Last September, the Archie Creek Fire ripped through the North Umpqua River corridor, along Highway 138 east of Roseburg, claiming more than 131,000 acres of land before it was fully contained in November. As you drive into the forest nearly one year later, the charred husks of evergreens line the road, and all that’s left of many homes and motels are the foundations.
It’s stark and devastating; even the air faintly smells of campfire.
But the wild and scenic river still rushes on, as much a symbol of resilience amid the devastation as the abundance of fly fishers and rafters who’ve returned to the Umpqua’s glittering blue-and-green rapids.
And, as if saved by some higher power, the historical Steamboat Inn (42705 N Umpqua Highway, Idleyld Park, 541-498-2230, thesteamboatinn.com) remains standing, an oasis on the river and an excellent base camp for outdoor recreation as the area rebuilds.
Peace out early on a Friday and stay at one of Steamboat’s cabins, each with its own deck overlooking the water as well as an in-room fireplace—the Falls Suite also has a Japanese soaking tub with a view if you’re feeling luxe. Featuring local, seasonal fare at the property’s restaurant May through October and peaceful vibes, it would be easy to simply hole up in the resort all weekend. But with miles of river and acres of woods to explore, you owe it to yourself to see as much of it as possible to understand why this land has called to anglers and adventure-seekers alike for decades.
Stop and sip the flavors of Spain
It’s the freakin’ weekend, and that alone is reason enough to celebrate with a drink. And considering that you’re just a few miles from some of the most highly acclaimed reds in Umpqua Valley, it’s worth making a slight detour to Abacela Winery (12500 Lookingglass Road, Roseburg, 541-679-6642, abacela.com). Set amid the rolling hills just west of Roseburg, the estate was a regional Spanish wine pioneer, eventually producing America’s first varietal tempranillo in the 1990s. It’s OK to come hungry; Abacela hosts a TGIF wine and pizza night most Fridays in summer. Pair a hand-tossed Greek pie baked in the outdoor horno with a bold 2017 syrah, and grab a bottle or two for the weekend before you go.
You’ll pull up just as the sun is going down, so settle into your room, flip on the cabin’s gas fireplace (or embrace the rustic charm of making one yourself with wood in the suites), then wander up to Steamboat’s library. There are books aplenty in case you forgot to pack reading material, and oodles of board games to borrow. Grab your favorite—we recommend Yahtzee—and head back to your quarters. Time to crack open a bottle from Abacela and start a friendly competition.
The nearly 34-mile wild and scenic segment of the North Umpqua River is iconic thanks to its rushing whitewater. Hire a knowledgeable guide from North Umpqua Outfitters (119 Tioga Lane, Idleyld Park, 888-454-9696, umpquarivers.com) to help you navigate everything from lazy Class I ripples to the technical Class IV Pinball, which will leave you soaked but buzzing with adrenaline. A full-day trip includes lunch and gear—a life jacket, helmet and splash wear. Your guide will even escort you from Steamboat to the put-in site on the morning of your trip. The fact that North Umpqua Outfitters isn’t skipping a beat this summer rafting season is a testament to the owners’ strength: They, like many other locals who operate businesses here, lost their home in last year’s fire.
Snag a summer steelhead
The North Umpqua, especially around Steamboat Inn, is a mecca for anglers. Folks in waders stand around deep pools, flicking lures into the water for hours. There are salmon, steelhead, trout and bass, and a whole lot of ‘em. If you’re experienced, you can walk straight down from your cabin to the river’s edge, and cast away from sunup till sunset. Otherwise, it’s easy to find a guide who will ply the waters with you in a drift boat. Steamboat recommends Holloway Bros Fishing (2626 32nd St., Springfield, 541-729-0692, hollowaybrosfishing.com), which offers both half- and full-day outings that include all of the rods, reels and tackle you’ll need to hook dinner.
Behold the Wizard
With your fish on ice for a meal back home, squeeze in a road trip to Oregon’s only national park. Crater Lake (nps.gov) is just 60 miles southeast of the inn. The deepest lake in the continental United States, this still-active volcano features water so pristine and blue, your soul feels purified simply by looking at it. Besides the caldera, the other remnant of the eruption from thousands of years ago is a 763-foot-tall cinder cone at the west end of the lake called Wizard Island. The park is incredible to behold just from the parking lot, but if you’re looking to stretch your legs, hit the moderate 3.4-mile Garfield Peak Trail near Rim Village, where you’ll gaze down on Oregon’s glory like a majestic mountain goat.
Eat from the bounty of the farmers market
The menu at Steamboat Inn punches above its weight for several reasons: It’s intensely seasonal and devotedly local. Each week, the chef visits the farmers market and comes back inspired. A springtime charcuterie board featured a terrine made with locally farmed rabbit and morels, housemade pita bread and a variety of cheeses. There was also a sugar snap pea risotto that was so bright and fresh, it tasted as if the pods had just been picked. Reserve a table for dinner, requesting one of the two-tops on the lawn closest to the river. It’s an outdoor dining experience that could never be replicated in Portland.
Down by the river
After a nonstop Saturday, allow yourself to sleep in for a bit. Once rousted, take a cup of coffee to the adirondack chairs on the back patio, then bask in the morning sun. The river is literally a stone’s throw away, and the rushing provides the perfect morning soundtrack for some solid reading time. It’s simple, and it’s bliss.
Order a Portland-style brunch without the line
Yes, you’re eating at the inn again, but this guide would be remiss to allow anyone to leave without trying brunch here as well. The food is of a quality that would lead to a 90-minute wait anywhere in Portland, but here you can sit down immediately, and it’s just a few yards’ stroll from your cabin. Take a cue from the waters you fished earlier and order the house-smoked steelhead Benedict. If your brunchmate is in the mood for sharing, split that along with the roll-ups: spongy buttermilk pancakes slathered with housemade strawberry-rhubarb jam and sour cream.
Forage for fungus
The beautiful North Umpqua hiking trail remains closed due to fire damage, but fires do bring morels. On your way back toward I-5, pull off and poke around in burn areas; the mushrooms like to live at the roots of fir trees. As summer goes on, the odds of finding get worse, but witnessing the eerie beauty of the blackened forest is its own reward.