Oregon’s newest State Park, Cottonwood Canyon was donated by the Murtha’s – a big cattle ranch.Cottonwood Canyon drains into the John Day River, one of the longest undammed rivers in the Northwest. The Murtha’s had a cattle ranch in the canyon and a Cow Barn still lies along an interpretive walkway behind the Visitor’s Center.
The 25 year plan is to return this working ranch to a more natural state. Much of the flat area of the park between the river and the surrounding hills is being replanted with native grass. Along the hikes, there are still remnants of ranch gates and fences; the Pinnacle’s Trail is actually an old 2-track ranch road.
The campground lies in a meadow alongside the river, accessible for great fishing.There are about 20 individual primitive sites, a group area and a tent camping area. Vault toilets and dumpsters round out the amenities. As I pulled into my campsite (sites are first-come;first-serve), I passed a fisherman carrying an impressively large salmon! The park is popular with fisherman; there is a boat launch just outside the park at JS Burres Park, and there are lots of access points from the campground for fishing off the banks.
Several short hikes surround the campground and the Pinnacles Trail follows the river for about 4 miles crossing varied terrain through riparian meadows, basalt rock cliffs, and scrubby grazing land.
I didn’t see a lot of wildlife – some cliff swallows and an osprey. For awhile, I was keeping pace with a group of fishermen.