Natural Splendors in Oregon: Rogue–Umpqua Scenic Byway

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

Route Details

Sidebar: Trip Tips Length: About 190 miles, plus side trips.

When to go: Popular year-round; snow is frequent in winter above 3,000 ft.

Nearby attractions: Wildlife Safari, animal park with petting zoo and auto tour, Winston. Lithia Park, landscaped grounds adjacent to Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland. Hellgate Canyon, east of Galice.

Further information: Southern Oregon Visitors Association, P.O. Box 1645, Medford, OR 97501; tel. 800-448-4856. Roseburg Visitors & Convention Bureau, 410 SE Spruce St., Roseburg, OR 97470; tel. 800-444-9584, www.visitroseburg.com

Star Route

Crater Lake National Park
Turn east on Rte. 62 to reach Crater Lake National Park. When an ancient volcano known as Mt. Mazama erupted 7,700 years ago, the pumice and ash it expelled covered much of the Northwest. After the discharge the mountain collapsed; today Crater Lake is filled with water, and the mirrored expanse, six miles wide, lies encircled by green forests and steep-sided mountains, which take on an extra sparkle—a profound contrast to the lake—when covered by the snows of winter. From the entrance station, follow the access road to 33-mile-long Rim drive, and circle the lake—it’s the deepest body of fresh water in the United States, with depths of more than 1,900 feet. Daybreak, when a remarkable shade of blue reflects from the water’s surface, is the best time to see the lake; no wonder Klamath Indians felt the lake was a sacred passageway to a world below.

Applegate Lake
For a detour within a detour, head south on Rte. 238 where the drive drops into a ravine and the roadside is lined with poplars and cottonwoods turning into an area of intermittent grasslands. From Ruch, follow Upper Applegate Road to Applegate Lake, passing at about the midway point the McKee Covered Bridge—a structure built in 1917. The lake, bordered by the steep, evergreen-clad slopes of the Siskiyou Mountains, forms a sparkling oasis. Visitors can swim in the lake or explore one of the many well-kept trails. Stop by Swayne Viewpoint for a glimpse of the region to the south. You’ll see the Red Buttes Wilderness, with thousands of acres of rich and varied terrain—old-growth forests, meadows, and sawtooth ridges marked by horns and arêtes.

The Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway arcs across the western slopes of the Cascade Range—a serene countryside where fingers of fog gather in fir-scented valleys, and ancient volcanoes brood overhead. Crowning this memorable drive, side trips climb through a pristine parkland to Crater Lake, one of the world’s most awesome scenic wonders and, further south, to beautiful Applegate Lake.

1. Colliding Rivers Viewpoint
Passing grass-covered hills, scrubland, and small stands of oaks and pines, Rte. 138 makes a leisurely ascent—about 18 miles in length—from Roseburg to Glide. Once in town, be sure to visit the Colliding Rivers Viewpoint, which overlooks the confluence of the North Umpqua and Little rivers. An exhilarating sight in the wetter months, their waters churn every which way before settling down as one. Across the road, the Colliding Rivers Information Center offers helpful information on local camping, hiking, and watersports.

For still more views of the North Umpqua River, as well as the kayakers and rafters who brave its currents, consider a walk along the North Umpqua Trail, which runs alongside the waterway for some 75 miles. Beginning about six miles east of Glide at the Swiftwater Trailhead, the path—often in the shade of maple, alder, and Douglas fir trees—can be accessed from many points along the drive.

2. Susan Creek Falls

Many of the numerous creeks that empty into the North Umpqua River finish their downhill courses as sparkling waterfalls. Susan Creek, one of them, can be reached by a short hike from mile marker 29. Although the terrain is challenging, the sound of the 50-foot falls—a steady rumble heard through the trees—is an added incentive to make the trek.

3. Fall Creek Falls
As the drive continues upriver toward the Umpqua National Forest, the vegetation grows markedly denser than in the foothills below. The vast woodland—nearly a million acres—is a medley of rivers, creeks, lakes, volcanic formations, and stands of Douglas fir mixed with many other hardwood species.

Of the many footpaths that wend through the area, the Fall Creek Falls Trail is especially dramatic. About a mile long, it begins two miles beyond the entrance sign for the national forest. The hike slips through a crevice, past numerous columns of volcanic rocks, and ends with theatrical flair at Fall Creek Falls and its punchbowl-shaped basin.

4. Steamboat
Hemmed in by cliffs and forested peaks, the scenic byway curves beside the North Umpqua River —icy cold and glassy clear—to the small community of Steamboat. The waterway here is famed for its summer runs of steelhead trout, a vigorous fish that can weigh up to 15 pounds. The area also serves as a gateway to the surrounding woodlands. One side trip, a six-mile drive on Steamboat Creek Road (Rte. 38), weaves through Black Gorge to Steamboat Falls.

Once back in Steamboat, the drive continues east on Rte. 138, arriving some 10 miles later at Weeping Rocks (near Marsters Bridge), one of several places to stop and observe spawning chinook salmon. Fighting the often powerful current, the fish swim upriver in late summer and early fall. After finding suitable spots, they make their nests—depressions in the riverbed called redds—with thrusts of their tails, a motion that displaces sand and gravel.

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