People go to the Columbia Gorge for its beauty and outdoor adventures.

We go to Hood River to watch wind surfers and to sample craft beer.

You go to the Columbia Gorge Hotel to step back in time to 1921.

It stands boldly with a commanding view and is a symbol of historic nostalgia for the city.

Atop a rocky cliff beside the Columbia River, the hotel was designed to lord over the waters below, shepherding travelers fresh from the steamboats that traversed the waters. Silent film stars and presidents among its noted visitors, all walking the hallways, dining rooms and gardens that are there still today.

Columbia Gorge Hotel Garden Bridge
Pathways, stonework and water are throughout the gardens. Photo Credit: Rebecca Sanchez

You go to the Columbia Gorge Hotel to be in its gardens. Designed in Spanish villa-style and four stories high with a viewing tower above it all, it is visible from any part of the grounds. The gardens are lush with pine and fir, maple and oak, among sculpted shrub and verge. Paths wind through shade and out onto open lawn, over stone bridges and down rocky paths. Visitors can circumnavigate the entire property. Each opportunity to gaze out over the Columbia River is stunning. You can stand poised on the precipices while bracing the gorge winds, or can pause along the stone railing that allows for a view down the waterfall. It plunges down to the railroad tracks and out to the river. In autumn, it is a calico of colorful fall foliage, a scene usually relegated to the covers of jigsaw puzzle boxes. It used to be that up this hillside was a path. The passengers from the steamboats would disembark and ascend the path and stairs up to the hotel.

Columbia Gorge Hotel Lobby
A grand, round sofa sits in the middle of the main lobby. Photo Credit: Rebecca Sanchez

You go to relax. Through French doors, through the lobby under a high ceiling of hand-sculpted beams, scanning the crown molding, down to the round emerald green lobby sofa. It is here in the lobby that visitors get their first grand look at the hotel’s inner architecture. And it was through this lobby that walked Rudolph Valentino, President Taft and Shirley Temple – all guests. The lounge is now named for Valentino. Two major dining rooms, ball room size, span the width of the building. The river side of the dining area is walled with windowpanes that stretch high. Views of the Columbia, flowers in vases, dinnerware set up and linens smoothed just so, make for either the eloquent or romantic atmosphere.

You go to experience the journey to your room. From arriving on the grounds and absorbing the greenery outside and strolling wide eyed through the lobby, one must climb to the room for respite. In 1921, guests may have asked for an elevator ride to reach the second or third floors. Today it’s still an option, by request of course. The original Otis elevator is manually operated. It still has its deadman switch that the operator slides back and forth to raise and lower the car. Upon reaching your floor, the operator carefully aligns the bottom of the elevator car with the building floor surface. A button on the wall “calls” the elevator by letting the operator know which floor needs it.

Columbia Gorge Hotel Stairwell
Broad, open stairwells lead to guest rooms on each floor. Photo Credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Walking upstairs to your room is equally an experience. Wide steps of decorated carpet, mauve wallpaper, emerald trim and heavy wood banisters take you up or down. Light beams in the large windows at each turn of the steps, even on a cloudy day. Chandeliers light the next level as you pass through more French paned double doors. The floors beyond are reserved for hotel staff use only. The staircase continues and narrows to a tower and parapet that overlook the property and out onto the river. It was from here that hotel staff would watch for arriving boats. Boat captains would blow their horn to indicate how many passengers they would deliver so the hotel staff could prepare.

You go because the Columbia Gorge is home to much history. Native American lore treasures the stories of many tribes. The Bridge of the Gods was here, and the snowy mountain peaks are ghosts. Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea and William Grey explored along these waters. In fact, the Lewis and Clark journals have recorded comments on this very site.

Simon's Cliff House Restaurant
A view of the Columbia River can be seen from the restaurant’s grand wall of windows. Photo Credit: Rebecca Sanchez

On the hotel site once stood the Phelps Mill in the 1800s, on Phelps Creek. The 20-room Wah Gwin Gwin Hotel took its place in 1904, named for the property’s waterfall, The Wah Gwinn Gwin Falls. There is still an old photo out there of the first hotel, with its covered porch and wood siding, much different than the one standing there today.

Nothing can equal and nothing can surpass. It is superfluous in the Gorge when it comes to villas on a cliff. It is an escape to 1921, to nostalgic luxury, ballroom ceilings and towering paned windows at dinner. It is a cliff-side view and a stone bridge to stroll over in the garden. It’s the linen table clothes, the tiny salt and pepper shakers on your room service tray, glass goblets of ice water and the coffee service at seven.

It is unmatched in its eccentric atmosphere. It’s a destination. It’s the Columbia Gorge Hotel.

The Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa is located at 4000 Westcliff Drive in Hood River, Oregon.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email