For years, the McKenzie River Trail was Oregon's premier running and hiking trail. But as time went by and the trail's popularity grew, so too did the crowds and trail damage. Both situations led many active outdoor people to seek a trail that, despite some extra drive time, has turned out to be a wonderful alternative.
The path is the North Umpqua Trail. First dreamed of in the early 1970s, work started on the trail in 1978 and was completed in 1997. It runs from Maidu Lake (just above Lemolo Lake) in the Cascades following the North Umpqua River drainage to Swiftwater Park at Deadline Falls on the river.
At 79 miles long with 11 different segments, the North Umpqua Trail reveals some of the most stunning scenery in Oregon. There are trail sections that rival the McKenzie River Trail in beauty and when compared in difficulty to the McKenzie, the North Umpqua Trail is more of a test.
There are some extremely difficult sections of trail above where it joins the river and while labeled "moderate" on brochures, many of the sections along the river itself are testy. You have to like roots and lots of rocks to enjoy running, riding or hiking here.
If there is one trail section that sums up the beauty of the North Umpqua River and its trail, it's the short (3.4-mile) round trip from just beyond the dam at Lemolo Lake down to 100-foot Lemolo Falls and back. Best suited for running and hiking, the trail snakes along the river, dropping several hundred feet before climbing a small hill where the falls can be seen tumbling vertically off a rocky shelf into a deep pool. The crystal-clear waters, old-growth pines and firs, moss-covered rocks in the river and trailside rock formations make this easily one of the best short scenic hikes in the Cascades.
Stepping It Up
Skipping over the truly hard upper sections of the North Umpqua River trail, the lower trails that skirt along the river between Tokatee Lake and Swiftwater Park are short enough and within the ability of most mountain bike riders. Hikers and trail runners will find them a breeze.
There are always surprises along these riverside trail segments. For example, several years ago while riding the Jessie Wright section of trail below Tokatee Lake, Jeff Mortimore of Klamath Falls and I were riding beside a deep, long river pool when we saw something flash in the water. We stopped, dismounted and crept up onto the bank only to see hundreds of spawning sockeye salmon on their redds. We watched for over an hour before getting back to our ride.
Currently, the river's famous steelhead run is in progress and anglers are all over the river. That makes for a nice weekend double run, ride, or hike one day and cast for steelies the next. When it comes to adding fishing to a weekend of diverse outdoor activities agenda, the best sections of Umpqua River trail are: Mott, Panther, Calf, Marsters and Jessie Wright.
For example, the Mott section of the trail starts across the highway from Steamboat Creek and follows along the south side of the river directly across from the famous Steamboat Inn fly-fishing hostelry and gourmet restaurant. No matter how you travel the North Umpqua trail, late September and early October are the best times of the year to enjoy its wonders.
A brochure/map is available through either the Roseburg District of the BLM, 777 NW Garden Valley Blvd, Roseburg, OR 97470 (www.or.blm.gov/roseburg) or the Umpqua National Forest, 2900 NW Stewart Parkway, Roseburg, OR 97470 (www.fs.fed.us/r6/umpqua).
Camping is plentiful and some of the campgrounds, like Susan Creek, are as good as it gets with hot showers and the works. If you're interested in sleeping under a roof without paying top dollar, the Dogwood Motel close to Idywild has that funky fifties/sixties feel to it with modern additions like a barbecue area and koi carp pond. There's in-room cooking in most units.
If you're in search of classic on-the-road food, try Munchies in Glide if you get that far downriver. One of their burgers is enough for two people and the food is much the same as what I was served when I first stumbled in there to eat after kayaking the North Umpqua in a blizzard in May 1979.
For jumbo servings of ice cream, flies, angling information, booze and deli sandwiches, there's the general store in Idywild. And finally, as a caveat, don't take the North Umpqua Trail too lightly. One Bend local spent four hours in the emergency room at Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg this past Saturday after a mountain bike fall on a so-called "moderate" trail.