In 1918, long before the advent of interstate highways and expansive rest areas, architect Edgar Lazarus designed a “comfort station” atop Crown Point, which overlooks the Columbia River Gorge some 25 miles east of Portland, OR.
Perched atop a stunning basalt promontory, approximately 700 feet above the Columbia River, is a German Art Nouveau-style building with tall opalized glass windows. Inside are hand-carved water fountains made from Tokeen Alaskan marble, which also flows into the stairwells and bathrooms on the lower level.
With expansive 360-degree views of this dramatic landscape, the octagonal sandstone structure was appropriately named the Vista House.
On the building’s outside, peach-hued limestone walls arch gracefully up to a domed roof. It projects the illusion that the building was carved out of the basalt-lined gorge itself.
This architectural gem was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1974 and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2000. At completion, which was just after WWI, materials and manpower weren’t abundant and the $100,000 price tag was considered exceptionally steep.
Some Oregonians wryly dubbed it the overpriced outhouse at the time.
Over the ensuing years, Vista House’s unique location and iconic architectural splendor have won it the appreciation of all who visit.
A Motorcyclists’ Favorite
Visitors can learn a lot about the surrounding area at the Vista House, including the Historic Columbia River Highway, Columbia River Gorge, local history, and geology. The Vista House Gift Gallery offers high-quality regional artwork and locally sourced gift items.
There’s also an espresso bar that serves refreshments and snacks.
I will never grow tired of immersing myself in the Vista House’s architectural magnificence and the stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge, which are surely among the best America has to offer.
On weekends, the Vista House is often overflowing with motorcyclists. Many have made this their weekend ride destination, the proverbial icing on their motorcycling cake.
While conviviality is always present wherever motorcyclists gather, this location seems to also stir a feeling of quiet contemplation and reverence for the works of humanity and Mother Nature.
Facts & Info
- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
- Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum
- Mount Hood National Forest
The prime motorcycling road in this part of Oregon is naturally the Historic Columbia River Highway. It’s one of the most scenic rides in all of America and should be on your riding bucket list.
Ride it eastward out of Portland, cross the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks, and make the return leg on the other side of the Columbia River along Evergreen Hwy.
Another gorgeous riding road that’s reasonably nearby is the coastal US 101. It stretches along the entire north-south length of Oregon, offering stunning vistas of the rugged, rocky coastline.
Oregon is also home to a few covered bridges, with the nearby Willamette Valley being home to a good number of them. Riders enjoying these historical structures won’t have to make a trip all the way to the East Coast to see them.
Recommended Lodging: McMenamins Edgefield
McMenamins Edgefield is a cozy hotel situated conveniently roughly halfway between Vista House and the heart of Portland. This former farmhouse sports multiple lodging options, from hostel bunk beds to large king-sized rooms with enough space to spread out two riders’ gear.
The hotel offers free parking, with spaces by the hotel reserved exclusively for guests. This is the perfect spot to relax after a long ride with everything on-site, from restaurants to a distillery and from a spa to a golf course.
Music fans, in particular, will love Edgefield, which hosts band and artists in one of the many bars and restaurants, in addition to the large lawn.
Best Time to Travel
Late summer to early fall is the ideal time to visit Portland and its surroundings. June to September are the warmest and driest months, so you won’t have to worry too much about the notorious Oregon rain.
The later you wait, the more peace and quiet you’ll have as summer tourist crowds disperse. However, the likelihood of a wet ride also rises at the same time.