Oregon Scenic Drives: Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway

By: Clark Norton

The Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway ventures deep into the Cascades. About 18 miles east of Roseburg, the North Umpqua River meets with the Little River at Colliding Rivers, one of the few places in the world where this head-on phenomenon occurs. The North Umpqua provides whitewater thrills and superb steelhead runs as it tumbles through the Umpqua National Forest.

Whether you're learning about the rich history of the Native Americans, stretching in front of a tranquil lake, or experiencing the rush of white-water rafting on the river known as the "emerald jewel" of Oregon, the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway shares one of the state's best-loved areas with you.


Qualities of the Rogue-Umpaqua Scenic Byway

The North Umpqua and Rogue Rivers flow through this valley that was inhabited by prehistoric people for more than 8,000 years. Many dating techniques, such as radiocarbon and stratigraphic dating, indicate prehistoric occupations prior to the eruption of the volcano Mount Mazama, approximately 6,800 years ago. The presence of time-sensitive artifacts shows that occupation may go as far back as 12,500 years.

The route encompasses lands once occupied by the ancestors of the Upland Takelma, Southern Molalla, Klamath, and Cow Creek Bands of the Umpqua and Upper Umpqua Rivers. Along the route, interpretative panels are offered at the Colliding Rivers site at Glide, representing an Upper Umpqua village site.

There is also a recorded prehistoric fishing locality that is located at the Narrows near Idleyld Park. The Susan Creek Recreation Sites contain cairns, which represent vision questing. A trail provides access to the sites, and an interpretive panel gives information on the sites. 

The nature and habitation of the valley changed with the eruption of Mount Mazama. When the volcano erupted, the Upper North Umpqua and Rogue River drainages were covered with a layer of airborne ash as far downstream as Dry Creek on the Umpqua and Elk Creek on the Rogue. A cloud of superheated gas and ash flowed across Diamond Lake and down the North Umpqua River to the Toketee Falls area and down the Rogue River toward Prospect, denuding the forest and destroying whatever plant and animal life happened to be in the way.

Subsequent floods carried ash and pumice farther downstream, blanketing terraces. Drainages were choked with ash, and their gravel beds became silted over, altering fish habitat. This cataclysmic event forced early inhabitants to adapt to their new surroundings, and archaeological sites within the Rogue and Umpqua corridors preserve a record of these adaptations, including alterations in clothing, food, and hunting techniques.

Qualities of the Rogue-Umpaqua Scenic Byway

Early settlers to the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway laid a foundation for life in this rugged landscape. The Fort Klamath military wagon road made its way over the formidable Cascades to the settlement of Union Creek. The city doesn't remain today, but the wagon trail was an important trail to get settlers and supplies over the mountains.

In the 1850s, the Siskiyou Mountains in the Rogue River National Forest became home to many prospectors who were searching for gold. In the early days of the byway, American Indians, trappers, traders, explorers, and settlers all made their way into the surrounding area and worked or settled there.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) further developed the area surrounding the byway during the 1930s. This organization provided work for thousands of people during a time of low employment.

The CCC was responsible for a variety of projects, including reforestation, fire prevention, soil conservation, and development of recreational areas. Many structures that stand today along the byway are a legacy to the CCC.

Stretching across the river near Steamboat is the historic Mott Bridge, a recognized Oregon Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Constructed by the CCC during 1935 and 1936, the Mott Bridge is the only surviving example of three such structures built at that time in the Pacific Northwest.

The CCC also built Diamond Lake's Visitor Center and guard station, as well as the ranger house at Colliding Rivers. Both of the historic structures at Diamond Lake and Colliding Rivers serve as visitor centers today.

Natural Qualities of the Rogue-Umpaqua Scenic Byway

Fisheries play an important role in the ecosystem. The spring-fed rivers flow large amounts of freshwater and support nationally significant fisheries of steelhead and salmon.

The Upper Rogue and North Umpqua Rivers sustain critical habitats for a variety of resident and migrating fish species, including summer and winter steelhead, fall and spring chinook, coho, and sea-run cutthroat. These rivers and others provide large and consistent numbers of native (non-hatchery) fish in the run.

In 1997, following the listing of the Umpqua River cutthroat trout as an endangered species, fishing for trout in the mainstream Umpqua and tributaries was prohibited. Additionally, all wild steelhead and coho salmon caught in the North Umpqua River must be released.

Two fish hatcheries are also associated with the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway. Located at the base of Lost Creek Dam on the Rogue River, the Cole M. Rivers Fish Hatchery is the largest hatchery on the West Coast, built in 1973 to mitigate for a lost spawning area when three dams were constructed in the Rogue Valley.

The Rock Creek Fish Hatchery, built in lower Rock Creek and 1/2 mile from Highway 138, was constructed in the late 1800s. It still operates to supplement the summer steelhead, spring chinook, and coho fisheries of the Umpqua, the North Umpqua, and South Umpqua Rivers.

This map details the points of interest on the Rogue-Umpaqua Scenic Byway.

Recreational Qualities of the Rogue-Umpaqua Scenic Byway

Many come to fish, hike, camp, bike, and soak in the sites. However, the recreational opportunity that's most popular here is white-water rafting, an exhilarating experience that brings people back each year because of its world-class fun. The 33.8-mile North Umpqua River recreation area offers white-water thrills, including rapids of intermediate to advanced experience levels.

For the days not spent braving the rapids, Joseph H. Stewart State Park on Lost Creek Reservoir is a water paradise, providing 151 campsites with electrical hook-ups; 50 tent sites with water; two group tent camping areas with the amenities of flush toilets, showers, and volleyball and horseshoe pits; and day-use picnic areas. The boating facilities include a marina with a store and cafe, moorage facility, boat launch, boat rentals, and fish-cleaning facilities.

You can also find several other recreation sites on the 30 miles of shoreline created by Lost Creek Reservoir, including McGregor Park, a visitor center called Spirit of the Rogue Nature Center, Takelma Recreation Area, and the Cole M. Rivers Fish Hatchery.

Find more useful information related to Oregon's Rogue-Umpaqua Scenic Byway:

  • Oregon Scenic Drives: Rogue-Umpaqua Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Oregon. Check out the others.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.


Highlights of the Rogue-Umpaqua Scenic Byway

byways.org Fall Creek Falls is a highlight of Rogue-Umpaqua Scenic Byway.

The tremendous diversity of geologic and volcanic formations, coupled with 15 waterfalls, make Oregon's Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway a photographer's paradise. Famous artists and photographers have come from all over the world to capture awe-inspiring images here. Nearly every stretch of the route provides serene places to enjoy the beauty of nature.

Volcanic activity ravaged this area, creating many distinctive and stunning landscapes. In the Diamond Lake area, the route is characterized by unique High Cascades volcanic remnants. Some of these include Crater Lake Rim and impressive peaks, such as Mount Thielsen (elevation 9,182 feet) and others.


The Umpqua Rocks Geologic Area parallels Highway 138 from Marsters Bridge to Soda Springs. Along the Upper Rogue River, the highway is built on pumice and ash flows, which were part of the cataclysmic Mount Mazama eruption. The ash flows overlay 1.25 million-year-old lava flows. The river flows through lava tubes above and below the surface at the Rogue Gorge and Natural Bridge interpretive sites. Sedimentary and marine deposits are evident as the highway enters the Rogue Valley, with the exception of the notable Upper and Lower Table Rocks, which are remnants of High Cascades Province lava flows.

You'll find notable waterfalls along this byway, ranging in size and accessibility. One of the most popular is the Watson Falls, the third highest in Oregon. The water tumbles down 272 feet, which causes a cool mist to refresh you on a searing day.

Beginning at the northern end of the Rogue-Umpque Scenic Byway, take this tour. If you start on the other end of the byway, begin at the bottom of this list and make your way up.

Roseburg: Start your trip in Roseburg, which lies along both I-5 and the historic Applegate Trail, the southern route of the Oregon Trail. The Douglas County Museum near Roseburg has exhibits on the Applegate Trail and the Umpqua River. Several wineries are nearby. 

Colliding Rivers Viewpoint: Head east on Highway 138 for about 18 miles to Glide, site of the Colliding Rivers Viewpoint and visitor center. Views are especially spectacular with higher river flows during the wet season. There is also a short nature trail here.

North Umpqua River: The byway now heads through a narrow canyon, following the wild and scenic North Umpqua River, with possible stops for hiking, fly-fishing, white-water rafting, and kayaking.

Toketee and Watson Falls: Continuing east through the Umpqua National Forest, the byway passes distinctively shaped volcanic rock formations as well as well-marked hiking trails to Toketee Falls and 272-foot-high Watson Falls. The latter is at Milepost 61 along Highway 138.

Diamond Lake: Stop next at beautiful Diamond Lake, which has camping, fishing, and an 11-mile paved bike path around the lake. (In the winter it becomes a cross-country ski trail.) The visitor center is opposite the campground entrance. Wilderness areas adjoin the lake, and 9,000-foot volcanic peaks form a backdrop.

Crater Lake National Park: The Rogue-Umpque Scenic Byway now follows Route 230 south. However, the continuation of Highway 138 leads to a worthwhile scenic detour: the nearby north entrance of Crater Lake National  Park. The park is the site of Crater Lake, the deepest lake in America, formed within an ancient volcanic caldera.

The 33-mile-long Rim Drive, usually open July through mid- October (or the first snowfall), circles the lake; a visitor center is open June to September at Rim Village. A variety of hiking trails lead to panoramic views. (From late fall to late spring, the park's year-round south entrance may be accessed via Routes 230 and 62.) Return to the byway via Route 62 west, which meets up with Route 230 just north of Union Creek.

Rogue River : South of Diamond Lake, the Rogue-Umpque Scenic Byway runs alongside the thundering Rogue River, with more opportunities for whitewater rafting and camping. Route 230 merges with Route 62 just north of Union Creek. Stop at the Natural Bridge interpretive site, just south of Union Creek, where the river rushes underground into a volcanic channel.

Joseph H. Stewart Recreation Area: A bit farther south is Joseph H. Stewart Recreation Area, overlooking Lost Creek Reservoir. It's popular for boating, camping, and fishing.

Shady Cove: The Rogue-Umpque Scenic Byway continues to Shady Cove, where hiking trails lead off into wilderness areas. It is also known as a place for excellent fishing.

Gold Hill: The final part of the Rogue-Umpque Scenic Byway leads west along Route 234 into the town of Gold Hill, where the Rogue River appears once again.

While the recreational opportunities can't be beat along the Rogue-Umpque Scenic Byway, don't pass up this drive if you're just not into white-water rafting. Taking in the sights is an activity you'll never forget.

Find more useful information related to Oregon's Rogue-Umpaqua Scenic Byway:

  • Oregon Scenic Drives: Rogue-Umpaqua Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Oregon. Check out the others.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.