Enjoy a 66-mile/106-kilometer drive as diverse as the river itself, rolling through historic timber towns, wine country, fishing hot spots and fur-trading posts as it twists through the Coast Range on its way to the Pacific.
Along with generations of Native Americans who lived along its banks, the riches of the Umpqua River have long nurtured fur traders, loggers, fishermen and farmers. Its wealth of natural and historical treasures unfolds as you follow this river-valley route, a pleasant meandering trip through the dense forests of the Coast Range and along the Umpqua’s clear-flowing waters.
Oakland and Sutherlin
The Umpqua River Scenic Byway begins in Oakland, once a busy railroad stop linking routes to Portland and Sacramento. Just a few minutes from the interstate, well-preserved 19th-century brick buildings line its downtown “historic row,” a National Historic Landmark. Antique stores, a historic walking tour and the Oakland Museum provide more glimpses into its intriguing past.
Sutherlin is a good spot to fuel up or grab a bite to eat before heading northwest on OR-138, where the byway soon meets up with the Umpqua River on its crooked course flowing down from the Cascade Mountains. Twelve miles/19.3 kilometers past Sutherlin, look for the 100-foot-high walnut tree on the left side of the highway. Estimated to be more than 250 years old, it’s a mystery how this non-native tree sprouted here.
Kellogg to Elkton
The Umpqua River is legendary among anglers for its runs of chinook salmon, sturgeon and especially steelhead. Between Kellogg and Elkton, a particularly loopy and scenic stretch of river also offers some of the West’s finest smallmouth bass fishing. The byway joins OR-38 at Elkton and continues west.
Vintners have discovered that the Umpqua Valley’s rumpled topography of hillsides and river drainages, along with its coastal microclimate, produce a surprising diversity of high-quality wines. Burgundian grapes like pinot noir and pinot gris thrive here, but so do warmer-climate Bordeaux varietals like cabernet sauvignon and merlot. In Elkton — with its own American Viticultural Area — you’ll discover winery tasting rooms, along with several restaurants.
At the Elkton Community Education Center, a butterfly house and hummingbird garden attract a number of colorful species, especially in July and August. West of Elkton, Fort Umpqua is a reproduction of the Hudson’s Bay Company fur-trading post that operated just across the river from 1836 to 1854. Used as a regional center to gather and trade beaver pelts, it was the first non- Native settlement along the Umpqua.
Scottsburg and the Gold Rush
This next stretch of the byway offers great river views as the Umpqua tumbles in a burst of white water toward the Pacific. At Scottsburg, the influence of ocean tides calms the rapids, creating a stately and serene river. There’s a nice picnic area overlooking the river in Scottsburg Park.
Scottsburg hummed with activity during the gold rush of the 1850s. Gold was discovered in Oregon before California, and this spot was a departure point for pack-mule trains loaded with supplies for the mining camps up in the Siskiyou Mountains.
Reedsport and the River’s Mouth
The river valley broadens as you approach Reedsport. More than 1,000 acres of the lush pastureland here have been set aside by the Federal Bureau of Land Management to provide highquality forage for Roosevelt elk. At the Age fotostock / Alamy Stock Photo Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area, visitors can often spot the herd, especially in morning and evening. Native to Oregon’s coastal mountains, the Roosevelt elk is the largest of four North American elk species. Males, called bulls, can weigh more than 1,000 pounds and carry antlers up to 4 feet long. Bulls are known for their remarkable bugling, a loud, warbling mating call you might hear in autumn.
The byway concludes at US-101 and Reedsport, a tidewater community where boaters can access the Pacific 5 miles/8 kilometers downstream at Winchester Bay. Reedsport is home to the Umpqua Discovery Center, with creative displays on the region’s cultural and natural history, and it is the gateway to the spectacular Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Whether you head north or south, another enticing drive awaits along US-101, the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway.