Listen closely and you’ll hear the roar of big cats and powerful engines.
The first 19th-century gold rushers to set foot in Oregon's Umpqua River valley found themselves in the midst of tall grasses, fertile bottomlands, and oak-studded hillsides alive with hawk, beaver, and majestic Roosevelt elk. Not surprisingly, some of these fortune hunters decided to put down roots and helped give rise to frontier towns such as Roseburg. Today, this lively community's mix of pioneer charm and wild environs continues to entice passersby.
Soon after settling in the land of the Umpqua in 1851, pioneer and entrepreneur Aaron Rose opened a tavern, general store, and butcher shop to accommodate the influx of new arrivals to the territory. Three years later, the county government was relocated to Rose's tiny frontier enclave. Following a stint as a stagecoach stop along the Applegate Trail to the goldfields of Northern California, Roseburg became a major commercial hub thanks to the Oregon and California Railroad.
You'll get a good overview of local lore at the Douglas County Museum of History and Natural History, with its Native American baskets, antique autos, and a diorama of a full-size elk in an old-growth forest.
Explore times past even further with a walk in Roseburg's historical district, where architectural styles range from Queen Anne and Victorian Gothic to craftsman and prairie. Don't miss the 1929 neoclassic Douglas County Courthouse, with a towering American elm tree more than 100 years old gracing its grounds. While touring historical buildings, why not dine in one? McMenamins Roseburg Station, located in a 1912 train station, offers tasty burgers and other pub fare along with its own microbrews. (Try the Ruby Ale, with its hint of raspberry.)
The town's past is also depicted visually in an outdoor collection of murals. You may even find a piece of art or history to take home with you at one of the numerous galleries and shops downtown.
For something a bit more on the wild side, swing on by Wildlife Safari. Just six miles south of Roseburg, the 600-acre reserve opened its gates in 1973 and remains Oregon's only drive-through animal park. Nearly 600 animals from around the world are on the outside looking in at you as you cruise past. Imagine being so close to a lion that you can see the texture of his massive black mane. You'll sit motionless as he gazes at you, perhaps sizing you up for a quick snack. Of course, the king of beasts isn't the only formidable resident you'll encounter. Thanks to a successful breeding program, Wildlife Safari is renowned for its cheetahs. You'll also meet exotics like the eland—the world's largest antelope—along with gazelle-like gemsboks and mischievous gibbons. You might even get a bird's-eye view of a curious ostrich as it rubs its head against your car.
Driving through the park is indeed an adventure, but a guided tour is a truly enlightening experience for the whole family. Make tracks past the cheetahs, watch the lions during feeding, or go trekking with the elephants at Safari Camp, an overnight, outdoor camping program complete with meals and a roaring campfire.
East of town, Highway 138 (part of the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway) runs alongside the North Umpqua River, where you can cast your line into some of the best fly-fishing waters in the country. If you're angling for a little more excitement, hook up with a local outfitter for a day of kayaking, canoeing, or white-water rafting. Make it a perfect outing with a stay at the Steelhead Run Bed & Breakfast, a leisurely 30-minute drive from Roseburg. Situated on a bluff overlooking the river, the resort-style B&B boasts a breathtaking view, features one of the area's best swimming holes, and, along with Oregon Ridge & River Excursions, offers a float trip on the river followed by a salmon bake dinner on a private beach.
Aquatic action of a different sort can be found farther along the route: waterfalls. Two of the most spectacular are Watson Falls—the highest in southwest Oregon, plunging 272 feet—and Toketee Falls, a stunning two-tiered cascade with a 120-foot drop that will command your attention and inspire your camera work. A self-guided tour of 25 waterfalls is detailed in the free Thundering Waters brochure available from the visitors bureau.
Back in town, indulge yourself in a feast for the senses at the Douglas County Farmers' Market, with its fresh-cut flowers, home-baked goods, and cornucopia of fresh produce both foreign and familiar. Or visit Kruse Farms and pick up a fresh-baked marionberry pie with its rich blend of boysenberry and blackberry flavors. Many u-pick farms and produce stands are also sprinkled throughout the countryside.
With your picnic basket assembled, head off to Stewart Park, the starting point for paved bicycle and jogging trails that run along the river, through wooded areas and fields of green. For greens you can drive onto instead, the Oak Hills Golf Club will fit you to a tee. However, for fast action with true velocity, catch the stock car races at the Douglas County Speedway.
Slow down the pace with a tour of the area's wineries. Try award-winning pinot noir at the Henry Estate Winery. Taste one of the finest late-harvest rieslings in the valley at HillCrest Vineyard, Oregon's oldest varietal winery. And don't miss the 1999 syrah at Abacela Vineyards and Winery, the winner at this year's Greatest of the Grape, the state's longest-running winetasting event.
Complete your fine wine excursion with dinner at Pedotti's Italian Restaurant, where the food, hospitality, and cozy atmosphere are all first-rate and the pizza is the best in town.
It might actually surprise Aaron Rose to learn that his small investment in the Oregon frontier has grown into such a rich destination.
Planning Your Trip
All phone numbers are in the 541 area code unless noted. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington TourBook and map. For more information, contact the Roseburg Visitors & Convention Bureau, 672-9731, (800) 444-9584, www.visitroseburg.com .
D's Magnolia, 647 SE Jackson St., 672-1235. Specializing in prime rib, fresh seafood, and steak.
La Garza Cellars & Gourmet Kitchen, 491 Winery Lane, 679-9654. Gourmet lunch menu well worth a stop.
McMenamins Roseburg Station, 700 SE Sheridan St., 672-1934,www.mcmenamins.com .
Old Town Café, 527 SE Jackson St., 440-4901. Great omelettes and pancakes.
Pedotti's Italian Restaurant, 2566 NE Stephens St., 673-3721, www.pedottis.com .
Quality Inn, 427 NW Garden Valley Blvd. Seventy rooms and suites, including allergen- and odor-free Evergreen rooms. Best continental breakfast in town. Rates from $49 to $104. 673-5561, (800) 626-1900, www.meyercrest.com .
House of Hunter Bed & Breakfast Inn, 813 SE Kane St. Classic early-20th-century Italianate home. Two rooms, two suites. Rates from $65 to $95. 672-2335, (800) 540-7704, www.innsite.com/inns/A000930.html .
Steelhead Run Bed & Breakfast, 23049 N. Umpqua Hwy. (Hwy. 138), Glide. Large country buffet breakfast and spectacular view of the river. Rates from $68 to $150. 496-0563, (800) 348-0563, www.steelheadrun.com .
Things to See and Do
Douglas County Museum of History and Natural History, 123 Museum Dr. Sesquicentennial exhibit 150 Years of Memories. 957-7007,www.co.douglas.or.us/museum/ .
Oregon Ridge & River Excursions, river and mountain bike tours. 496-3333, (888) 454-9696, rafting. www.umpquarivers.com/ .
Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway, 172-mile driving route from Roseburg to Gold Hill.
Wildlife Safari, Milepost 119 in nearby Winston, 679-6761, (800) 355-4848,www.wildlifesafari.org .
Winery tour, self-guided tour of Umpqua Valley wineries. Wine Tour brochure available from Roseburg Visitors & Convention Bureau.
Winston-Dillard Melon Festival, parade and talent show. River Bend Park, September 13-15, 679-1299.
Fourth Annual Heritage Celebration, cultural festival. Umpqua Valley Arts Center in Fir Grove Park, September 21, 672-2532.
NASCAR Winston West Series, auto racing. Douglas County Speedway, September 21, 957-7010.
Photography by Rick Wetherbee
This article was first published in September 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.