Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway
Two of Oregon’s most beautiful and renowned rivers bookend this breathtaking tour through the thickly forested southern Cascades.
More commonly known as the “highway of waterfalls,” the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway ascends from I-5 into the southern Cascades, tracking two of Oregon’s most storied rivers. The first leg of the trip follows the North Umpqua east from Roseburg. A river of unparalleled beauty, the North Umpqua is revered worldwide for steelhead fishing. After passing more than a half-dozen waterfalls, the newly built Diamond Lake Viewpoint provides stunning views of sparkling Diamond Lake, Mount Bailey and Mount Thielsen. Crater Lake is an optional side-trip, before the Byway bends southwest onto Oregon Route 230 to follow the “Wild and Scenic” Upper Rogue River. With abundant hiking, fishing, and camping opportunities, visitors easily understand why this Byway is one of the state’s best-loved areas.
Your trip begins in Roseburg, a town built up by the lumber industry, and now a popular recreational center. Covered bridges, mid-1800s restored homes and the nationally acclaimed Douglas County Museum of History and Natural History give Roseburg historic appeal. If time permits, tour some of the region’s eight wineries, which produce chardonnay, pinot noir, gewürztraminer, reisling, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon varietals. From Roseburg, the Byway heads east on Oregon Route 138 through scenic, oakdotted hills.
Up the North Umpqua
As you head east, the forest will thicken, the air will cool, and you’ll soon hear the rush of water. Check out Colliding Rivers in the community of Glide, where the North Umpqua and Little River converge in a fury of white water; it’s one of the few places in the world where rivers meet head-on. From here, the Byway parallels the “Wild and Scenic” North Umpqua, considered by many as one of the most beautiful rivers in America. Driving along the North Umpqua, you’ll pass anglers flyfishing for steelhead or salmon, whitewater rafters, kayakers, and numerous pulloffs for taking in the scenery or enjoying a hike. If you’re inclined to stretch your legs, the well-maintained North Umpqua Trail follows the east bank of the river for 79 miles. Divided into 11 segments from over three to just under 16 miles in length, the trail leads high into the Cascade Mountain Range, and connects with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Near Steamboat, check out the Mott Bridge, a recognized Oregon Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935-36, the bridge is the only surviving example of three such structures built at that time in the Pacific Northwest.
This shady route through the Umpqua National Forest and Roseburg BLM District passes Swiftwater Park, Toketee Reservoir, and several dramatic formations, including Eagle Rock and Old Man Rock. Be sure to visit at least one of the many waterfalls which are accessible by well-marked and well-maintained trails. Whitehorse Falls is easiest to access, and includes a viewing platform. Have your camera ready; the greens of spring or fall colors along this stretch of road can be stunning.
Sparkling Diamond Lake
Once it leaves the North Umpqua, Route 138 turns south to circle Diamond Lake, a scenic gem nestled between Mt. Bailey and the lightning-rod spire of Mt. Thielsen. Here you’ll find year-round resort facilities, including lodging, a marina and horse stables. In summer and fall, you can fish for stocked rainbow trout or bike around the lake on a paved path. In winter the path is transformed into a groomed cross-country ski trail, and the lake into a giant ice rink. Mt. Bailey offers outstanding snowcat skiing.
At the southern end of Diamond Lake, Oregon Route 138 rises toward the east and north entrance of Crater Lake National Park. The Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway heads west to join Oregon Route 230. Here you can enjoy unimpeded views of the peaks and ridges above Crater Lake—the remains of erupted Mt. Mazama—from the Crater Rim Viewpoint.
Running Down the Upper Rogue
Coursing through the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forests, Oregon Route 230 merges with Oregon Route 62 near historic Union Creek. Union Creek is the western terminus of the Fort Klamath Military Wagon Road, once an important trail for settlers crossing the Cascades. Union Creek is also the site of a historic resort built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The road soon parallels the “Wild and Scenic” Upper Rogue River. The Upper Rogue, like the North Umpqua, supports endangered populations of Chinook and coho salmon, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout. The Rogue Gorge and Natural Bridge interpretive sites offer interesting perspectives of the river as it thunders through deep, narrow chasms. Under a canopy of conifers between here and Prospect, you’ll find several riverside campgrounds where you can enjoy the sounds of the river or hook a few trout. Wildflowers are abundant along the Upper Rogue, providing a brilliant contrast to the green of the forests. Lost Creek Lake at Stewart State Park is popular for boating and waterskiing, among other outdoor activities. Farther south, Shady Cove is a popular point of departure for river rafters and anglers setting out to float the Upper Rogue.
Gold Hill and the Rogue Valley
Oregon Route 234 heads west, rejoining the Upper Rogue River in the friendly town of Gold Hill, the Byway’s southern portal. En route, Medford BLM and Table Rocks—flat-topped remnants of lava flows that filled the canyons of the Upper Rogue over seven million years ago—rise dramatically from the valley with Upper Table Rock soaring 800 feet. From here, the bustling Rogue Valley cities of Medford, Jacksonville, Ashland, and Grants Pass are less than an hour away.
There are 15 waterfalls along the RogueUmpqua Scenic Byway. Photographers and artists from all over the world come to capture these awe-inspiring images. Susan Creek Falls, Toketee Falls and Watson Falls are three favorites. Watson Falls, tumbling 272 feet, is the third highest waterfall in Oregon. The mist of the falls offers great relief on warm summer days.
Sacred Steelhead Waters
Flyfishers worldwide prize the North Umpqua for its run of summer steelhead. Steelhead—ocean-going rainbow trout—are one of the most prized gamefish of the Pacific Northwest, and grow from eight to 20 pounds. The North Umpqua offers 30 miles of flyfishing-only water, all accessible from the road. Fishing is not easy on the North Umpqua, but it is nonetheless a wonderful experience—just ask Jimmy Carter, Tom Brokaw and the many other notables who fish here! Anglers and conservationists have rallied to preserve the North Umpqua’s habitat and fishery. If you visit in the late summer or fall, take a small, side trip to Big Bend Pool on Steamboat Creek (10 miles from Steamboat Inn) to see one result of the Forest Service’s conservation work—an observatory where you can view hundreds of native steelhead.
Nearby Scenic Byways
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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.