Riverine Grandeur

Location of the Skamania Lodge makes it a great place for business or leisure

By: Marty Wentzel

STEVENSON, Wash. Dolce Skamania Lodge is the best-known place to stay on the Washington side of the awesome Columbia Gorge and with good reason. While it bills itself primarily as a conference center, my family found it to be a stimulating leisure retreat, during a recently hosted weekend.

Less than an hour’s drive from Portland, Ore., the lodge does steady business with groups from the Western United States. It is owned by the Dolce Intern-ational conference center chain, and it is one of the few Pacific Northwest members of the International Association of Conference Centers, which has a very stringent membership criteria.

In honor of its tenth anniversary this year, the lodge just finished a $15 million expansion, adding 10,000 square feet of group facilities and 59 guest rooms. It now features 22,000 square feet of meeting space and 254 guest rooms, all with high-speed wireless Internet access. On an average day, it hosts five to 10 groups of 50-75 people each, but it can accommodate groups as large as 400.

Since our family was traveling at leisure, we splashed in the lodge’s 20-yard-long indoor swimming pool and soaked in the outdoor hot tub, while a gentle mist frosted our hair. We shot a few games of pool at the River Rock Lounge, off the lobby; and dined on regional specialties in the Cascade Room restaurant. Our favorite indoor haunt was the mezzanine-level library with its books, magazines and games for all ages, overlooking the lobby’s two-story rock fireplace.

Dolce Skamania Lodge recently introduced an audio tour of its permanent exhibition of Native American and Northwest art. During our stay, we learned about the collection’s hundreds of pieces of art, like Native American petroglyphs dating back thousands of years, hand-woven antique rugs, paintings and sculptures created by contemporary artists.

Outside, our daughter made a beeline for the kid’s play area with swings, slides and seesaws. The three of us explored the grounds on the resort’s three walking trails, winding four miles over creeks, around lakes and through woods. We didn’t have time to try the property’s mountain bikes, outdoor tennis courts and volleyball court; and since we don’t golf, we simply appreciated the 18-hole course for its beauty.

Overlooking a sweep of the Columbia River between the sleepy town of Stevenson and the Cascade Locks, Dolce Skamania Lodge’s location is central to the gorge’s most popular visitor activities and attractions. Within walking distance of the lodge, the eight-year-old Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center features exhibits on the area’s history and nature. Five minutes away is the Bonneville Dam Visitors Center, with a fish-viewing room; and the Cascade Locks Museum with its artifacts, steam locomotive and old navigational locks.

A 25-minute drive west, leads to Beacon Rock State Park, where a switchback trail up 800 feet rewards hikers with up-and-down views of the 80-mile-long gorge. Twenty miles east of the lodge is Hood River, Ore., best known for its prime windsurfing conditions.

Hotel Review

Hits: Extensive meeting facilities and group services.

Misses: Limited children’s menus.

Clientele: 65 percent groups from the Western United States; 35 percent leisure travelers.

Be Aware: It rains here a lot from November through January.

Rates: From $129-$209 per night.

Contacts: 800-221-7117; www.dolce.com.