The North Umpqua River
One of the great escapes into the Cascade Mountains is via the Umpqua Highway, Route 138. This road runs along the part of the North Umpqua River fished by Zane Grey and Clark Gable as well as legions of less-ballyhooed nimrods during steelhead season. The North Umpqua is a premier fishing river full of trout and salmon, as well as a source of excitement for white-water rafters who shoot the rapids.
Numerous waterfalls, including Watson Falls, feed this great waterway and are found close to the road. Tall timbers line the road through the Umpqua National Forest, and many fine campgrounds (along the Little River, North Umpqua River, and at Diamond Lake) are situated within its confines. Mountain lakes like Toketee Reservoir, Lemolo Lake, and Diamond Lake offer boating and other recreational opportunities.
The Umpqua National Forest also boasts challenging yet accessible mountain trails up the flanks of Mount Bailey (8,363 feet) and Mount Thielsen (9,182 feet). And when snow carpets the landscape in winter, you can cross-country ski, snowmobile, and snowcat ski on Mount Bailey free from the crowds at other winter-sports areas.
This place is still so untouched primarily because of the rugged terrain. The first road, a crude dirt trail that ran from Roseburg to Steamboat, was built in the 1920s. Travelers of the day who wanted to get to the Diamond Lake Lodge spent three days traveling this road by car, then had to journey another 20 miles on horseback to reach their final destination.
The North Umpqua Road was expanded to Copeland Creek by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, but the trips to Diamond and Crater Lakes were still limited to a trail-wise few.
It wasn’t until the late 1950s, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower pushed for development of the nation’s interstate and state highways, that road improvement began in earnest. Douglas County allocated $2.76 million toward federal matching funds to construct the Umpqua Highway. The road was completed in the summer of 1964, opening up the North Umpqua basin to timber interests, sportspeople, and tourists.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel