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Driving Highway 38 to the Southern Oregon Coast

Follow the Umpqua to the Pacific, and you'll find historic towns and great eats along the way.

The Umpqua River Lighthouse features a Fresnel lens with over 1,000 prisms.

Manuela Durson / Shutterstock

If you're headed to Oregon's south coast this fall, don't hurry. Take the easy, pretty route on Highway 38. The byway snakes through the Oregon Coast Range, passing pioneer towns, elk herds, and chain-saw art.

Drain's turret-topped Victorian mansions, resplendent in yellow, maroon, and lime green, reveal the woodsy hamlet's creative streak. So, too, does the Creator's, an old-school establishment that serves up antiques—and ice cream. Sip a root beer float as you browse rustic farmhouse signs, vintage auto parts, and other whatnots.

Some 200 years ago, Fort Umpqua put Elkton on the map. A decade ago, local volunteers returned the favor, faithfully reconstructing the mid-1800s fort, complete with 12-foot-high stockade walls. Wander the former fur-trading post, then toast the town with a glass of deliciously bone-dry rosé on the back patio at Brandborg Vineyard's tasting room.

Now considered a ghost town, tiny Scottsburg flourished as a port for miners in the 1800s. Peruse plaques on the buildings to relive the glory days when hundreds of people and pack animals passed through en route to the mines. Speaking of animals, a herd of Roosevelt elk gather to graze about 12 miles away, and they seem to pose for photographers who stop near the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area.

photo of yellow Labrador retriever hiking at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Hiking at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

CSNafzger / Shutterstock

Together with its neighbor, Winchester Bay, Reedsport is known as the "Heart of the Oregon Dunes"— a set of white, windswept hills that run for 40 miles along the coast. Dip into the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area Visitor Center for the scoop on hikes such as the Tahkenitch Creek Trail, a short path with glorious ocean panoramas. Afterward, treat yourself to a wood-fired pizza from Rust'd Star or a stroll through Ellie's Chainsaw Carving Gallery.

Snag a table at Rockabilly Roasters Cafe in Winchester Bay, and you can eat overlooking the docks where the Umpqua meets the sea. Regulars rave about the hash brown–crusted pie, which layers a cheesy egg filling with bacon, spinach, mushrooms, onions, and tomato. Then drop by the Umpqua River Lighthouse, which boasts a rare red Fresnel lens. You might even spot a migrating gray whale from the viewing platform.

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