A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED vacation lodge is so inviting that you can spend a whole weekend within shouting distance of the front desk. We found four one-stop inns: in the San Juan Islands, on the Olympic Peninsula, next to Mount Rainier, and perched on the Columbia River Gorge.
Lake Quinault Lodge
The long lawn that slopes down from this hotel to Lake Quinault is spotted with pairs of Adirondack chairs, and multicolored canoes are stacked like cordwood. You might as well be at a 1950s Catskills resort, not the Olympic Peninsula. The open plain encourages low-key mingling; strangers teach one another the rules for playing horseshoes and explain to European tourists that yes, they’re really in a rain forest.
Set on the rim of the Olympic National Park, the hotel looks every inch like a Roosevelt stayed here. The original 1926 wood-shingled building is inhabited by a ghost named Beverly and, more significantly, adheres to the century-old standards of lodging accommodations. In the 30 small lodge rooms, pedestal sinks don’t even fit in the bathrooms. Three ancillary buildings exchange vintage charm for modern breathing room, offering gas fireplaces or lakeside terraces.
Since it’s not on the way to anywhere except Forks, the lodge’s main draw is the trails that snake out from it. But the rain gauge on the mighty brick chimney doesn’t lie; this area gets more than a dozen feet of drizzle per year. Depend on the indoor pool or foosball table during a downpour. Or there’s always jigsaw puzzles in the common room, where logs as fat as railroad ties burn on the fire. Named for FDR, the dining room is where that president ate nine months before creating the national park—coincidence, or perhaps a really persuasive window table.
Columbia Gorge Hotel
You’re in Oregon, but only technically. This 1921 castle occupies a narrow sliver of land east of Portland, between the highway and the dramatic Columbia River Gorge, even though its red roof looks born for a berth on Sunset Boulevard. But if this Hood River luxury inn wasn’t made in Hollywood, then Hollywood came in the form of famous visitors, including Clara Bow, Shirley Temple, and the namesake for the inn’s lounge, silent film star Rudolph Valentino.
The exterior is that of an Italian villa, but inside is a good-times hotel in New Orleans’s French Quarter. There are brass light fixtures hanging above, and lining the hallways are bright pink bayou doors (a double set that facilitated airflow back before air-conditioning). Remarkably, the combination is neither incongruous nor cheesy, and over the decades the luxury hotel has survived a stint as a retirement home, the intrusion of I-84 built mere feet away, and a brief closure in 2009 to swap owners.
With antique bed frames and a waterfall to drown out the highway noise, the hotel preserves its aura despite working with limited square footage. Outdoor recreation is popular, with the Historic Columbia River Highway letting bikes through closed-to-cars tunnels. Still, the hotel’s on-site spa is more appealing on brisk Oregon days, as are drinks to the sounds of a chatty lounge pianist. On the menu at Simon’s Cliff House, the trendiness of a quinoa-cabbage salad is puzzling up against the retro Steak Diane. The hotel is best when it’s most old-fashioned, when it wears its aged glamour like Valentino wore his turban—with a completely straight face.
Born as an off-the-radar campground in the 1970s, San Juan Island’s Lakedale blossomed into a choose-your-poison destination where everybody is exactly as close to nature as they can handle. In the centerpiece wooden lodge, nature is very much kept at bay. Campfires? Leave them for the tent jockeys across the lake, or even the in-betweeners engaging in canvas-cabin “glamorous camping” (yes, you can hate the nonword glamping ); in the 10 posh rooms of the main building, there are private slate fireplaces. Take that, nature.
The ferry ride to San Juan Island is no brisk commuter route. This is an hour-plus scenic journey to the seaside town of Friday Harbor, the kind of white-trimmed burg where you can make a meal of ice cream and saltwater taffy.
Five miles farther inland is Lakedale, where hundreds can fill its 90 campsites, 15 canvas tents, six cabins, and single 1978 Airstream trailer. Lodge guests get all the luxury perks—bathrobes and wet bars, even champagne—without the usual hotel sterility; no keycard locks or drone of fluorescent hallway lights.
During the day there are all the thrills of summer camp except bug juice: paddleboating, fishing, even tie-dye. An on-site general store, in true Washington style, devotes a fifth of its shelf space to Northwest wines. If you’d rather order off a menu than make a meal of merlot and Cup Noodles, island favorite Duck Soup Inn is across the road, specializing in locally sourced seafood dishes. Back at the resort, a generous extended continental breakfast is available to everyone—of course, yours is served in the airy dining room, while the glampers shovel their waffles out in the woods.
Alpine Inn at Crystal Mountain
Bavarian from its scalloped shutters to the cream-and-white exterior, Crystal Mountain’s oldest inn dates back only to 1964. But the skiers who line the hallways in vintage photos are older, from the days when skis were basically two-by-fours.
You’re certainly not here to loaf indoors. In true European style, the Alpine assumes that you don’t need more than a double bed and its two-foot perimeter. Plaid linens clash unapologetically with the patterned upholstery on a single sitting chair; floral Teutonic designs on the wooden wardrobes complete the charming mismatch. There are no TVs or even bathtubs. Claustrophobic? No problem, there’s a whole mountain range outside.
The Alpine Inn’s whole reason for being is its proximity to the ski mountain base, and these slopes weren’t made for lazy rambling. Crystal expects a lengthy spring skiing season, possibly into June, but as the snow recedes, hiking trails emerge. The brand-new gondola, an $8 million endeavor, speeds hikers 2,500 feet up the mountain. Reservations are needed for elaborate brunches and sunset dinners at the Summit House.
Following a knee-straining shuffle all the way downhill, it’s understood that you need to replenish calories. A proper dining room serves Wiener schnitzel and sauteed brie, while the rathskeller has a proprietary Snorting Elk brew. In case you didn’t already feel like you were at Oktoberfest (or Epcot), there are log tables to be shared, exposed wooden beams on the ceiling, and nutcrackers on the wall. After recreational and culinary extremes, the youthful crowd has earned its rest.