This time last year, Barnes Ellis was just hoping he wasn’t crazy. It was mid-May: just weeks before the grand (re)opening of Minam River Lodge, the long-abandoned wilderness escape he’d purchased back in 2011, tucked deep into Eastern Oregon’s pristine Eagle Cap Wilderness.
Ellis, a native Portlander with a background in both City Hall reporting and asset management, had sunk serious funds into realizing a dream—bringing this one-time hunters' retreat back to life, and then some. In the half-decade of work leading up to last year’s launch, Ellis’s army of onsite craftsfolk turned what was once a bare-bones set of structures into a luxury retreat on par with the grand lodges of Canada and Colorado. (It wasn't easy, as we reported last year.)
Had he made a fool’s bet? Not according to Condé Nast Traveler, which this May called out Minam River Lodge as one of the world’s top new hotels in its 2018 Hot List. (Just 10 US states were name-checked in total.) According to the reviewer, the "draw is truly the setting"—though it sure didn't hurt to have waterfall showers, wood stoves, and Terminal Gravity on tap.
“I don’t know if they’ve ever even had one in Oregon,” Ellis says of the destinations on Condé Nast's annual list. “For months they’ve been asking me fact-checking questions.”
It’s not the only attention the lodge received in its inaugural season; it also made the cover of Pilot Getaways magazine. If that seems obscure, know that there are just three ways to reach the lodge: by foot (an eight-mile hike from a trailhead near Cove, Oregon); by hoof (the lodge connects guests with area outfitters); or by small plane.
Indeed, last summer, private operators across the region flew in and out of the new lodge’s rugged airstrip on the daily—ferrying guests or (surprise, surprise) showing up for breakfast. Minam’s talented in-house chef—Portlander Carl Krause, formerly of Biwa—told Portland Monthly toward the close of the 2017 season that he never expected his backcountry kitchen would attract, of all things, regulars. (Though we’re not shocked. We’d bushwhack barefoot through a mountain pass for one of Krause’s Ponderosa pine sugar cookies.)
Minam River Lodge reopens for the season on May 26. Krause will be back in the kitchen, while manager Isaac Trout (also the general contractor who oversaw the lodge’s painstaking buildout) returns to steward guests through the lodge’s expanding menu of amenities.
A just-completed wood-fired sauna now complements the rustic outdoor hot tub, and guests will be able to avail themselves of an onsite yoga instructor and massage therapist. The property’s sprawling kitchen garden is already mapped, designed to entice guests with a wild assortment of produce throughout the high-elevation growing season—staples like new potatoes and blue scotch kale as well as edible flowers and ground cherries, rhubarb and hops. There’s also a full special events roster—winery dinners, guest chefs, live music.
Will an Oregon luxury wilderness lodge woo the whole world? The seeds are planted; we'll see what sprouts this season.