North Umpqua River
Steelhead, waterfalls, and a 79-mile trail: In a state full of rivers, this one has it all.
DRIVE TIME: 4 HOURS
Find it on the map
AMONG THE 50 or so Oregon rivers with stretches designated as “wild and scenic” by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the North Umpqua is arguably the one most worthy of a road trip. Not only do its waters shift between shades of turquoise and emerald green for much of its length, but they host one of the longest summer steelhead seasons of any river in the world (lasting from June well into November). With its slick bottom and swift currents, the 31-mile stretch set aside exclusively for fly-fishing (meaning kayaks and rafts are allowed only from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) is often considered “finishing school” for anglers, since catching the Umpqua’s notoriously elusive fish requires mastery of fly-rod techniques. Even if fishing isn’t your thing, the area’s many waterfalls, which plummet down the slopes of the Western Cascades, and its big-leaf maples, which turn red and gold this season, will lure you into the woods one last time before winter coats the valley in white. —AH
Friday, 5 p.m.
Check-In: The Steamboat Inn
Don’t let this riverside inn’s quaint history fool you (it began as a small lunch counter and fishing supply store in the 1950s). Ever since Jim and Sharon Van Loan took over in 1975, the inn has gained national acclaim—especially among anglers—for its streamside cabins, cottages, and gourmet meals, served family-style at long, wooden tables in the dining room. We like the river suites, where soaking tubs and fireplaces offer just the kind of decompression you’ll need before curling up in a king-size bed and letting the lullaby of the North Umpqua sing you to sleep. $170–$295; 541-498-2230; www.thesteamboatinn.com
Saturday, 6 a.m.
Fly-fish the North Umpqua River
In the summertime, real fishermen nurse their coffee on the river by 4:30 a.m., because that’s when the fish start biting, says Sharon Van Loan. But in the fall, you can thank the fish for an extra hour or two of sleep, since they don’t go after an insect breakfast until sunrise, which comes a little later this time of year. Still, don’t hit the snooze button too many times: Full- and half-day trips with Tony Wratney’s Summer Run Guide Service, the area’s longest-running fly-fishing outfit, start at 6 a.m. A native Californian, Wratney’s been fishing the North Umpqua since 1967 (he hooked his first steelhead 10 years later), which makes him the perfect person to help you land a 10-pounder and really earn tonight’s dinner. 541-496-3037; www.summerrun.net
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Dinner at the Steamboat Inn
In accordance with a tradition established in 1957, guests at the Steamboat Inn gather in the library at dusk (so that fishermen get a full day in). The warm, wood-beamed nook is a fine place to swap tales from the river, wine in hand, before relocating to the adjoining dining room for a feast the inn calls “The Evening Dinner.” Seated at long, sugar-pine tables, guests might savor a first course of, say, corn soufflé before tucking into juniper- and thyme-dusted duck breast served with marionberry ketchup, or bone-in chicken stuffed with shiitakes, onion, and spinach. The meal may have gained a bit of elegance since its humble beginnings, when the inn served pork chops with sour cream, but it’s certainly retained all of its original conviviality.
Sunday, 8 a.m.
Hike the North Umpqua Trail
Too much pumpkin flan at last night’s meal? Work it off by hitting a stretch of the 79-mile North Umpqua Trail, which extends from Rock Creek east along the river to the Cascades. Obviously, unless you’re a masochistic Iron Man type, you won’t be able to tackle the whole thing in a day. But you could hit the 15.7-mile trek that passes two waterfalls and meanders through old-growth forest on the Tioga Segment, the trail’s westernmost stretch. Still too much trail for your legs to handle? Try the 3.5-mile Hot Springs Segment. A short trek from the Tokatee Lake Trailhead will deliver you to the base of Surprise and Columnar Falls, which plunge over a sheer wall of basalt. From here, it’s only 0.3 miles up a steep side trail to Umpqua Hot Springs, where a 108-degree pool perched at the cliff’s edge offers an exceptional view of the North Umpqua, and a chance to soak your muscles before the car ride home. www.blm.gov