Vista House – Oregon’s Crown Jewel

Vista House at Crown Point. Columbia Gorge. Photo: KGilb.

Vista House at Crown Point. Columbia Gorge. Photo: KGilb.

4/3/2012. Everyone should visit Vista House at Crown Point at least twice. The first time should be on a balmy summer day when the clear blue sky is filled with sunshine. Perched atop a 733-foot-high cliff overlooking the mighty Columbia River, the panoramic views are spectacular! (especially from the balcony on the north side of the building) No wonder it’s one of the most photographed sites along the historic Columbia River Highway.

The iconic octagonal structure is 55 feet tall and approximately 44 feet in diameter.  Designed by architect Edgar Lazarus, it was completed in the spring of 1918 at a reported cost of $100,000.  A scandalous amount of money, at the time, for a roadside comfort station/rest stop.

Inside Vista House today, visitors will find a vaulted ceiling supported by eight columns in the rotunda.  Look for the gilded plaster Native American face that adorns the top of each column.  Most of the rotunda’s interior is made of light cream and pink Kasota limestone brought in from Minnesota.  The floors and stairways, as well as the wainscoting in the basement, are Tokeen Alaskan marble.  The hand rails and other fixtures are polished brass.  See photos and video images of the interior on the Friends of Vista House website.

Down in the basement is a museum with panels detailing not only the history of Vista House and the surrounding area, but also the geological and natural history of the Columbia Gorge.  The adjoining gift shop has a good selection of high-quality artwork and local gift items.  There’s even an espresso bar on site that serves drinks and snacks.  But there’s no denying that the primary draw at Vista House is its outstanding scenery!

Vista House is located approximately 27 miles due east of Portland, OR.  From I-5, take Exit 22 and follow the signs to the top of Corbett Hill.  From there, turn left and drive another 3 miles until you reach Crown Point.  The “comfort station” is currently open daily from 10am to 4pm.  Extended hours during the summer: 9am to 6pm from April 16 through mid-October.  Admission is free and there’s ample parking on site.

Oh, and the second time you should visit Vista House?  On a blustery spring (or autumn) day when the wind is ripping through the Gorge.  Wind gusts of up to 100 mph have been recorded at Crown Point, strong enough to sweep you off your feet.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this video by steelhead34.  Exhilarating!

**Special Note:  To protect the historical integrity of Vista House—but still provide ADA access to the museum/gift shop downstairs—an elevator was installed that actually comes up through the marble floor in the rotunda. 

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