We backpacked 40 miles in-and-out on the North Fork of the John Day River in late August 2014. We hiked a total of 60+ miles because we added 3 day hikes from our base camp at the midpoint.
I have written several blog posts about the hike (links below) and this is the summary of the overall trip.
Entry point: Oriental Campground on Road 5506 (off of Road 55 out of Ukiah, OR).
This is at the west end of the Wilderness area around the North Fork of the John Day River.
Day 1: Hiked 3.5 miles east on the unimproved Road 5506 to a meadow campsite next to the river. This campsite was about .5 miles before the Wilderness boundary (bridge across Big Creek). There is a better campsite at Big Creek; had we known about it, we would have hiked a little further to the better site.
Day 2: Hiked 4 miles east to a campsite we named "Huckleberry Springs" for the abundant ripe huckleberries and an old metal cot with springs at the site.
We crossed 3 water crossings after the bridge at Big Creek.
We passed trail junction for Cougar Trail. We rested at a campsite named Basin Camp on our map. There is a foundation of an old building there - probably a mining cabin.
Day 3: Hiked 8 miles east to the confluence of the North Fork and Granite Creek.
There is a good bridge at this point to a large established campsite adjacent to a meadow.
13 water crossings between Huckleberry Springs and the bridge.
Crossed trail junctions to Glade Trail, Paradise Trail, and Silver Butte.
Camp site / good rest stop at about 5 miles - Wind Rock (signed). A small camp site along the trail at about 7 miles.
The hiking included LOTS of underbrush and bush-whacking. Also lots of bear scat - 26 piles of scat in 8 miles. Two or three were very fresh. No bear sightings. Several salmon sightings in deep pools of the river - 50-100 at a time.
We also passed an abandoned cabin about .5 miles before reaching Granite Creek.
Base camp: We made our base camp at Granite Meadow for the next 3 nights.
The campsite includes a primitive outhouse (useable) and a simple table (no benches).
Day 4: Day hike up the Granite Creek Trail. Hiked about 4 miles (one way) to an area with unimproved roads and mine tailings from 1890's gold mining in the area.
Day 5: Day hike up the North Fork of the John Day River. Hiked about 4 miles (one way) to river crossing - no bridge. Abandoned mining cabin on the other side of the river: Tub Spring, 1895.
Day 6: Day hike up the Silver Butte Trail. We hiked about 3 miles (one way). The trail is steep in places, well-maintained.
Day 7 & 8:
Day 7: Hiked 16 miles west back to the campsite at Big Creek.
Day 8: Hiked 4 miles west back to our car parked at Oriental Campground.
Alternate entry points: Hiking guide book suggests access from North Fork John Day Campground on Road 51. It is possible to shuttle vehicles from the Oriental Campground to here via the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway for a one-way hike. The shuttle drive takes about 2 hours.
The area appears to also be accessible from the unimproved roads leading to the Granite Creek Trail and the Lake Creek Trail (near Road 10 and Desolation Butte). I do not know if the roads are drivable; I only have the topographical map for information.
Information: North Fork John Day Ranger District (541) 427-3231