I woke up to the sound of birds chirping outside my cabin window, a faint beam of light coming through the curtains. Crafted entirely of wood, the room is furnished with handmade furniture such as a dresser and handsome bed. Rustic elegance comes to mind as I run my hands along the log cabin walls.
Just a walk out the door and I was surrounded by the Eagle Cap Wilderness, a section of Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains, enclosed by spectacular snow-capped peaks and evergreen forests. I feel like a tiny speck amongst this vast landscape that holds so much history and reverence. The first human occupants in this area were ancestors of the well-known Nez Perce Tribe, until American settlers migrated into the area in the mid-1800s and staked the land.
Today the Minam River Lodge and its adjacent cabins sit amidst the natural beauty of the Oregon wilderness. Born out of a vision belonging to owner Barnes Ellis, the lodge began as a concept in 2011 when, perhaps, glamping wasn’t yet “a thing.” The idea was to create a destination paying homage to the property’s original history and offer a space for nature enthusiasts to experience wilderness with all the comforts of home — and then some. The only thing you won’t find here is Wi-Fi or cell service. This is truly an opportunity to disconnect from the outside world and connect to the wild — and others.
During my time at Minam, there were all types of visitors, including families, couples, and solo travelers, all friendly and up for chatting. Perhaps COVID-19 made us long for the connection to others through conversation and laughter.
Breakfast, like most meals, is an event, with Chef Sean or Claire whipping up new dishes each morning. On my first day, a plate of the most delicious sunny-side up eggs over short rib hash was enjoyed slowly as conversations with my cabin neighbors flowed along with warm coffee. Visitors come from all over, however, there are only three options to get to the lodge. Most opt to do the 8.5-mile hike starting at Moss Springs Trailhead in La Grande. If that’s the case, you’ll want to pack light because everything you need you’ll have to carry in and out. Another option is to set up a horseback ride with Del Sol Wilderness Adventures, which is a moderately difficult, half-day journey. The last option, which is to charter a plane, is the one I chose, and I’m happy I did. A word of advice is to try and fly in early as winds pick up later in the day and can cause some turbulence. For many, like myself, the remoteness of Minam is part of its inherent charm.
With many easy to difficult trails to choose from, I started my days out on a run, meandering through the woods, sometimes looking towards the Minam River and admiring the natural beauty of its swift movement. One morning, I saw two deer, a big buck, and a doe lingering in the foggy mist near an open meadow dotted with wildflowers. Serious hikers will enjoy Backbone Ridge, a rigorous 6.2-mile hike which rewards hard won elevation gains with spectacular views. Request a backpacker’s lunch, which includes local Carman Ranch beef jerky, cheese, crackers, a locally made energy bar, and a piece of fruit to enjoy on the rocky heights. If you are up for it, you can also book horseback riding and fishing adventures.
Yoga in the open-air barn with Zella, our instructor, was simply amazing. With the gentle breeze against our faces and the magnificent view of Eagle Cap, I was moved, both physically and spiritually. If all this exertion is calling you to get a massage, that can be arranged, too. Make sure to book ahead of time as space and therapists are limited. Other relaxing options include a wood-fired hot tub and riverside sauna.
Dinner is a fun event, with guests sharing stories and making new friends at communal-style tables. Chef Sean — who has worked at New York’s exemplary Jean Georges, as well as having been sous chef for James Beard Award winner Vitaly Paley in Portland — takes guests on a culinary journey, dreaming up dishes such as local bison and cherry compote alongside grated carrots mixed with parsley, cumin, and olive oil. Nearly all vegetables and leafy greens are harvested from the lodge’s greenhouse and garden and proteins are from small ranches. Dessert is never to be missed as the elements of each are not overly sweet or all-consuming. The Lodge periodically hosts winemaker dinners, which feature some of the region’s top vintners.
On my last night it rained furiously and I made a fire in the wood stove to keep warm. As I looked out into the cool night, I thought warmly about the people who had travelled this land ahead of me. I felt connected, in a way, to a place and to the other guests that I hadn’t ever felt before. Maybe it was the isolation of the past year or, perhaps, it was the quiet without access to technology. Whatever it was, the next morning before my departure, I sat in a comfortable Adirondack chair on the large deck overlooking the Wallowa Mountains plotting my return.
The Minam River Lodge season runs from June to October and has dog-friendly lodging options.