Start in Canyonville and head east for a beautiful half-day journey featuring covered bridges and river vistas en route to South Umpqua Falls.
Story by Bentley Gilbert Photos by Samantha Starns
A drive to South Umpqua Falls in the winter and spring offers a place for riparian meditation and an accessible contrast to the more familiar sights of the North Umpqua.
This is especially true before the weather turns warm and the two forks of the Umpqua become attractive to visitors.
While the North Umpqua keeps largely to itself north of Roseburg, we frequently encounter the South Umpqua as it meanders through central Douglas County towns, beneath bridges and adjacent to roads and trails.
Our tour begins in Canyonville. From Roseburg, head south on Interstate 5 to Exit 99. Go south on Main Street past Seven Feathers Hotel and Casino Resort to enter this attractive town. At the intersection of Southeast Main and Third streets downtown, follow the sign for Days Creek and Tiller.
The U.S. Forest Service offers a map of what it calls the “Myrtle Creek-Canyonville Tour Route.” With its color and photos, it looks nothing like a government document. We opted to try the route in reverse.
As you head east, Third Street becomes the Tiller-Trail Highway. The swollen South Umpqua will join you on the left shortly after you leave town and head east into a picturesque valley of tidy farms and pastureland.
About 17 miles from Canyonville, you’ll come to a turnoff that leads to a covered bridge, which accesses the Milo Adventist Academy. The bridge was built — or rebuilt — in 1962. It’s a 100-foot steel span with wood housing and metal roof and it replaced the all-wooden covered bridge built on the site 42 years earlier.
At one time, Oregon had an estimated 450 covered bridges spanning its rivers and streams. According to coveredbridgemap.com, the 53 remaining covered bridges are among the most in any state. By contrast, nearby Washington has only eight covered bridges and California a mere dozen.
The Douglas fir forest you came to see starts when you turn left onto South Umpqua Road (County Road 46) just past Tiller and about 22 miles from our starting point. The nearby Tiller Ranger District station houses a wealth of information — in maps, brochures and staff — to help you learn about the area.
Moss-covered boulders and rocky cliffs that appear luminescent in the cool, gray light of the season border the river, which rises high in the Cascades approximately 20 miles northwest of Crater Lake.
South Umpqua Road along the river features several picnic areas (day-use only) and campgrounds, although the latter will not open until May. But even if you’re just passing by, the scenery is something to savor and well worth stopping for. Waysides feature ample parking, clean facilities and natural features that are well interpreted.
At about the 28-mile point, you’ll come to the turnoff (Forest Route 2810) that continues the tour loop and returns you to Myrtle Creek. But first drive the final 13 miles to South Umpqua Falls.
The falls feature an unusual formation. Shallow water flows over a wide slab of bedrock, then plunges 15 feet into a deep pool.
Snow well above 2,000-feet elevation in mid-January blocked our planned route back to Myrtle Creek. But retracing the route along the South Umpqua is a great consolation prize.
DAY TRIP FACTS
Canyonville to Myrtle Creek (or reverse): 3-4 hours, depending on the number and length of stops to enjoy the scenery. Plan to do plenty of both.
From Roseburg: South on Interstate 5. Myrtle Creek is at exits 108 and 106. Canyonville is at Exit 99. All are 30 minutes or less from Roseburg.
Caution signs say “Rough Road.” But the surface, even in mid-winter, was well-tended. A short distance of the road to South Umpqua Falls is gravel. Snow might be a consideration, so check weather and road reports before you go.
FEES & PARKING
Picnic ground fee (day-use only): $5. Camping fee: $10 per night. Parking is ample in early spring.
Myrtle Creek-Canyonville Tour Route
“Land of Umpqua” Pacific Northwest Recreational Map Series
Oregon State Highway Map
U.S. Forest Service
2900 N.W. Stewart Parkway, Roseburg