Dunstan Homestead Preserve, Middle Fork John Day River

Why You Should Visit

Wild spring Chinook salmon and summer steelhead fight their way 484 miles upriver from the ocean past three major dams to spawn in the gravels of the Middle Fork John Day River. Four and one-half miles of river on a former ranch are being restored to provide spawning habitat for these fish.


Near John Day, in Central Oregon


1,199 acres 

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site 

With no dams or fish hatcheries, the wild and scenic John Day River holds great promise as a future stronghold for healthy runs of wild Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. The conservation challenge here is to restore former river meanders and streamside vegetation, in order to increase and improve habitat for fish, elk, beaver, songbirds and other native wildlife. A 1996 wildfire burned two-thirds of the preserve, causing no damage to structures but returning fire to the site, and providing ecologists with an opportunity to study the effects of the fire over time.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

Dunstan Homestead is named for the family which settled here in 1888. In 1996, a dedication ceremony with family members included Mildred Deardorff, who was born on the preserve.

The Conservancy works in partnership with Oregon Fish and Wildlife, Malheur National Forest, the Umatilla and Warm Springs Confederated tribes and others to restore natural flows and vegetation to the river floodplain. Several blockages, created by an old railroad grade and river channelization activities, have been removed from two formerly active channels. Recent counts of redds (salmon spawning nests) have been encouraging. 

Ecologists gather and analyze data on water flows and temperature, to better understand the hydrology of the river and its floodplain. Ecologists have developed a forestry plan to restore the health of the uplands; so far, they have thinned 124 acres of forest. Other activities include reintroducing fire in the uplands and removal of non-native species. Ecologists are also sampling aquatic invertebrates, spotted frogs and breeding bird populations on the preserve. 

What to See: Plants

Alders, black cottonwoods, willows and sedges create a diverse riparian community, while ponderosa pines and Douglas-firs dominate the upland slopes.

What to See: Animals

In addition to wild spring Chinook salmon and summer steelhead, the preserve hosts migrating and nesting songbirds, marten, black bear and elk, among other wildlife.

The best time to visit is from May to November. Camping is available at the U.S. Forest Service Middle Fork Campground, located about four miles east of the Sunshine Guard Station.

Please observe the following guidelines while hiking:

  • Stay on the trail. Don't collect plants, insects or other species or disturb soil, rocks, artifacts or scientific research markers.
  • No dogs. Preserves harbor ground-nesting birds and other wildlife that are extremely sensitive to disturbance.
  • No bicycles or motorized vehicles. Native plants and research sites are easily trampled.
  • No hunting, camping or campfires.
  • For groups of 10 or more, please contact us before visiting a preserve (a volunteer naturalist guide may be available).
  • Please bring a bag and carry out any trash you find.
  • Please report to us any problems you observe (e.g., camping, plant removal, hunting, off-road vehicle damage, etc).

From John Day:

  • Go east on Highway 26 past Prairie City to Austin Junction (about 16 miles). 
  • Turn left (north) onto Highway 7 towards Baker and Sumpter. 
  • After approximately one mile, turn left and drive approximately 13 miles west towards Susanville.
  • The preserve begins just west of the U.S. Forest Service Station at Sunshine and continues for approximately four miles on both sides of the road.

From Pendleton:

  • Take Highway 395 South (about 64 miles) to Dale.
  • Continue on 395 another 12.8 miles to County Route 20. 
  • Turn left at Ritter Junction just before the bridge crosses the Middle Fork John Day River. 
  • Follow the paved county road 24 miles, heading southeast. 
  • The preserve is along both sides of road between mileposts 13-17.

Have you been to this preserve? Are you thinking of visiting? See what others are saying about their experiences and add your comments below.

Add Your Comments

Time for you to join the discussion. Tell us about your experience at this preserve. What plants and animals did you see? When did you go? You can help others plan their visit when you share your thoughts. And thank you for visiting one of our nature preserves!

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