Beautifully crafted wilderness hideaway

Minam River Lodge, Oregon

Idaho and Montana are each blessed with remote, spectacular fly-in lodges. Now that the elegant new Minam River Lodge is completed and open, you can add Oregon to that list.

  • Minam River Lodge owner Barnes Ellis departs the airstrip in his Cessna 206. Winds permitting, depart downriver, or to the north. As long as you follow the river north, you’ll be flying toward lowering terrain. This beautiful new wilderness lodge is only accessible by airplane, or by an 8.5-mile hike or horseback ride. Photo by Barb Gonzales.
  • This photo, looking south, shows the southern half of the Minam strip in the foreground (note the dogleg just before the river) and the Red’s Horse Ranch strip, just past it. Approaching the airstrips, self-announce on 122.9 and use terms like “landing to the north” (or south) rather than runway numbers. The Minam River runs just east of both strips and flows north. Winds permitting, you’ll want to land upriver, or toward the south, because the airstrip will be slightly uphill that way; terrain is higher toward the south. We prefer landing before 10 a.m., due to heat and/or shifting winds that often crop up later in the day. The windsock at Minam is on the east side of the runway at mid-field, across from the greenhouse. If you don’t see it, as you approach from the south and fly over Red’s Horse Ranch, look for the windsock on the west side of that runway; it’s easily visible. Photo by Isaac Trout.
  • This photo shows the entire Minam strip and is taken facing west. The Minam strip offers about 2,400 x 40 feet of runway total, although the strip doglegs toward the end as it approaches the river to the south (at left in photo). There are trees all around the runway; expect some sinking air as you cross the river on short final. Go around if you can’t touch down in the first quarter of the runway. Park on the east side of the strip at midfield, near the hangar. The Lodge and cabins are the buildings farthest from the strip, on the west side. Photo by Isaac Trout.
  • Every detail of the new Minam River Lodge is designed to honor the surrounding wilderness and minimize environmental impact. The Lodge and cabins incorporate salvaged wood from historic structures around the state. The Lodge’s minimal energy needs are largely met by its 10kW solar system; water is heated by the central woodstove. The Lodge preserved the original gravity-fed water system from a wilderness spring operated under permit with the Forest Service, and then added a supplemental well and water-treatment system. Photo by Evan G. Schneider.
  • Minam River Lodge features artwork made by generations of Eastern Oregon craftsmen and artists. The furniture in the lodge and cabins was designed and built by Oregon’s Liz Holoubek and her husband, Alan. Liz, who earned an MFA in furniture design at the Rhode Island School of Design, describes the custom design for the Lodge as inspired by preservation, simplicity, and beauty. Photo by Evan G. Schneider.
  • Food is a central component to the Minam River Lodge experience. Chef Carl Krause graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. At Minam River Lodge, Carl’s cuisine incorporates the bounty of the Lodge and eastern Oregon farmers and ranchers. The solar-powered refrigerator is always full of cold beer from Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise. The Lodge also offers signature craft cocktails with infusions of plants from the area and one of the best wine cellars in eastern Oregon. Photo by Evan G. Schneider.
  • Lead Gardener Nicole Freshley oversees the growth of vibrant, organic food that provides the lodge with a wide variety of greens, vegetables, and aromatic herbs, inspiring seasonally focused dishes that feature each day’s fresh harvest. Guests can expect meats from local ranches cooked over an open fire, vegetables roasted straight on the coals, and lettuces and herbs from the garden, fed by the mountain spring water. Lodge Manager Isaac Trout has a passion for food preservation and living off the land, and he brings those skills to the Lodge with house-cured and smoked meat recipes that are prepared weekly. Whenever possible, Minam River Lodge weaves local mushrooms and other wild foods into the menu. Meals are served family-style, either in the Lodge or under the stars. Photo by Leon Werdinger.
  • Incorporating local wood and rock at every opportunity, the Lodge and cabins seem part of the surrounding landscape. Other features, such as the wooden cross-bracing inset in the stone aprons on the exterior of the cabins, are nods to the Wallowa Mountains’ reputation as “the Alps of Oregon.” Photo by Evan G. Schneider.
  • Three individual cabins, Huckleberry (shown here), Treehouse, and Pebble, each have electricity that connects to a solar array for modest needs (please no blow-dryers), a cozy wood stove, and custom-made furniture that includes a queen bed with fine linens. Four attached cabins, Morel, Chanterelle, Nettle, and Paintbrush, form two duplexes. They share a broad front porch but are otherwise like the individual cabins. Photo by Evan G. Schneider.
  • At the Lodge, the Eagle Cap Suite boasts floor-to-ceiling windows for great views, plus a private bath with freestanding copper bathtub and queen bed. Three upstairs guest rooms, called Chimney, Aneroid, and Steamboat, each offer sweeping views of the property and Minam River Valley. Each room includes a queen bed and other custom-made furniture. A shared toilet and shower room are located off the hallway. Photo by Evan G. Schneider.
  • Want to sleep outside in total comfort? Two wall tents, Lupine and Yarrow, are built on raised platforms and provide a more luxurious camping experience, including queen beds with fine linens and simple furnishings. Wall tents each sleep two and are nestled in forest clearings near the Lodge, bath house, and wood-fired hot tub. Photo by Leon Werdinger.
  • The Eagle Cap Wilderness includes 534 miles of trails, four wild and scenic rivers, and almost 60 high alpine lakes. Hiking is probably the most popular activity, but staff will happily arrange horseback riding. Keep your binoculars handy because the wilderness is great for birding. Unusual species to look for include spruce grouse, pine grosbeaks, Wallowa rosy finches, and black swifts. You can also pick wild huckleberries or hunt for edible wild mushrooms. Photo by Barnes Ellis.
  • You can fish for wild rainbow trout and whitefish in the Minam, one of Oregon’s most pristine rivers, which flows right past the lodge. The Minam fishes more like a small stream, with seasonal changes in flow rates and holes where fish lurk. Bring an assortment of flies because you never know what they’ll be biting on a given day. It’s catch-and-release around the lodge, especially for bull trout, which must be quickly and gently let go. A mile upstream, near the south end of the runway at Red’s Horse Ranch, there’s a hard horseshoe hole 10–15 feet deep with fish that’s also fun for swimming. Photo by Barnes Ellis.
  • After a long day in the saddle, hiking, or fishing, nothing beats sore muscles like a soak in the wood-fired, spring-fed outdoor hot tub and a stint in the riverside sauna. Or, relax with a deep tissue Swedish massage; reserve at time of booking. Photo by Leon Werdinger.
  • Evenings at the lodge are a wonderful time for guests to relax and perhaps share tales of the day’s adventures. The resort’s central wood-burning fireplace is both a warm place to gather and an efficient heat source that provides hot water for the lodge. As you savor one of the lodge’s private-labeled beers or a glass of wine on the lodge deck, you’ll smell dinner cooking over the fire pit. Later, you can lie back, re-learn your constellations, and marvel at the Milky Way, unaffected by light pollution. Photo by Ted Battesh.

First opened nearly 70 years ago, the Minam River Lodge has been thoughtfully re-imagined as an elegant hideaway, filled with handmade touches by local artisans. The literally hand-built log cabins and their custom-built furniture are all made with native woods. Local farms and an onsite garden are fully utilized to create the lodge’s own distinctive cuisine. Amenities include a wood-fired hot tub and rustic sauna, each just steps from the wild and scenic Minam River. Life’s complications fall away as you reconnect with nature. No need to bring your cellphone or computer (no service here); just relax in the tranquil surroundings. Go hiking or horseback riding, fish along the Minam River, get a relaxing massage, and gaze at the star-filled sky. With accommodations for just 40 guests, the Minam River Lodge feels private and intimate.

Nestled on 126 acres in the remote Eagle Cap Wilderness Area of northeastern Oregon, the Minam River Lodge is accessible only via an 8.5-mile hike or horseback ride, or by flying in to its private airstrip. The Minam River Airstrip lies along the Minam River, about halfway between Enterprise and La Grande. These are also the two closest airports with fuel. From the north, simply fly over the town of Minam and follow the river upstream (south) to the lodge. From the south, you can pick up the river where the Donnelly (DNJ) 278° and Baker City (BKE) 005° radials intersect and follow it northwest.

Two grand cabins offer special features. The Boulder cabin oozes wilderness style, from the wagon-wheel chandelier in the spacious living room to the bathroom sink carved out of a boulder. The cabin also comes with two queen beds, one on the main floor and another in an upstairs loft accessible by a ladder, and thus sleeps up to four. Photo by Leon Werdinger.

As you fly over, you’ll see that the Red’s Horse Ranch airstrip is only about 750 yards south of the Minam River airstrip. See photos and captions for tips on landing at Minam. Bring your own tiedowns (Aviation Consumer rated these the best; they’re even made in nearby Enterprise, Oregon.). The lodge website provides a detailed description of recommended operating procedures. You should have backcountry experience before flying in, but you don’t need a Super Cub or the like to fly here; the owner arrives via his Cessna 206.

Three individual cabins, Huckleberry, Treehouse, and Pebble, each have a private bath with waterfall shower, electricity that connects to a solar array for modest needs (please no blow-dryers), a cozy wood stove, and custom-made furniture that includes a queen bed with fine linens. Photo by Leon Werdinger.

The property on which the Lodge is built dates to a homestead established around 1890. Mert and Erma Loree purchased the property and built the original Minam River Lodge from 1950 to 1951, using materials ferried over the mountains by mule. Hunters flocked to the lodge for years, finding great success in an area known as “Mert’s Meat Locker.” Back then Red’s Horse Ranch was an iconic dude ranch that drew celebrities including Burt Lancaster.

In 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act, designed to preserve areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Eagle Cap Wilderness was placed in the National Wilderness Preservation System and eventually grew to 359,991 acres. In 1994 the Forest Service acquired Red’s Horse Ranch and now maintains the buildings with the help of volunteers. You can camp onsite but the buildings are closed. But the Minam River Lodge remained open as a rare private in-holding, surrounded by protected wilderness. The lodge changed hands several times and eventually fell into disrepair.

In 2011, Barnes Ellis purchased the property. A native Oregonian, Ellis explored much of the Northwest as a boy, and the Minam River Lodge became one of his favorite places. When he saw it was for sale, he was inspired to restore it, and worked to assemble a team of architects and craftsmen who shared his dream of rebuilding the lodge and cabins for new generations to enjoy. The construction crew milled their own lumber and re-purposed as many materials as possible from the original structures. From the lodge and cabins to the wall tents, hot tub, and bath house, the team created numerous unique dwellings where people can hear birds sing in the morning, coyotes howl at night, and the Minam River rush by without end, under rustling leaves. After six years, the new Minam River Lodge opened in May 2017 to rave reviews and is normally open from Memorial Day weekend through November 1. Building this retreat has been a labor of love and a gift to outdoor enthusiasts from around the world. Learn more about all you can see, do, and taste here, as well as the selection of accommodations, in the accompanying photos and captions. Enjoy!

The Lodge is operated by a devoted staff, all of whom are paid a living wage and share equally with the owner in any profits. Lodge Manager Isaac Trout is an avid outdoorsman with expertise in everything from hunting and fishing to backcountry skiing and wild edible gathering. Photo by Evan G. Schneider.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: U.S. Travel

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