BY ADAM SAWYER
Some of the most enticing natural beauty found anywhere in the Northwest resides within the boundaries of the region’s state parks. After all, that is what they are there for—to preserve unique landscapes for their beauty, historic value and recreation.
What is often overlooked among the list of attributes some state parks showcase is their unique lodging options. Indeed, overnight stays at Northwest state parks go well beyond standard RV and tent sites. For example, visitors can also enjoy a peaceful evening in a rustic riverside cabin. If one cabin isn’t enough, paddle from cabin to cabin along remote Alaskan lakeshores. Stay the night in a luxury-laden yurt, a teepee, or even a historic lighthouse keepers’ residence on the coast. Enticed? Justifiably so. Here’s a roundup of just some of the most unique lodging options found within our wondrous state parks.
Historic Room at the Frenchglen Hotel State Heritage Site
Southeastern Oregon might not be home to an abundance of human souls, but there is no scarcity when it comes to history, wildlife viewing and stunning scenery. Bring the binoculars on a driving tour through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Check out what one geologist labeled “the best and most diverse basaltic volcanic features in the United States, and all within a comparatively small and accessible area” at the Diamond Craters. When you’re done, check into the Frenchglen Hotel.
The historic hotel was a hostelry built in 1924 to provide overnight accommodations to stockmen visiting a local ranch. The hotel was transferred to the Oregon Parks and Recreation in 1973 and, since 1991, John Ross has been the hotel’s keeper. The rooms are comfortably rustic and the family-style meals, particularly dinner, are worth the price of admission. The company at tableside is typically comprised of some combination of hotel guests, locals and those just passing through. After dinner entertainment includes the view of Steens Mountain from the porch.
Deluxe Yurt at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
The Oregon coast’s Salmon Harbor Marina on Winchester Bay is renowned for being home to some of the best crabbing and sports fishing along the coastline of the Northwest. And the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park is located less than a mile from it. The park also happens to be located near an access point to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, and the campground and day-use areas sit on the banks of Lake Marie. The freshwater lake sports a sandy beach and is open to non-motorized boating, paddling and fishing.
In addition to more traditional RV and tent camping spots, the park provides rustic cabins and yurts capable of sleeping four or five comfortably. The lakeside cabins have covered porches and share access to the campground restroom and showers.
However, if “rustic roughing it” isn’t your speed, this is the only state park in Oregon that also offers deluxe yurts.
Six, in fact — each with an electric outdoor barbecue grill, a private bathroom and shower and a kitchenette with a fridge and microwave. Some come with a lake view, and a few even boast a TV and DVD player.
Lighthouse Keepers’ Residence at Cape Disappointment State Park
Considering that Cape Disappointment is home to a set of lighthouses, crashing Pacific surf, tideland, marshes, lakes, old-growth forest, crabbing and fishing options, and volumes of Native American tribal and Lewis and Clark history, it’s hard to imagine that a more representative Pacific Northwest state park exists. Throw in a number of classic viewpoints and some of the most walkable shoreline in Washington and consider any remaining doubt removed.
Lodging-wise, however, Cape Disappointment offers something utterly unique. Sure, the park is home to the aforementioned pair of lighthouses, but the North Head Lighthouse features a set of rentable, historic lighthouse keepers’ residences within walking distance of the beacon. Each home can accommodate up to six guests and provides overnight visitors with a living room, grand dining room, library and a well-equipped kitchen. So, not only do you get to sleep next to a lighthouse, you have all but guaranteed first access to the adjacent North Head Trail in the morning.
The TV series, “Ghost Adventures,” filmed an episode in one of the residences. So, whether or not you believe in ghosts, consider staying here an opportunity for a brush with the paranormal.
Teepee at Field Springs State Park
About as deep into the southeast corner of Washington as you can get, Field Springs State Park inhabits 826 acres of forested Blue Mountain bliss. In addition to 3 miles of hiking trails and 7 miles for biking, the year-round park sits in close proximity to some prime Grand Ronde River swimming spots. As for unique lodging options, Field Springs might be the Northwest State Park Grand Champion—home to two lodges, a cabin, and a set of teepees.
That’s right. During the summer months, guests can rent out one of two teepees. One has a raised wood floor and the other comes with indoor/outdoor carpet, but guests do need to bring their own sleeping bags and pads. Each resides in a secluded section of the park, is 18 feet in diameter, sleeps up to six people, and comes with a picnic bench and firepit as well as “I overnighted in a teepee” bragging rights.
Rustic Cabin at Hells Gate State Park
Another state park rich in geologic and human history, Hells Gate lies on the river bottom left over from a series of great ice age floods. The south end of the park is home to a rock formation known as the “Devil’s Slide,” a spectacular set of basaltic columns from the Pomona lava flows. The park was also once the site of a Nez Perce Village. Depressions found south of the campground are the remnants of pit houses used for years by Native tribal members fishing for lamprey on Asotin Creek. The outstanding onsite Lewis & Clark Discovery Center details it all and then some. The park is located on a shaded stretch of the Snake River that’s perfect for a quiet retreat—something they must have had in mind, because the park’s waterfront cabins are there to help you take advantage of the tranquil setting.
The no-frills cabins consist of a small room with a table, pull-out bed (bring your own bedding or sleeping bag) and air conditioning. They also come equipped with a porch swing on a covered front deck, a raised firebox and a picnic table. Some select cabins are also pet-friendly.
Paddle Cabin-to-Cabin at Nancy Lakes State Recreation Area
Mat-Su Valley is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise—particularly for those that enjoy paddling or birding. The area is a series of interconnected lakes scattered throughout a nearly 23,000-acre park. Rent a canoe and explore the Lynx Lake Canoe Trail, which travels through an 8-mile chain of lakes. The system is small enough to be completed in a full day but can be turned into an epic weekend getaway thanks to the public-use cabins found along the trail.
The 13 rustic lakeshore cabins are available for rent by the public up to six months in advance, which is highly recommended. Many of the cabins are only accessible by boat in the summer or snowshoes, skis or snowmobile in the winter, and come equipped with just the basics—a heating stove, wooden bunks and a latrine. But each comes standard with ample Alaska scenery and solitude.
BOOKING STATE PARK LODGING