written by James Sinks
The river never rests, never sleeps. North Umpqua river somersaults and tumbles over rocks and courses through rugged canyons on its 110-mile trek from the headwaters near Crater Lake to its confluence with the South Umpqua, near Roseburg.
For centuries, its chilly waters have provided a perfect home for salmon and steelhead—a beacon for anglers, from American Indians who first settled here, to legendary writer Zane Grey in the 1930s, to fly-fishermen from across the globe, who converge here today.
At Steamboat Inn, the iconic fishing lodge perched above the ever-murmuring river, general manager Patricia Lee says the stretch is known as the “graduate school of steelhead fishing.”
Not an angler? Inside and outside the canyon, there’s plenty more to keep visitors just as restive as the river.
For thrill-seekers, the river is a rollercoaster of rapids. For hikers, follow easy paths to cascading waterfalls, or segments of the seventy-nine-mile North Umpqua Trail, which winds through towering groves of Douglas fir and past occasional clumps of poison oak (be careful what you use for tissue).
This region is still timber country, but tourism is getting a lift thanks to wineries, a reinvigorated Wildlife Safari and the casino resort built by the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians.
Upscale restaurants are thriving on Roseburg’s tree-lined Jackson Street, where pickups sit alongside shiny sedans and SUVs. The once-dilapidated train depot is home to a McMenamins brewery, and the most recommended place to stay is the charming C.H. Bailey Bed & Breakfast just outside town.
Originally known as Deer Creek, Roseburg was platted in 1851 by settler Aaron Rose, whose house doubled as a tavern for travelers on the Oregon-California Trail.
No matter where you go on the Umpqua, big fish are lurking nearby. In the warmer South Umpqua, it’s smallmouth bass instead of steelhead. There’s no guarantee you’ll spend quality time with them, of course.
Make reservations beforehand with Summer Run Guide Service, or for rafting with Ouzel Tours, and they’ll meet you near Steamboat Inn. Advanced river-runners can navigate the rapids in kayaks.
Highway 138 is aptly designated as a Scenic Byway. It follows the river through forested hillsides that appear to be covered in green shag carpet and is the access point for several easy-to-reach waterfalls. Look for signs to Susan Creek Falls and Toketee Falls.
If you’d rather toss an inner-tube or your companion into the water, head to River Forks Park, where the north and south tributaries swirl together.
From there, it’s a short drive to Hillcrest Vineyard, where you can see a bottle from Oregon’s first vintage of Pinot noir. That’s not a misprint: The first Pinot noir grapes planted and crushed in Oregon were here.
For lodging on the river, you cannot do better than Steamboat Inn, where you’ll enjoy gourmet food, well-appointed cabins and the solitude that begins with the lack of a cell signal.
Staying in Roseburg? Surprise yourself with flavorful informal fare at Shanti’s Indian cuisine or the addictive Tino’s Taco Truck, where locals line up. Or order a pint at McMenamins train depot, where the patio is the former passenger platform.
On Tuesdays, the Music on the Half Shell series brings headliners to Roseburg’s Stewart Park. Saturdays, racecars rattle eardrums at the Douglas County Speedway.
Any day and at any hour, Seven Feathers Casino Resort—thirty minutes south in Canyonville—will help test your luck and potentially lighten your wallet.
In 1959, a parked truck loaded with dynamite exploded in downtown Roseburg, leveling eight city blocks, killing fourteen people and leaving an enormous crater.
A tour of “The Blast” takes you past buildings that were damaged, among them a former bakery at 527 Jackson St. Today, that address houses your breakfast stop: the upscale Brix 527 eatery, where the menu includes thirteen varieties of eggs benedict, flatbread pizzas and whimsically named soups such as “Mary Had a Lentil Lamb.”
Keep feeding your curiosity at the interactive Douglas County Museum. In addition to artifacts and logging equipment, you’ll see rattlesnakes and learn about woolly mammoth remains unearthed nearby in 2008. The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays.
A quick trip to Winston will take you to the 600-acre Wildlife Safari, where you stay behind the wheel so zebras, lions, elephants and ostriches can view you in your natural habitat.
Drive through Dillard past the massive mill complex of Roseburg Forest Products—now known simply as “Roseburg”—to Pyrenees Vineyard & Cellars, overlooking the South Umpqua. Consider the combination of candied bacon and a river deck. Sundays, enjoy live music until 5 p.m.
Back near Roseburg, be sure to visit Abacela, recently named the state’s winery of the year. Owners Earl and Hilda Jones planted the Northwest’s first commercial tempranillo, a full-bodied red grape originally from Spain.
Finish the day back on Jackson Street. Your palate may not forgive you if you miss Blackbird Bar & Grill, opened by a former mill worker. Try the curried pork pear salad, peppery steamer clams and roasted pork tenderloin.
Then, try to resist dessert. Good luck.
If you tend to wake up with extra energy, the 236-acre Stewart Park is a place to explore. It has golf, frisbee golf, tennis and running paths along the river.
Or drive ten minutes north and descend 100 steps to the fish ladder at Winchester Dam. Windows let you see the migrating fish, if they’re running. No, you can’t drop a lure into the water.
A former convenience store in Umpqua is now Lighthouse Center Bakery, an organic and vegetarian eatery and market. Fresh crusty bread and bagels pop out of the brick oven daily. Grab coffee and a gooey pecan sticky bun or a mint chocolate chip cookie. The menu also includes pizzas, soups and even a vegetarian reuben sandwich. While you graze, you can watch cattle across the road doing the same.
If it’s open, the religious-themed Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards helps you learn about food and wine pairings in a spacious tasting cavern. It’s closed Sundays and Mondays.
About sixteen miles north of Roseburg, Oakland’s Historic District takes you to the frontier era of Douglas County and to present-day antique shopping. The bank on Locust Street, where thwarted robbers once tried to chisel into the vault from below, is now a wine tasting room, and Tolly’s old-fashioned soda fountain tempts with sundaes and chocolate Cokes.
From here, follow the main stem of the Umpqua northwest to the town of Elkton, which dubs itself the “bass capital of Oregon.”
The Elkton Community Education Center features a replica of Fort Umpqua, the southern outpost for the Hudson Bay Trading Company, which also operated Fort Vancouver. The center also has a native plant nursery and a butterfly pavilion, where you can learn briefly what it’s like to live like a Monarch.
Elkton recently earned a designation as Oregon’s newest viticulture area. That’s a big deal in the wine business, and reason to celebrate if you need one. Grab a spot on the downtown patio of Brandborg Winery & Cellars, and toast the thundering waters of the Umpqua.
North Umpqua River Trail
Douglas County Museum
Seven Feathers Casino Resort
Rafting – Ouzel Outfitters
River Forks Park
(swimming and fishing)
Lighthouse Center Bakery
Tino’s Taco Truck
Shanti’s Indian Cuisine
O’Tooles Irish Pub
Reustle Prayer Rock
C.H. Bailey House B & B