Thirty Mile Wilderness Study Area
Updated: Feb 22, 2021
Approximately thirty miles south of the Columbia River, Thirty Mile Creek intersects with the John Day River, carving out a broad canyon and significant flood plain where they intersect. Thirty Mile Creek also runs just around thirty miles from it's East Fork origin to it's intersection with the John Day, and which one of these attributes is the genesis of the name is unknown to me.
To further orient yourself in the slightly wider world, the Thirty Mile WSA lies almost exactly on the same parallel as Timothy Lake, 70 miles west in Hood National Forest, Mile 2,078 for a northbound PCT hiker. Before you descend to the John Day River a clear day will give views of Mt Hood just slightly to the north and west, and tantalizing views of the Blue Mountains to the South and East. These major landforms, the Cascades and Blue Mountains, form the boundaries for the Columbia Plateau here with the John Day cutting a 2000 foot deep canyon in between.
Accessing the Thirty Mile WSA
A couple miles south of the town of Condon on Oregon 19 you'll come to an intersection with Wehrli Canyon Road. Take this road up to Buckhorn, turn right on Buckhorn, then right on Armstrong Canyon Road. Armstrong Canyon Road will be gated and closed to motorized traffic November to April, but it's a pleasant six mile walk down to the river from the gate, where there is parking. I consider this the prime hiking season for the area, and the slight bit of extra effort is definitely worth having this area to yourself. This map will show you the way, along with some points of interest and notes I've made in the WSA so far: https://caltopo.com/m/F2B5
Don't be discouraged by the BLM page for this WSA that has not been updated for a while stating that this area is only accessible by boat, the public easement along Armstrong Road is a recent development. The backstory to the increased access can be found here: https://www.westernrivers.org/projects/or/john-day-river-thirtymile-creek
In my caltopo above you'll find some notes and lines that I have recorded in two overnight trips to the WSA so far, which will aid you whether you decide to travel north along the river towards the Lower John Day WSA, or south towards the North Pole Ridge WSA. Note that there are no developed or maintained trails here, travel is all old jeep road or cross country. No scrambling of significant difficulty is required, though lots of sidehilling and a fair amount of gain and loss is inherent, even with the best of chosen lines. In future trips I plan to cross the John Day to hike points of interest on the west side of the river, which is only accessible this way. Until then, here are some pictures of what I've explored so far in the Thirty Mile WSA: