyon
Only two hours from Portland, Cottonwood Canyon State Park appears to be undiscovered at the moment. A friend told us to head downriver out of the campground and then just stop and listen. “You’ll hear literally nothing,” he said. “It’s the quietest place on earth.”
It’s quiet because very few people are out there, and also because the landscape is so vast and remote. With 8,000+ of its own acres adjacent to 10,000+ acres of BLM lands, Cottonwood Canyon State Park is Oregon’s second largest state park.
In late November we found the park to be empty and stunning, but also cold. It was only 21 degrees when we woke up in the morning along the Wild and Scenic John Day River. But with a propane powered furnace in our Eurovan Camper, it was easy to snuggle up and wait for the sun to rise.
Our goal was to mountain bike the Pinnacles Trail. Open to hikers and bikers the trail departs, conveniently, from the Lone Pine Campground. The trail hugs the river’s edge for 4.3 miles as it heads downriver along the John Day. The landscape is fantastic; you’ll get to see the Columbia River basalt that flowed through 10-15 million years ago, and the wildlife is equally impressive. As this area is home to one of the largest herds of California bighorn sheep anywhere in Oregon, keep your eyes out. But watch out for rattlesnakes too!
Cottonwood Canyon State 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. Check out this link for specific coordinates on Google Maps.
If you visit in the spring, fall or winter, you’ll want a camper van with heat as the exposed canyon can get chilly at night. But in the summer, take plenty of water, sun screen, and consider a shade structure add-on. We’re guessing spring and fall are going to be peak seasons at this new Oregon gem.