Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in John Day, OR

  • Published 2022/07/30

John Day is a city in Grant County, Oregon, two miles from Canyon City.

It is bordered to the east by the Blue Mountains and the south by the Strawberry Mountains.

Incorporated in 1901, the city took its name from the neighboring John Day River, named after John Day, an 1811 Astor Expedition member from Virginia.

John Day proudly wears its heart and tradition on its sleeve, drawing visitors with its outdoor recreation, popular historic sites, and dramatic scenery.

Offering opportunities to do things like discover the heritage of Chinese immigrants and wander through unique geological formations, John Day is sure to fuel your curiosity about the past.

There are many things to look forward to when visiting this city, so start planning your trip and check out this list of the best things to do in John Day, Oregon:

Visit Kam Wah Chung & Co. Heritage Site

Kam Wah Chung & Co., which means “Golden Chinese Outpost,” is a unique property that is both a National Historic Landmark and designated in the National Register of Historic Places.

What was once a general store, a post office, a library, a doctor’s office, and a center for Chinese religious and social activities is one of the strangest museums you’ll ever see.

Their archive contains the most outstanding collection of original Chinese documents in the country, if not all of North America, including vintage tin cans and wooden boxes still stocked with Chinese teas, food, tobacco, and medicines.

Chinese inhabitants of Canyon City and John Day were the building’s first major clients when it was first built in 1865.

Ing “Doc” Hay and Lung On, two young immigrants, purchased the building’s lease in 1887, starting its “golden” age and turning it into a home they later shared with family, friends, and travelers in the 1940s.

The building is now a memorial honoring a significant period in the history of Oregon and the country, marking the lives of two notable individuals who eventually gained the respect of their community.

Play Golf at the John Day Golf Club

Welcome to the John Day Golf Club, where members, guests, and golfers of all ages are invited to the clubhouse and golf course!

The club is conveniently located one mile west of the city limits, providing a distinct and challenging golf experience.

If you happen to be in or near John Day, drop by for a round of golf or have a refreshing drink on the patio while watching other golfers play.

Opened in 1953, this semi-private nine-hole course features a slope rating of 111, measures 2,930 yards from the longest tees, and has two sets of tees for various skill levels, with bent grass greens and buffalo fairways.

Furthermore, guests can camp for free in their eight dry camping locations!

Camping at John Day Golf Club is available on a first-come, first-served basis, so make sure to phone ahead to book your spot!

Hike a Trail at Davis Creek Park

In the center of John Day is David Creek Park, a park with four different trails you can explore any day!

The park features comfortable, paved trails and beautiful John Day River Valley vistas.

Approximately 0.75 miles of trails wind through the lovely park, ideal for outdoor lovers.

The park connects neighborhoods around the Innovation Gateway to the John Day River, up to Patterson Bridge Road and Valley View Drive.

Bring your loved ones, families, and friends to Davis Creek Park for a scenic trek, and you’ll be enamored after seeing the stunning view from the hilltop!

Watch the Timber Truckers Light Parade

You don’t want to miss the Timber Truckers Light Parade if you ever plan to spend December in the John Day area.

The annual parade illuminates the city’s streets with trucks decorated with thousands of Christmas lights.

This event, which started in 1981, draws spectators to line the streets to celebrate the significance of Grant County’s timber industry.

Although it originated with logging trucks, today, any kind of vehicle is allowed to join the parade.

The decorations will depend on each year’s theme and categories, such as community and commercial, among others.

Cap the Day Off at 1188 Brewing Company

Cap any day of the week off at 1188 Brewing Company, a brewery and a restaurant located on East Main Street.

Established in 2012 and opened in 2013, the business was brought to life through the bond of sisters Jennifer and Shannon and their husbands, Ken and Jeremy.

The brewery’s name combines Jennifer, Shannon, and Ken’s fathers’ racing numbers—numbers that work upside down and right side up, just like the rough and tough culture of snowmobile racing in eastern Oregon during the 1970s.

Choose among a wide selection of craft beers lovingly brewed on-site, and enjoy restaurant-quality dining any time of the day.

The pub’s large dining room is the perfect place to dine with the family or end a long day with a group of friends.

Now a local hub for the community, 1188 Brewing Company has something for everyone to enjoy!

Explore Canyon Mountain Trail #218

Canyon Mountain Trail #218 provides impressive scenery of the John Day Valley, with access to Canyon Mountain and the western portion of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.

This 15.5-mile long one-way trail ranges from 5,400 feet to 7,600 feet in elevation.

Since the Forest Service does not maintain this trail, four-wheel drive vehicles are advised during dry months, and motorized transportation such as bikes and ATVs are prohibited.

However, the trail is wonderful for backpacking adventures by connecting to other routes like the Pine Creek Trail #201.

Visitors get the chance to witness a variety of species in the area, from smaller creatures like chipmunks and squirrels to large game species like mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk.

Because the area is in the wilderness, watch out for wild animals such as cougars and bears, bring extra food and water, and be prepared for all types of weather conditions!

Hang Out at the 7th Street Complex

Invite your family or friends for an excellent bonding time at the 7th Street Complex, a 23-acre multi-purpose park with various recreational activities.

Everybody can find something to enjoy here, from a small stocked pond for fishing to a one-mile paved trail for walking and running, including six stations along the route for fitness enthusiasts.

The five-acre open park space has plenty to offer children, such as two playgrounds, a splash pad, and a skatepark.

For players of all ages, there are basketball, pickleball, and tennis courts, as well as baseball and softball fields.

Additional amenities include two picnic shelters, a bike park, restrooms, and shower facilities.

It’s reasonable to say there’s never a dull moment at the 7th Street Complex!

Go Biking at the John Day Bike Park

The City of John Day boasts a small trail network and bike park that is excellent for beginners and children, made possible by the Eastern Oregon Trail Alliance.

The John Day Bike Park, located at 7th Street Complex, comprises a dirt pump track and a two-mile trail for single-track bikes.

Cyclists of any age and ability level can ride the pump tracks, a continuous circuit of rollers and dirt berms that you can enjoy without pedaling!

ATVs, motorized dirt bikes, and skateboards are not permitted on the pump tracks; however, BMX bikes, mountain bikes, and “scooter” bikes are allowed.

Discover and rediscover your love for cycling at John Day Bike Park!

Drop by the Grant County Ranch & Rodeo Museum

Get a glimpse of the past and present of ranches and rodeos at the Grant County Ranch & Rodeo Museum.

Located on East Main Street, it features the history of western culture and American cowboys.

This small museum offers a collection of pictures, literature, tools, and many things in between, including ropes, saddles, and spurs.

The Grant County Ranch and Rodeo Museum highlights the ups and downs of cowboys’ way of life.

The ranches and the rodeos they worked and created have defined what it means to become a true westerner in this culture.

See an Event at the Grant County Fairgrounds

The Grant County Fairgrounds is located on Northwest Bridge Street, just a few blocks north of John Day’s downtown area.

This venue features an indoor and outdoor arena, an event hall, meeting rooms, and a sales barn right next to an RV park campground.

The complex serves Grant County as well as Eastern Oregon.

It is the home of the annual Grant County Fair, celebrated for over 100 years.

The Grant County Fairgrounds hosts numerous events, including concerts and rodeos, so keep an eye out for anything that interests you!

Go Camping at the Grant County RV Park

The Grant County RV Park is located on Northwest Bridge Street, right between the John Day River and the Grant County Fairgrounds.

This pet-friendly site is conveniently located and equipped with full hookups, a fire ring, a picnic table, and a well-groomed landscape.

The Grant County RV Park is just a few blocks from downtown, restaurants, and shopping, yet it still gives off a country vibe.

Services include full hookups with 20/30/50 amps, pull-through sites, restroom and shower facilities, and scenic hikes along a lovely river walk trail.

The RV park also makes the Grant County Fairgrounds easily accessible for any special events.

Travel the Old West Scenic Bikeway

Travel the Old West Scenic Bikeway from cowboy nation to historical locations and fossil beds.

Discover the Wild West via car, motorbike, or bike on this 174-mile paved scenic tour.

The Old West Scenic Bikeway trail begins and ends at John Day’s Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site and takes you through the John Day Valley, the Malheur National Forest, and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

As one of the best scenic bikeways with 10 communities along the way, it allows tourists to pass through plenty of access points, trailheads, campgrounds, hostels, eateries, and water bottle refill stations, making the journey as convenient as possible amid its difficulty.

With a total gain of 8,493 feet, a large portion of the route being on little-traveled roads, and a minimum travel time of two to three days, most cyclists may find this route challenging.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Discover History at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Scenic view of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Nadia Yong /

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument’s beautiful rock formations preserve an extraordinary record of more than 40 million years of animal and plant evolution, past ecosystems, and climate change.

This United States national monument sits in Grant and Wheeler counties in the east-central part of Oregon.

The National Park Service oversees the park, well-known for its layers of fossil animals and plants that once called this region home.

Sheep Rock, Painted Hills, and Clarno are the three distinct units that make up the park.

Boardwalk trail at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Greg Attanasio /

Sheep Rock, situated between Kimberly and Dayville, is the closest unit from John Day and requires a 40-minute drive.

The Sheep Rock Unit is where the 11,000-square foot Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and the Cant Ranch Historic Home and Museum are based.

It has seven hiking trails that range from 0.25 miles to 3.25 miles in length, which you can explore.

With two more units to discover, such as the vibrant patterns and soft ripples of Painted Hills, and the “wild” fossils of Clarno, you won’t regret spending the time to explore the stunning landscapes and history of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument!

Bench overlooking the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Mel Walkup /

Enjoy Family Time at Canyon City Park

Located two miles south of John Day, Canyon City Park is a historic area perfect for kids and families looking to explore and enjoy their time.

There are slides, swings, benches, and tables where you can relax and have a picnic.

Canyon City Park is managed by the John Day / Canyon City Parks and Recreation District, created by the citizens of Canyon City and John Day.

This district became a special entity in 1989, separating from both cities.

Since then, the district has made efforts to promote a rich and healthy lifestyle for the community through parks and recreational opportunities.

Tour the Grant County Historical Museum

Two miles south of John Day at Canyon City, the Grant County Historical Museum features exhibits, records, and photos related to the history of Grant County.

The collection started when Charley Brown, a local, bought a saddle from someone in need of cash.

Within a few weeks, people began bringing him old relics in exchange for money, which made his gas station look like an antique shop.

The collection was later sold to the Grant County Historical Society; but without a building, the artifacts were crammed into the county courthouse’s basement.

The Grant County Historical Museum was officially established in 1953 when famous rancher Herman Oliver decided to pay for a building to house the old relics.

Ever since, the citizens of Grant County have been very kind to donate old artifacts to fill the collection.

The museum’s exhibits tell stories of the lives of the founders and early settlers of Grant County.

Items on display include tools people used to fight and hunt, such as guns and twisted ropes, gold mining and Chinese artifacts, and huge rock collections.

Final Thoughts

John Day is a small city; however, it is the largest in Grant County.

It is an ideal location if you want to enjoy a simple life, take in the untamed landscape, and interact with welcoming locals.

This city is a destination that people from all over the country long to see, so if you haven’t heard of it yet, add it to your list of must-see places and get ready to take in its beauty.

Start planning your visit and bookmark this list of the best things to do in John Day, Oregon!

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