About the Umatilla National Forest

Umatilla NF, Malheur NF, and the Wallowa-Whitman NF General Vicinity map. Click for larger view (pdf).The Umatilla National Forest in Northeast Oregon and Southeast Washington is administered from the Forest Supervisor's Office in Pendleton, Oregon and four Ranger Districts. The Forest Supervisor, assisted by a professional and technical staff, is responsible for all activities affecting the 1.4 million National Forest acres. District Rangers and their staffs accomplish on-the-ground management of forest resources.

The National Forest system is administered by the USDA Forest Service. The Umatilla National Forest is within the Pacific Northwest Region which includes the 19 National Forests in Washington and Oregon. Headquarters for the Pacific Northwest Region are located at the Edith Green-Wyndall Wyatt Federal Building, 1220 S.W. 3rd Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97204.  Like all National Forests, the Umatilla belongs to all Americans and is managed under the multiple-use principle "for the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run."



The Forest takes its name from the Indian word meaning "water rippling over sand." Explorers Lewis and Clark came past this land in 1805 on their Columbia River Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, and Marcus and Narcissa Whitman passed this way in 1836 to establish a mission at Wailatpu near Walla Walla, Washington. Thousands of emigrants followed the Oregon Trail westward, and many remained in the Blue Mountain Country.  The Forest celebrated it's 100th year anniversary in 2008.  Click  here for more history....

Discovery of gold in Oregon in 1851 initiated the settlement of the North Fork John Day River area. Remnants of that period, when over $10 million in gold and silver were removed, are still visible. Some claims are still being mined today.


Over 20 percent of the Umatilla National Forest's land base is within classified wilderness. The Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness contains 177,400 acres; the North Fork John Day Wilderness extends over 121,800 acres, and the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness contains 20,200 acres. The Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness in the northern Blue Mountains straddles the Oregon-Washington border. The Wenaha River, Crooked Creek, Rock Creek and Butte Creek have cut deep canyons into the tablelands and left heavily-timbered "stringers" along the stream courses. The higher ridges are generally narrow with gravelly soils and very steep side slopes. Elevations within the Umatilla National Forest Wilderness areas range from 2,000 feet on the Wenaha River to 6,401 feet at Oregon Butte. Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer and whitetail deer inhabit the bunchgrass slopes on the Wenaha Canyon to the near-timberline species which grow on Oregon Butte and Table Rock.

The North Fork John Day Wilderness in the southeast section of the forest is laced by 130 miles of streams, many of which support anadromous fish. Its features include the bold granite outcroppings of the Greenhorn Mountains, heavily timbered streamside zones, grassland ridges and benches, and steep dissected canyons. The highest peaks on the forest are located in the Greenhorn Mountains near the Vinegar Hill-Indian Rock Scenic Area at the southern border of this Wilderness.

Photo: North Fork UmatillaThe forest's smallest wilderness, the North Fork Umatilla, is nestled in the narrow valley of the North Fork Umatilla River, 30 miles northeast of Pendleton. The river separates steep, timbered cliffs which rise to plateaus covered with native bunchgrass. The Wilderness supports elk and deer and is habitat for blue and ruffed grouse.

More information about Wilderness is available online at: Wilderness.net.


The habitat provided by the Umatilla National Forest supports one of the largest herds of Rocky Mountain elk found on any national forest in the nation. Nearly 40,000 hunters visit the Umatilla for their annual game hunting opportunities each year.

Blue and ruffed grouse are found near the forest's springs, streams and rivers. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep can be found in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness area, and are occasionally seen as far south as the Walla Walla River. A small population of California bighorn sheep has been established in the Cottonwood-Cummings Creek area located east of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. Merriam turkeys are observed near locations where they have been released; Madison Butte, Bridge Creek Flats, Gurdane, and Troy. Chinook salmon, steelhead, and rainbow trout are found in the Grande Ronde, Umatilla, Wenaha-Tucannon, Walla Walla and North Fork John Day rivers, and many of their tributaries.


Sightseers may drive over 2,000 miles of forest roads, hike or ride over 715 miles of trails, pick wild mushrooms or huckleberries, select from more than 20 campgrounds throughout the forest, and float the Grande Ronde or North Fork John Day rivers from April through June.

[photo] Man rafting on the Grande RondeThe Grande Ronde River is navigable with rubber rafts, canoes, kayaks, and rowboats with a shallow draft that are built especially to withstand heavy abuse. During an average year, streamflows can be too low for floating from July to September. It is best to float the river when the streamflow is between 2,000 and 8,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Streamflow records are kept by the Army Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla.

The North Fork John Day River (NFJD) means a lot of things to a lot of people. To river rafters it means rapids that are challenging enough for seasoned veterans, yet easy enough (on the lower section) for beginners. For floaters, one of the most popular sections of the river is from Dale to Monument. Rapids on this section of the NFJD are generally categorized as Class 2+ Rapids. At higher water the river takes on a Class 3- character. The length of the journey is 40 miles and it winds through forested canyons and past several feed-in creeks. The NFJD is fed primarily by snowpack in the Blue Mountains so its flow is very seasonal. Peak flow is usually in April and in some places can be as high as 20,000 cfs. Average flow is around 6,000 cfs. The best time to run the North Fork John Day is in April and May when the flow is near its peak.

Campground and picnic sites, designed to blend with the forest environment, are located away from traffic and commercial development. Campfire permits are not required though campfires may be prohibited during the late summer and early falls months due to the fire danger. The length of stay at any one site is limited to 14 days on a first-come, first-serve basis. In several campgrounds, where more facilities and services are provided, a fee is charged for overnight use. Campgrounds do not have electricity, showers, of sewage disposal (except for waste disposal dump stations at Bull Prairie and Tollgate Guard Station).

Olive Lake, covering 145 acres, is the only natural lake over three acres in size on the Forest. Bull Prairie Lake, 24 acres; Jubilee Lake 97 acres; and Penland Lake, 70 acres, were developed cooperatively by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the USDA Forest Service.

Winter recreation opportunities on the Umatilla National Forest are endless. You can flex your leg muscles on one of our many cross-country ski trails or try your hand at downhill skiing at the Bluewood Ski area, located 20 miles south of Dayton, Washington, or at Spout Springs Ski Resort, located in the heart of the Blue Mountains on Highway 204 near Tollgate, Oregon. You can tool around on your snowmobile through the mountainous terrain, or enjoy less structured activities such as snowshoeing, tobogganing, sledding, and innertubing. If you like solitude and scenic winter beauty, snuggle into one of our Forest Service Guard Stations and cabins, it can be a unique and memorable experience. The Guard Stations are open year-round, however, automobile access is usually from May 1st to November 1st, winter recreation use requires alternate transportation such as skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles.

As visitors to the Umatilla National Forest, we all have many privileges and responsibilities. Our primary responsibility is to protect our natural resources for future generation. Please be careful with fire and help to keep your forest green and clean. Come visit and enjoy your National Forest!