Umpqua River Scenic Byway
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The Umpqua River Valley’s riches nurtured generations of traders, loggers and farmers. Its wealth of natural and historical treasures unfold as you wind through the Coast Range to the Pacific.
This 66-mile journey offers sweeping vistas of the ever-changing valleys of one the state’s most storied river corridors. The Umpqua itself is at the center of the byway’s appeal, its cascading waters giving way to rugged rapids and then wide expanses of slowly meandering water as it nears its terminus. Recreational opportunities abound—you can sip wine at one of 19 wineries that are on or accessible from the route, wet a line in the Umpqua for migrating steelhead or salmon or pause at waysides to spy rare birds and trees.
The dense forests along the byway provide an ever-changing visual treat—a riot of verdant greens in the spring and summer, and a kaleidoscope of reds and yellows in the fall. Along the way, you’ll likely come upon elk, turkey and other fauna that call the Umpqua Valley home.
Onward from Historic Oakland
The Umpqua River Scenic Byway route begins in Oakland, one of Oregon’s oldest settlements. The Oakland Historic District encompasses more than 90 structures, many of which have been authentically restored, transporting travelers back to a time when Main Street was the heart and soul of a town. (Self-guided walking tours are available.) The Oakland Historic Museum depicts life here in the 1800′s, with historic pictures as well as everyday items used in the town. An old-fashioned soda fountain serves malts and other treats.
You’ll next reach Sutherlin, known for almost a century as “The Timber Town.” A renovated locomotive and caboose once used in lumber harvesting and distribution are on display in the City Park, testament to the important role timber once played. Bird lovers visiting in April and May will want to visit the Purple Martin Viewing Area just east of town to view these specimens of the largest North American swallow. There are a number of eateries here to fuel you for your journey.
Rolling Toward the Umpqua
From Sutherlin, you’ll join Highway 138 and head northwest toward the community of Kellogg, soon joining the Umpqua River. The Umpqua is an angler’s paradise, with runs of winter and summer steelhead, Chinook salmon and sturgeon; the river between Kellogg and Elkton offers some of the West’s finest smallmouth bass fishing. Through this section, the Umpqua has a base of basalt covered with massive beds of dark gray shale and light gray sandstone. This geologic patchwork can be easily seen from the road during lower summer water levels. Kellogg is home to the Hinds Walnut Tree, which was planted more than 250 years ago and stands over 100 feet tall.
West from Elkton
At Elkton, the byway veers due west. Elkton was once a wood product manufacturing center; today, it’s home to a number of wineries and vineyards, an inviting café and several restaurants. Just west of Elkton you’ll find a reproduction of Fort Umpqua, the southernmost outpost established by the Hudson Bay Company and operated from 1836 to 1851. Nearby is the Butterfly Pavilion and Education Center, which has gardens that attract both hummingbirds and butterflies; it’s also home to the Native Oregon Park, which is cultivated with indigenous trees and plants arranged by Oregon’s climate zones.
From Rapids to Calm
Leaving greater Elkton, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the Umpqua as it rushes in bursts of white water toward the sea. At Scottsburg, tidal influences come to bear on the river, creating a serene flow. Scottsburg was once the largest shipping hub in the state, the outfitting point for gold miners traveling to the north slopes of the Siskiyou Mountains. Today, Scottsburg Park has a picnic area overlooking the river and several rare Myrtle trees, which are harvested for their texture, grain and color; myrtlewood souvenirs are available in shops along the Byway.
With the Umpqua on the right and thick woods on the left, you’ll follow the river to the Pacific. Three miles east of Reedsport, you’ll come upon the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area—a 1,040 acre sanctuary for Roosevelt Elk, who congregate here to feed on the rich pasture land. The Bureau of Land Management acquired the land and now manages it to provide high quality forage for elk. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the elk, maintaining the herd at 90 to 120 animals. Reedsport is known as the gateway to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (information is available at the Visitor Center), and as a boater’s access point to the Pacific, via Winchester Bay. It’s also home to the Umpqua Discovery Center, which details the river’s geologic, ecologic and human history. At Reedsport, the Umpqua River Scenic Byway meets the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, where more breathtaking scenery awaits you, north and south.
Roosevelt elk are native to Oregon’s coastal mountains; males can reach weights up to 1,000 pounds, with antlers in excess of 5 feet in length. Mornings and evenings are the best time to view these majestic members of the deer family, though careful observers will find animals mid-day as well. Late spring visitors may see elk calves; fall visitors may hear males bugling as they prepare to mate. Two viewing areas offer extensive interpretive information.
Wines of the “Hundred Valleys of the Umpqua”
Willamette Valley has made a name for itself on the international wine stage, and the Umpqua Valley could be next. The network of hillsides and river drainages along the byway are cool enough to produce high-quality Burgundian wines from varieties like Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, yet warm enough to grow Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; fruity Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are also available.
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Keep in mind many of the routes listed here travel through remote areas where gas stations are few and far between. And since road and weather conditions can be hazardous, even into summer, we urge you to call 800-977-6368 or check Trip Check before starting out.