Geography of Morrow County, Oregon

Morrow County, located in the northeastern part of the U.S. state of Oregon, is a region characterized by its diverse geography, stunning landscapes, and rich natural resources. Encompassing an area of approximately 2,049 square miles, Morrow County is situated in the Columbia Plateau region and is known for its mix of rolling hills, fertile valleys, and scenic rivers. In this comprehensive overview, we’ll explore the geography, climate, rivers, lakes, and other significant features of Morrow County. Check homethodology to learn more about the state of Oregon.


Morrow County is bordered by Gilliam County to the north, Umatilla County to the east, Grant County to the south, and Wheeler County to the west. The county’s geography is primarily characterized by its rolling hills and fertile valleys, with elevations ranging from around 400 feet along the Columbia River to over 3,000 feet in the Blue Mountains. The county seat and largest city is Heppner, located near the center of the county.


The climate of Morrow County varies depending on the elevation and proximity to the Columbia River. Overall, the region experiences a semi-arid climate, with hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. Precipitation is relatively low throughout the year, with most of the rainfall occurring in the winter months. Summers are typically hot, with average high temperatures in the 80s°F to 90s°F range, while winters are cold, with average low temperatures in the 20s°F to 30s°F range.


Agriculture is the dominant industry in Morrow County, with much of the land devoted to farming and ranching. The fertile soil and irrigation from the Columbia River make it suitable for a variety of crops, including wheat, barley, corn, alfalfa, and potatoes. Livestock farming, including cattle, sheep, and poultry production, is also common in the county.

Columbia River:

Morrow County is bordered to the north by the Columbia River, one of the largest rivers in the United States and a vital waterway for transportation, irrigation, and recreation. The Columbia River forms the northern boundary of the county and provides opportunities for fishing, boating, and water sports. The river also supports important salmon and steelhead runs, making it a popular destination for anglers.

Blue Mountains:

The Blue Mountains, located in the southern part of Morrow County, are a subrange of the larger Rocky Mountains and are known for their scenic beauty, diverse wildlife, and outdoor recreational opportunities. The mountains offer hiking trails, camping areas, and scenic drives for visitors to explore. The Umatilla National Forest, which encompasses part of the Blue Mountains, provides opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife viewing.


Morrow County is intersected by several rivers and streams that flow through its landscape, providing habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation. These rivers and streams also play a vital role in the region’s economy, providing water for agriculture, industry, and municipal use. Some of the notable rivers in Morrow County include:

  1. Umatilla River: The Umatilla River flows through the eastern part of Morrow County, originating in the Blue Mountains and flowing northwestward to its confluence with the Columbia River. The river is popular for fishing, particularly for steelhead and trout, as well as kayaking, canoeing, and rafting.
  2. John Day River: The John Day River forms part of the southern boundary of Morrow County, flowing westward from its headwaters in the Blue Mountains to its confluence with the Columbia River. The river is known for its scenic beauty and provides opportunities for fishing, boating, and camping along its banks.


While Morrow County does not have many natural lakes, there are several reservoirs and man-made lakes within the county that offer recreational opportunities for residents and visitors. These lakes provide opportunities for fishing, boating, swimming, and picnicking. Some of the notable lakes in Morrow County include:

  1. Willow Creek Reservoir: Willow Creek Reservoir is located in the southern part of Morrow County, near the town of Heppner. The reservoir is popular for fishing, particularly for rainbow trout and largemouth bass, as well as boating and camping at designated campsites.
  2. Columbia River: While not a lake in the traditional sense, the Columbia River serves as a large reservoir due to the presence of several hydroelectric dams along its course. These dams create slackwater areas that are popular for fishing, boating, and water sports.

Parks and Recreation Areas:

Morrow County is home to several parks, wildlife refuges, and recreational areas that showcase the region’s natural beauty and provide opportunities for outdoor recreation and leisure. These areas offer hiking trails, camping facilities, picnic areas, and other amenities for visitors to enjoy. Some of the notable parks and recreation areas in Morrow County include:

  1. Cottonwood Canyon State Park: Cottonwood Canyon State Park is located in the northern part of Morrow County and encompasses over 8,000 acres of protected land along the John Day River. The park offers hiking trails, camping areas, and opportunities for fishing, wildlife viewing, and stargazing.
  2. Heppner City Park: Heppner City Park is located in the town of Heppner and features picnic areas, playgrounds, and sports fields for visitors to enjoy. The park is a popular spot for local residents to gather for community events and recreational activities.


In conclusion, Morrow County, Oregon, is a region of diverse geography, rich natural resources, and abundant outdoor recreational opportunities. From its fertile valleys and rolling hills to its scenic rivers and reservoirs, the county offers a variety of landscapes and activities for residents and visitors to enjoy. Whether you’re fishing on the Umatilla River, exploring the trails of Cottonwood Canyon State Park, or camping at Willow Creek Reservoir, Morrow County has something for everyone to experience and appreciate in the great outdoors.