The leaves are changing colors, and the weather is getting chilly. It’s time to unearth the sweaters and boots, grab a large cup of coffee, and relax in front of a crackling fire in a beautiful lodge to soak up the season. Lucky for us, there are plenty of lodges close by for a quick trip.
Minam River Lodge
Golden wheat fields abruptly gave way to mountain country as we flew from Walla Walla over the Blue Mountains. Deep creases pinch the landscape of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, part of Oregon’s Wallowa mountain range. Elk can be found on the pronounced ledges in early spring, where snow first melts and new grass lures them to linger on the precipice for a meal. Below, the writhing ribbon of the Minam River guides us to the landing strip, a grass-covered field just long enough to land the Cessna 206. The Minam River Lodge is truly off the grid, so remote that it is only accessible by plane, hike, or horseback ride.
Our luggage hitched a ride up the dusty hill in a golf cart, while my daughter and I stretched our legs. At the top of the hill sits the lodge — a labor of love that took six years to build. All materials had to be flown in or hewn onsite. Originally a hunting lodge, built by Mert and Erma Loree in 1950, the property changed hands several times over the decades.
Current owner Barnes Ellis remembers visiting it as a kid. When he saw it up for auction in the newspaper, Ellis got curious and hiked out to find the place in shambles and beyond repair. He purchased it anyway in 2011 and began the lengthy process of clearing the site and rebuilding the main lodge along with several cabins, adding yurts, teepees, staff quarters, and even a wood-burning hot tub.
The interior of the main lodge is beautiful, all honey-colored wood, massive beams, and windows. Sitting areas flank the main open room, dominated by long communal dining tables. At the back is a shiny fir bar and open kitchen with hanging pots and shelves of spices and extracts including a jar of Ponderosa bark “vanilla” that chef Carl uses to flavor the Ponderosa sugar cookies baked daily. Fat jars of pickled or fermented vegetables line the countertop. The lodge grows most of the produce in an onsite garden and the chef spends a good portion of his day smoking meat out back in the fire pit.
My daughter ran off to explore the property while I unpacked in our cabin — a duplex divided into Morel and Chanterelle rooms. A wood-burning fireplace stood in the corner next to a single chair; the bed was dressed with practical Pendleton wool. A shiny copper sink and a black-tiled shower gave the bathroom a modern rustic feel.
A family with two young boys arrived, dusty from hiking in on the trail. As kids with no electronic devices are apt to do, the three made fast friends.
Inside, an assortment of musical instruments and board games dots the sitting rooms. During the long, leisurely days of our stay, I taught my daughter how to play chess. We also tested out the wood-burning hot tub tucked back in the woods. The tub is made of vertical planks and looks for the entire world like a giant wine barrel with a black chimney. Meals were a treat — organically grown food picked that day and bread baked from a sourdough starter made onsite, slow-smoked pork shoulder, and warm chocolate chip cookies with ice cream. Dinners are served family-style, and everyone gets to engage the old-fashioned way with conversation and stories — a refreshing break from the outside world.
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A Rustic Retreat in Enterprise
By many standards, the city of Enterprise is a tiny pin drop on the map in northeast Oregon, but it actually boasts being the largest city in Wallowa County, with nearly 2,000 restaurants. Soon to celebrate its 130-year anniversary, the quaint town is a beautiful stopover before hopping on a plane for a 20-minute ride to the Minam River Lodge. Get out of the chilly weather and peruse the Favorite Finds on Main antique shop before settling down with a burger and steak fries at the Western saddle-adorned Range Rider Tavern or a hot cinnamon roll at the Red Rooster Café.
The cold season calls for dark liquors. So, if you have time, drive six miles southeast to the city of Joseph, where Stein Distillery is located, and pick up a bottle of “the first Made-in-Oregon” bourbon, Stein’s Bourbon, which boasts heavenly honey, orange, and toffee notes perfect for autumn. You’ll be glad you grabbed it when you’re soaking in the wood-burning hot tub at Minam River.
Wine Country in Walla Walla
If you’re planning to depart by plane from Walla Walla, make time to enjoy its crowning jewels: wineries. With 120 to choose from, narrowing your selection will be the most taxing part of your post-summer retreat. After you’ve had a glass or two of wine, walk the downtown corridor for a bite to eat, and get ahead with holiday gift giving at the local boutiques. Plan your trip right, and you may be able to fill up on fall’s bounty at the Saturday Downtown Farmers Market, which runs through October.
When you arrive
Guided Horseback Riding: Exploring the terrain from the vantage of a horse is truly something special. Bundle up and weave around the alpine lakes and meadows during a half-day trail ride atop one of the six horses housed at the lodge. If you’re feeling more adventurous, contact Eagle Cap Wilderness Outfitters located at the Moss Springs trailhead and the wranglers will guide you on a horseback ride to the lodge with pack mules.
Fishing: Though fishing the Minam River during the fall months is less of an attraction, it’s a serene way to take in the scenery, and several people can still be found with their fishing poles hoping for a catch. Rainbow trout, brown trout, and whitefish can be found in the river located just a few paces from the lodge. It’s mostly catch-and-release, but enjoyable all the same.
Hiking: You’d be remiss to visit this secluded paradise and not explore the landscape. Being that it’s in the thick of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, more than 500 miles of trails is accessible, skirting around wild rivers and nearly 60 alpine lakes. — Shelby Rowe Moyer
Timberline Lodge is more than just a big building. Anchored in Depression-era grit and determination, the historic structure creaks and groans like a living thing. Located at 6,000 feet above sea level on the flanks of Oregon’s Mount Hood, the iconic timber and stone structure was commissioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 and finished in less than a year. Every day, anywhere between 100 and 500 workers labored for less than $1 per day hewing logs and cutting stone. Everything about the place is super-sized, from the massive timber beams to the 800,000-pound central fireplace. Many of the decorative accents were products of necessity — the drapes made from former workers’ blankets, the brown-faced skunk in the entry mosaic because they ran out of black tiles. Even the chains in front of the fireplaces started their looped-and-linked lives attached to the trucks hauling supplies during construction. Now they jingle melodically every time an employee adds another log to the fire, like they’re tickled to be useful even in what amounts to chain retirement.
Before the Kohnstamm family purchased the lodge in 1951, it fell into serious disrepair and was abandoned to the natural elements for a time. More than once, “burn it down” was lobbed into the conversation. But the Kohnstamms endured and restored, and eventually Timberline was declared a National Historic Landmark (1977).
The “fire solution” is now confined to the snap, crackle, pop of logs in the lobby fireplace, where winter skiers warm their hands and guests sip hot chocolate while reading a book or chatting with friends. Upstairs at the Ram’s Head Bar, the après ski crowds sip Oregon wines and craft beers, huddled around ramekins of fondue. On weekends and holidays, the Blue Ox Bar opens on the first floor. A former speakeasy, the Blue Ox — named for the stained-glass mosaic of Paul Bunyan’s trusty companion — now serves as a cozy watering hole famous for its hand-tossed pizzas and semi-secret vibe.
The lodge’s main restaurant is the Cascade Dining Room, where “Lodge Chef” Jason Stoller Smith showcases Oregon’s bounty with a sustainable farm-to-table menu. Stoller Smith pioneered the lodge’s proprietary beef program: Each year, it purchases 52 head of cattle that are fed and managed to specifications on an eastern Oregon ranch. Between the six restaurants on the property, the culinary team utilizes one cow per week as part of the gate-to-plate model for burgers in the cafeteria, braised beef for the tacos at Phlox Point Cabin, and steaks and French onion soup at the Cascade Dining Room.
Guest rooms feel like miniature cabins with honey-colored wood-paneled walls, comfortable beds, and a variety of arrangements to accommodate families.
Stories, spooky and tame, abound at Timberline from its construction onward, but its spookiest claim to fame is that it was used to film the 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, standing in for The Grand Overlook Hotel. I had fun taking sinister-looking photos down the hallway corridors and even got to hold the commemorative ax emblazoned with “Here’s Johnny” (while practicing my murdering rampage face — who knew it came so naturally?). “Halloween is off the chain here,” noted one employee.
But for the most part, Timberline Lodge radiates comfort with happy families hanging out in the lobby wearing pajamas and borrowed slippers, couples snuggling in for a romantic weekend getaway, and friends hanging out after a day on the slopes. The heated outdoor pool and hot tub soothe sore muscles, and the sauna eases away any remnants of chill.
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Hit the Slopes Early
Timberline Lodge keeps skiers and boarders cozy when they come off the slopes from Timberline Ski Resort, where beginners to diehards can enjoy the longest ski season in North America. The season is in full swing by November and lasts all the way through May, and the area even opens for snowy weekends in September and October — meaning your new favorite fall activity could be carving turns instead of carving pumpkins.
Discover Haunts from ‘The Shining’
The Shining’s haunted Room 237 doesn’t actually exist in Timberline Lodge, which was used in the film to portray the outside of The Grand Overlook Hotel. The original room number from Stephen King’s novel, however, is 217, and it has become the most highly requested room in the hotel. What better time to explore ghost territory than during Halloween season? If you can’t get the room, rest assured that older parts of the hotel are said to be haunted with the spirits of climbers and skiers who went exploring on Mount Hood and never made it back.
Sit Back and Relax
Not into ski sports or spooks? Don’t worry: The Mount Hood area still has plenty to offer you. Settle in at the Y’Bar in the Wy’East Day Lodge, and get ready for some cozy cocktails. Winners of past menus include Hot Buttered Rum — Timberline Lodge’s original recipe, made with Bacardi rum and served with nutmeg and a cinnamon stick — and Paradise Peak, a mix made with cranberry, rosemary, cinnamon, and hot cider. Pair these delicious libations with access to a pool, hot tub, and sauna, and you have a perfectly relaxing fall retreat to chase away the rainy blues. — Zoe branch
Alderbrook Resort & Spa
Soaring ceilings supported by exposed timber beams and a huge stone fireplace cause newly arrived guests to look up when entering the lobby of this lodge set on the eastern shore of Hood Canal, but a furry leg rub by one of the resort’s cats — Alder or Brook — brings the gaze back down. In the corner, a game of chess is underway; musical instruments hang on the wall awaiting talented fingers to coax out a song.
The resort was originally built in 1913. At that time, there wasn’t even an access road; visitors had to arrive by boat. The property went through a series of owners over the years and fell into disrepair before former Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes and his wife, Tricia purchased the resort in 2001. Restoring Alderbrook was a labor of love, spurred on by Tricia’s fond childhood memories of vacationing along Hood Canal.
The L-shaped lodge features a variety of guest rooms, many with views of the water and hills beyond. Adirondack chairs line the lawn facing the Puget Sound while more lounge seating circles around fire pits, ideal for a late afternoon nap or an evening glass of wine while watching the sunset. Down at the dock, rent water equipment like SUP boards, kayaks, and Hydrobikes as well as motorized watercraft. The resort offers daily narrated excursions on its yacht, the Lady Alderbrook.
Other activities include an indoor pool and hot tub with views of the water, a series of hiking trails located behind the resort, and hitting the links at Alderbrook Golf Club across the street. Don’t miss a sumptuous dinner featuring fresh seafood and local wines at the resort’s restaurant.
Other dining options in the Union area include the kitschy Robin Hood Restaurant Pub, treats at Union City Market, delicious Mexican cuisine at Dos Margaritas, and surprisingly awesome milkshakes at the nearby Texaco station. If time permits, drive around the south end of the canal and explore the western shore. Lunch at Hama Hama Oyster Saloon is a must — fresh and roasted oysters, clams, incredible crab cakes, even the grilled cheese sandwich with onions is fantastic. Pair with a local beer or wine and a view that won’t quit to make for the perfect afternoon combination.
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Grab your jacket, boots, and a hat and bring your appetite to Hama Hama Company, a fifth-generation, family-run oyster farm. Here you can see the farm, listen to sea lions bark in the distance, and learn all about those briny beloved bivalves that are harvested right there.
Pull up a chair at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon — open-air huts added in 2014 that resemble 1920s-style logger bathhouses — and slurp and sample some of the freshest seafood as the salty air blows on your face. The menu is always changing, but expect to find things like oysters that are roasted and served with fancy butter sauces, and ice-cold oysters on the half shell, as well as steamed clams; crab cakes; and local brews to wash it all down with, like Finnriver Cider. They even have peanut butter and jelly sammies for the less adventurous in your group. Speaking of groups: If you are bringing more than 10 people, give them a heads-up.
If oysters intimidate you, check the website for classes, where they will show you how to shuck and eat them! Super oyster fans will enjoy the store, where they can take oysters to-go or buy cool oyster fan gear — like Hama Hama trucker hats, oh yeah. hamahamaoysters.com
Is Fruity Wine Your Jam?
The Hoodsport Winery is a must stop anytime you are in the area, especially if you love fruit-forward wines — perfect for fall is the apple or blackberry wine. It also has gourmet jams, chocolaty-boozy truffles, and a selection of gourmet coffees. Get good ole merlot, chardonnay, and other less-fruity wines, too. Hoodsport Winery was one of the first in the state, opening in 1978. hoodsport.com
Pick a Pumpkin
Is it really fall if you didn’t go to a farm and pick a pumpkin? Nope. While in the Hood Canal area, stop by Hunter Farms off State Route 106 in Union. This farm dates back to the 1880s and, in the fall, offers a pumpkin patch, corn maze, and hay rides. hunter-farms.com — Lisa Patterson
Located at the tip of the mile-plus Semiahmoo Spit, the V-shaped sunny yellow lodge overlooks Semiahmoo Bay with beautiful sunset views to the west and the Canadian town of White Rock to the north. The spit is just over a mile long and at its narrowest around 200 feet wide. Rocky beaches strewn with driftwood in places line its perimeter. Parents can relax in an Adirondack chair on the resort’s expansive lawn while the kids hunt for colorful rock treasures. Patio games, like giant Jenga, will you help you wind down with a nightly bonfire, complete with s’mores materials.
The lodge features a library stocked with board games, an indoor hot tub, indoor/outdoor pool, pickleball courts, a fantastic fitness center, and a spa offering massages and other pampering services. Work on your golf game with the onsite golf simulator — it can accommodate up to six people at one time. On weekend nights, catch a kid-friendly movie on the “big screen” in the theater room. Guest rooms are simple and comfortable; many have balconies overlooking the bay.
Watching my teens navigate a tandem bike was almost as much fun as the guided bike tour along the spit. Bikes, kayaks, and SUP boards are available for rent at the Beach Activity Center, along with lessons and tours.
Dining options are few and far between outside of the resort, so stick around and enjoy a bite with a view at Packers Kitchen & Bar, featuring fresh seafood like oysters on the half shell, locally sourced produce, charcuterie boards, pub favorites, and elegant entrees (breakfast and lunch are also available). The bar has a casual seaside vibe and a seasonal outdoor patio.
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An Apple-Fueled Excursion
Bellewood Acres, in the nearby town of Lynden, boasts a whopping 25,000-tree orchard. Hop on board the “Apple Bin Express” train to explore the orchard and pick fresh apples along the way. You can continue your ride on into the pumpkin patch and admire the scenic views of Mount Baker in the background. The farm has its own market, café, and distillery with farm-fresh meals and spirits distilled from its own fruits and grains. Bellewood Acres is open daily through the month of October.
Bellingham Pumpkin Ales
The city of Bellingham, just south of Semiahmoo, is home to numerous local craft breweries. During your fall excursion, we suggest you tour the local beer scene and compare the various pumpkin ales to choose from. Our favorite is the Horseman’s Head from Kulshan Brewing Co., but we’ll let you be the judge. You can visit the breweries individually or attend Bellingham’s annual Oktoberfest event on Oct. 6 at Bellingham Technical College.
Scenic Drive Along Chuckanut
One of our favorite autumn activities is simply taking in all the changing colors. We suggest driving down the famous Chuckanut Drive for unbeatable scenery, especially during this time of year. Take Chuckanut, or state Highway 11, into Whatcom County on your way up to Semiahmoo. The road weaves through ancient forests and along the beautiful Bellingham Bay, unveiling nonstop picturesque scenery along the way. Instead of simply passing through Larrabee State Park, park the car and take one of the many hiking trails to really get face-to-face with all those reds and oranges we can’t get enough of.
The Sweet Side of Fall Flavors
Is it really even fall if you aren’t shoveling pumpkin pie into your mouth? Barb’s Pies and Pastries in the town of Ferndale is a vacation indulgence you can’t pass up. If you’re not a fan of pumpkin (crazy, in our opinion), there are plenty of other options to choose from, including blackberry, peach, pecan, and raspberry rhubarb. If you call ahead, you can have Barb make your pie gluten-free for only a couple extra dollars. This family-owned bakery uses fresh, local ingredients in every bite, and you can tell the recipes have been passed down for generations. — Melissa McCarthy