I took 2 different trips to the N Fork John Day Wilderness this month and I thought some basic info on trail conditions might be useful, as they can be hard to come by.
North Fork John Day River Trail
From N Fork John Day Campground, the trail is in good shape to the bridge where the Granite Creek Trail comes in (that’s as far as we went). There are a handful of blowdowns, only one of which requires a somewhat annoying, but short, workaround. A bit brushy in places, and one spot where the trail disappears through a short meadow, but it’s not too hard to find on the other side.
There are no signs of the old footbridge over Trout Creek, but there is a large and sturdy log. If you don’t want to walk or scootch on that, the horse ford immediately downstream is casual.
The ford at Bear Gulch was no more than knee-deep and the water temp was pleasant. The trail is easy to see on the other side.
There’s a good spot to camp right before the ford, in the trees near the miner’s cabin (“Tub Spring”). There are a few decent places to camp between the TH and Tub Spring. On the other side of the river, there’s a good place to camp right before First Gulch, another one at First Gulch, and a good spot at the bridge.
Some maps show the trail from Silver Butte crossing the river ¼ mile east of the bridge. There used to be a handcart crossing there, and you can still see remnants, but now that trail is accessed across the bridge. Once you cross the bridge, the N Fk Trail continues to the left (heading west), while the trail to Copper Butte heads up and to the right (east).
I headed up the Granite Creek trail just a minute and there is a large and sturdy bridge over Lake Creek.
2 of us had 5-8 ticks each over 3 days
North Crane Trail
There is apparently a 2.5 mile trail connecting the N Fork John Day River Trail to the Crane Creek Trail. I couldn’t find it from either end. However, at the Crane Creek TH (the south end of the North Crane Trail), there is a big meadow and that’s where the trail is supposed to be. I only spent a few minutes looking for it – if I would’ve walked the perimeter of the meadow, maybe I would’ve seen where it comes out of the meadow.
Big Creek Trail
From the Big Creek Meadow TH and campground, the trail starts out OK, with a 2 minor fords in the first couple miles.
After the second ford, things get interesting, and the trail deteriorates pretty quickly. Tons of blowdown and very faint. It also deviates quite a bit from where the maps show, at times about 500’ higher.
I was planning on looping around and coming back on South Winom, but due to the trail conditions, heat, and uncertainty of S. Winom trail conditions, I turned around at about 4,500’. So I started from South Winom the next day.
South Winom Creek Trail
To reach this TH, drive past the Winom Campground (don’t turn in). You’ll very shortly see a group campsite on the left and then a 1-lane bridge. Shortly after that, the TH is on the left, with room for 2 vehicles. No toilet.
This trail is in much better shape than Big Creek, but it still requires paying attention, as it is faint at times, and there’s one very, very brushy section.
The maps for this are also not completely accurate, although better than Big Creek.
I did see what I think was the junction to the Big Creek Trail (I turned around before that spot when I hiked Big Creek). Not too far before the intersection with Big Creek itself, there’s a faint trail switchbacking steeply up the exposed slope. There is also a blaze on a tree at that intersection, which was the only blaze I noticed along the trail. I went up it just a minute, and it likely connects to the almost non-existent Big Creek Trail, but I didn’t actually go all the way up to where I left off on the Big Creek Trail the day before, so that’s just an assumption.
The bridge over Big Creek is broken and burned, and not usable. The ford looked less than safe – not wide, but very fast, with deep pools.
Elkhorn Crest Trail/Crawfish Basin Trail
From the Elkhorn Crest TH by Anthony Lakes, to Nip & Tuck Pass (what’s with that name, BTW?) the trail is in great shape, with a few very minor snow patches to cross. Saw 2 adult goats with 2 kids. They ran off quickly. A couple blowdowns, no big deal.
Took the Crawfish Basin Trail back from Dutch Flat Saddle, it’s also in great shape.
You will need to walk on a forest road for a bit to make this loop back if you go Crawfish Basin. My maps show a trail off the forest road to Hoffer Lakes, Parker Creek, then Anthony Lake, but I either just walked right past it or it doesn’t exist. I was distracted from talking to some mountain bikers about the fake elk in the woods (apparently for some sort of archery contest/training), so I wouldn’t doubt if I just walked past it. So I just walked the forest road to Anthony Lakes CG, then back to the TH.