By Cary Ordway
If Lewis and Clark had their pick of the entire Columbia River Gorge for a spot to build a luxury hotel – and they did, although luxury hotels probably weren’t at the top of their to-do list – they could not have done better than the spot chosen for the Skamania Lodge. It’s amazing, therefore, that this spot was still available when the hotel was built in the early 1990’s.
The location, about 45 miles from Portland on the Washington side of the river, boasts spectacular views upriver and is quite close to one of the spots Lewis and Clark actually camped. The hotel’s 85 acres of forest have been turned into a paradise for golfers, hikers and anyone who enjoys the great outdoors.
The hotel and the Gorge seem to be one with each other, and it’s like they are part of the same eco-system.
Designed to look just like those lodges built by the National Park Service at major tourist destinations around the country, the Skamania Lodge is what they call a “Cascadian-style” lodge that has Pacific Northwest written all over it with its three-story stone fireplace and sweeping river views from the main lobby. Upstairs the views are even more spectacular from many of the 254 rooms available for an overnight stay.
The hotel was put in this spot to celebrate the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, an 85-mile-long stretch of incredible scenery that has been preserved through its designation as a scenic area. The Gorge, which serves as the border between Washington and Oregon, is up to 4,000 feet deep in places and a visual wonder that makes it hard for you to keep your eyes on the road as you take in the overwhelming scenery along this stretch of highway. Visitors can travel the Gorge on the Washington side – mostly two-lane highway – and on the interstate highway that was built along the Oregon side.
There are several luxury hotels and resorts in the area as well as museums, shopping and a variety of towns such as Hood River, the Dalles, Goldendale, White Salmon and — the location of the Skamania Lodge — Stevenson, Washington. The Skamania Lodge ranks as one of the best choices for lodging.
During our brief stay, we enjoyed spending time hiking the grounds – there are three hiking trails for guests – and relaxing on the patio overlooking the Gorge. Fellow guests were busy on the golf course and some were trying out the resort’s new zip lines that, for $99 a person, let you experience a phenomena that has been growing in popularity over the past few years. Guests are attached to zip line cables that are strung through the forest canopy in such a way as to use gravity to propel guests from one station to the next – there are five altogether. It’s a thrill for all ages and completely safe.
If you want to take a short drive off property, you’ll find out why Skamania Lodge was so named. The word “skamania” means “swift water” and there are no fewer than 70 waterfalls nearby, including Multnomah Falls, the nation’s fifth highest. Bridges are spread throughout the Gorge scenic area so it’s easy to get to attractions on either side of the river.
Just cruising the nearby roads in the Gorge is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, stopping at the many trails, points of interest and viewpoints. In essence, this is a way to cross through the Cascade Mountain Range while remaining at sea level, and it’s fascinating to watch the change in topography and weather as you move from one side of the mountains to the other.
In addition to hiking, the Gorge is a hotbed of many other types of recreational activities including kayaking, skiing at Mt. Hood, and perhaps its most famous activity, windsurfing. The winds and scenery make this one of the nation’s premiere spots to windsurf and, for more than 20 years, the area has been known as a windsurfer’s paradise.
Back at the Skamania Lodge, we stopped in for a quiet dinner at the River Rock Lounge, recently renovated with a fun lodge-style decor offering great views of the Columbia River. The cuisine here was quite reasonably priced and is an especially good choice for the family on a budget. For those willing to splurge a little more, the Cascade Dining room is where you’ll find an enticing selection of entrees that focus on seasonal favorites as well as locally grown ingredients. House specialties include salmon, smoked pork loin and roasted Washington prime rib. Washington and Oregon wines and craft beers add to the regional flavor.
Retiring to our well-appointed room for the evening, we found the accommodations quiet, comfortable and enhanced by the panoramic view that our room had of the Columbia River Gorge. Because the lodge was built to face the Gorge, it’s a good bet your room will have a spectacular view as well.
While in the area, there are several visitor attractions worth checking out, including the Bonneville Lock and Dam Visitors Center, where you can learn about the history of the area and the Gorge lock system. At Cascade Locks, on the Oregon side, you can board the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler to get a water-level view of the Gorge.
Further east toward Goldendale, the Maryhill Winery is a popular stop-off for wine-lovers who love to combine their Gorge views with excellent local wine. Nearby is Maryhill Museum of Art, where you can view sculptures by Rodin as well as various American and European paintings and Native American artifacts.
There are many great shopping opportunities found throughout the region as well, such as Columbia Gorge Premium Outlets in Troutdale, Oregon.
For us, the Skamania Lodge turned out to be an excellent choice for our recent getaway to the Gorge – the only mistake we made was in not booking a longer stay.
For more information on the Skamania Lodge, please call 800-221-7117, or visit www.skamania.com.
For more information on getaways in the Pacific Northwest, be sure to check out www.northwesttraveladvisor.com.