Looking to stay somewhere in the Pacific Northwest a bit off the beaten track — or just a tad unusual?
These eight unique stays — three of them in national parks — stand out, either for going the extra mile or providing exceptional experiences for the intrepid explorers among us.
One is in a series of vintage trailers in Oregon; another is in a Victorian setting in Eastern Washington; and yet another is an artist’s refuge in the desert. One has sweeping views of the Columbia Gorge and another is a series of wooden globes suspended in a Canadian rainforest.
From the Painted Hills of Oregon to deep into British Columbia, these eight little lodges are worth a look.
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Base Camp at North Cascades Environmental Learning Center
1940 Diablo Dam Road, Rockport, Skagit County; 360-854-2599; ncascades.org/basecamp
Nightly rates: $92-$200, depending on the season. Facilities are open February-November. Vaccination required for adults and children 6 and older.
What most people driving the remote North Cascades Highway may not realize is they don’t have to drive back toward Sedro-Woolley to find lodging; there’s a place on the shores of Diablo Lake, at North Cascades Environmental Learning Center’s base camp.
Anyone can book a night there even if not registered for a class or a retreat. There are rooms in three lodges nestled in the woods, plus a lakeside dining hall that serves three meals a day (the lunch is brown bag). Much of the facility is accessible and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Rooms come with twin-size bunk beds and a desk and chair. You can walk the shores of the lake or hike to a nearby waterfall, plus hunt for mushrooms or go stargazing.
The base camp is, at heart, an educational program, so efforts are made to educate visitors about the region. Diablo Lake boat tours are available on weekends from July through Labor Day, plus a bookstore at the learning center is stocked with maps of the area. My daughter keeps asking to go back so she can swim in the (freezing) turquoise-tinted lake. Availability is limited in the summer, so book ahead of time.
The Society Hotel — Bingen
210 N. Cedar St., Bingen, Klickitat County; 509-774-4437; thesocietyhotel.com/bingen
Nightly rates: $35-$55 (bunks); $85-$170 (schoolhouse rooms); $210-$400 (cabins)
Located in a former schoolhouse underneath soaring Columbia River bluffs, this hotel has a biblio-hippie vibe. The dining room/lobby area is flanked by an enormous case of vintage books next to a fireplace and close to an array of furniture configured to make you want to linger.
The hotel’s claim to fame is its spa, which includes a saltwater pool, sauna, cold plunge and outdoor hot tub. You have to book time there, even if you’re a hotel guest, as the hotel allots some spots to the public. A collection of cabin rooms surrounds the spa with outdoor hammocks strung between them. Certain rooms have an enviable view of the Columbia River Gorge.
We stayed in the original schoolhouse in rooms down a hallway lined by antique lockers. Each door sported a subject taught 80 years ago (ours was art). Presented in minimalist Scandinavian style, the rooms are pristine (albeit a bit of a squeeze for two). At one end of the building are luxe hostel rooms with triple-decker bunk beds, thick mattresses and a common area.
There’s food and drink served all day in the lobby, but I’d recommend a visit to Murphy’s Family Watering Hole on Highway 14, which was comfortable and kid-friendly. Or check out Harvest Market, a delightful and quirky food store up the hill in White Salmon that has local wines and coffees, a boba tea bar and unique snacks.
235 E. Main St., Dayton, Columbia County; 509-382-4032; weinhard.com
Nightly rates: $143-$219, depending on the season.
One New Year’s Eve weekend, we got to stay in this Victorian establishment northeast of Walla Walla while trying out the nearby Bluewood ski area. It is certainly worth a return trip.
Considering the season, we weren’t able to take advantage of the renovated rooftop garden, but we did luxuriate in our canopied bed, antique furniture, 1890s-style flowered carpets and the large lobby decorated for Christmas. It’s also fun to hang out at the Jacob’s Public House restaurant and gift shop next door.
The original building was constructed in 1890 by brewer Jacob Weinhard as a lodge hall and saloon, then converted into a hotel in 1994 with some of the same wainscoting, hardware, doors and moldings from the original hall. Since we stayed there, there’s been a change of ownership, with more goodies added, such as continental breakfasts, electric vehicle chargers in the side parking lot and a free bottle of local wine. Consider this a pleasant respite just north of Walla Walla wine country.
Painted Hills Vacation Cottages & Retreat
213 S.E. Rosenbaum St., Mitchell, Oregon; 541-462-3921; paintedhillsvacation.com
Nightly rates: $150-$235
As you drive up the incline overlooking the tiny town of Mitchell in Eastern Oregon, the first thing you notice about these cottages is the art.
A small platform has two large landscape paintings and nearby is a cleverly painted map of the area, which includes the famed Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The Painted Hills, a mere 7 miles away, are psychedelic landscapes of red-, yellow- and black-striped hills created over a 33-million-year period. The stripes, which are volcanic ash, petrified plant material and fossil soils, create landscapes that draw tourists and artists from around the world.
One of those artists, Achim Jacobi, and his wife, Barbara, settled on a bluff overlooking Mitchell some 25 years ago. Today, Barbara and her daughter, Aruna Jacobi, oversee four cottages decorated with Achim’s paintings surrounded by lush gardens, old apple trees and grassy spaces nearly unheard of in this desert spot. The cottages accommodate anywhere from two to 15 people and there is a tiny art gallery/studio on the property. The cottages are painted in bold, bright hues and come with kitchens that look out on the hollyhocks, roses, lilacs, herbs, benches and lawn chairs in this leafy paradise.
The Vintages Trailer Resort
16205 S.E. Kreder Road, Dayton, Oregon; 971-267-2130; the-vintages.com
Nightly rates: $95-$550, depending on unit and season.
The Willamette Valley has plenty of fun places to stay, but one of the newer kids on the block offers the chance to relive the 1960s. Rows of maple trees line an avenue of 36 restored trailers: various sleek Airstreams and Neutrons, Shasta Airflytes, a yellow-and-white retro Boles Aero, a lime green Westwood and many others dating from the 1940s to 2010. One 1956 Spartan Royal Mansion sports its own hot tub. We stayed in a 1966 Overlander, which was plenty spacious for an adult and a teenager.
Although they call it “glamping” because of the lounge chairs and grills outside, the places are more like luxurious cabins. Interiors have been refurbished with high-speed internet, modern bathrooms and up-to-date appliances. Generally, they sleep up to three adults or adults with children. The trailers are heated. A pool is available during summers and visitors can borrow bikes. A general store, stocked with snacks and basic necessities, is at one end of the property. The locale is smack in the middle of gorgeous wine country and fields of hazelnut tree groves.
We found plenty to do nearby. Up the hill is Durant Vineyards, with a tasting room that enjoys a 180-degree view to the south of both the Cascades and the coast; almost within walking distance is Stoller Family Estate, another vast vineyard with an 8,000-square-foot tasting room boasting expansive views; and a few miles west in McMinnville is Wings and Waves Waterpark, featuring an actual 747 sitting atop a glass-walled building reinforced to withstand the weight of the plane, which was gutted and fitted to serve as the dispatch area for slides that snake to the pools below.
Free Spirit Spheres
420 Horne Lake Road, Qualicum Beach, B.C.; 250-757-9445; freespiritspheres.com
Rates: $277-$308. Closed during winter months. No guests under 16. Bring your passport.
Free Spirit calls itself “the most unique accommodation in the world,” which may be a bit of an overreach, but it’s hard not to rave about this place.
This quiet resort in the Vancouver Island rainforest has three wooden, globe-shaped treehouses hanging about 15 feet off the ground, suspended by Polysteel ropes fixed to neighboring trees. Weighing a ton each, they are named Luna, Melody and Eryn. Measuring 10-and-a-half-feet wide, Melody has music from Beethoven’s Ninth painted on the exterior; Eryn comes with a small loft. Luna, which has a hydraulic Murphy bed, is the most luxurious of the three. All sleep either two or three adults.
Visitors ascend spiral-shaped staircases wrapped about trees to get to these orbs, which are outfitted with circular windows with views into the tree canopy. They’re equipped with five windows, a bed, heaters, a table, Wi-Fi, electricity and a pit toilet on the ground below. Upon entering these lodgings, we were greeted with makings for tea, coffee and various pastries.
Central to the area is a placid pond and plenty of places to sit and meditate among the cedars and firs. There is a bathhouse just off a flower-bedecked veranda where guests can lounge or use the microwave, tiny kitchen, sink or barbecue.
Fort St. James National Historic Site
280 Kwah Road, Fort St. James, B.C.; 250-996-7191, ext. 25; st.news/StJames
Murray House rates: $101 per adult, $66 per child ages 4-12, children 3 and under free. Site is open May 21-Sept. 5.
One of the best-kept secrets of the Canadian parks system is an 1896-era fort on the shores of Lake Stuart some 581 miles north of Vancouver. Fort St. James National Historic Site contains Canada’s largest collection of fur-trade-era wooden buildings from the 1800s, and visitors can spend the night.
We chose the Murray House, which sleeps five. Murray House is an officer’s quarters that is stuffed with antiques, including a child’s cradle of that era that swings by ropes attached to the ceiling. To lend authenticity to one’s stay, lights are dimmed in the evening to mimic candlelight; games like checkers, cribbage and crokinole, the latter from rural Canada, are set out. Fortunately, one is not forced to use the outhouses of the era; a new bathroom with heated floors and a shower is nearby.
The lodging price includes a very sumptuous dinner in a cafe walking distance from Murray House on the lake, as well as a substantial breakfast. One can then tour 19th-century buildings on the grounds, many of which are staffed by employees in period dress who explain the history of the fur trade that led to the colonization of Western Canada. Be sure to stick around for the daily chicken races at 11:30 a.m.
Barkerville Historic Town and Park — Saint George Hotel
14301 B.C. Highway 26, Barkerville, B.C.; 250-994-2345; barkerville.ca/places-to-stay
Rates: $105-$117. The season is June 4-Sept. 18.
Western Canada has another historical park set in the 1860s Cariboo gold rush: Barkerville Historic Town and Park.
As claims in California tapped out, miners such as British prospector Bill Barker moved north. In 1862 at Williams Creek, some 464 miles north of Vancouver, Barker found the world’s largest creekside gold nugget deposit. What resulted was Barkerville, which became the largest city west of St. Louis and north of San Francisco where thousands of miners set up shop.
Today, the town is western North America’s largest living history museum, encompassing 169 historical buildings on a site four times the size of Colonial Williamsburg. One of those buildings is the Saint George Hotel, a large house with seven rooms that was once a saloon run by a Madame Bendixson, a proprietor of questionable morals. There is a lovely second-floor balcony from which people can watch the main thoroughfare below.
There is a minimum two-day stay, which is understandable considering the sheer size of this town, which is populated during daytime hours by costumed actors who wander the streets amusing tourists with stories of the good old days of gold panning. In two nights and a full day, we didn’t get to half the exhibits. Be sure to arrive before 6 p.m., after which the main office is closed, and you have to figure out your own way to the hotel.