National Park Road Trip 2011: The Chateau At Oregon Caves National Monument

The Chateau at Oregon Caves is a piece of living history, having been built in the 1930s and maintained today for guests to Oregon Caves National Monument. Photos by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: Having once again fled snow, lodging experts David and Kay Scott headed to The Chateau at Oregon Caves National Monument to work on an update to their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges. Fortunately, they found a roaring fireplace to cozy up next to.

Greetings from one of our country’s most unique national park lodges, The Chateau at the Oregon Caves at Oregon Caves National Monument. It is early morning and we are in the lobby sitting in front of a crackling, popping stone fireplace. It’s a great place to be, especially with temperatures back home approaching 100 degrees. We’ll tell you all about the lodge in just a minute.

Following our two-night stay in camper cabins at Lassen Volcanic National Park, we drove north on I-5 with the intention of tenting in Oregon’s Valley of the Rouge State Park. The scenery along I-5 in northern California is outstanding. The state park is a jewel and we have camped there during each of our six previous lodge trips.

Alas, as per much of this summer’s trip, weather intervened with rain and lightening as we neared Medford, so we ended up at a Holiday Inn. In any case, we both needed a shower after two nights in the camper cabins.

The Chateau at the Oregon Caves is a wonderful, venerable six-story chalet sheathed in cedar bark. It sits on a hillside with large windows in the lobby that overlook a deep ravine. Although the chateau was nearly knocked off its foundation by a 1964 mud slide (the bottom floor was completely filled with mud) and occasionally suffers financial difficulties, the historic structure has remained in operation for over 75 years, in large part because of the love and work of citizens in the Illinois Valley community.

The last private concessionaire pulled out in 2002 when the National Park Service took over operation of the cave tours, which had been a major source of concessionaire revenues.

The chateau was built in 1933-34 for $50,000, with financing split evenly between the U.S. Forest Service and private investors who obtained a 20-year contract to operate the lodge. Administration of the monument was later transferred from the Forest Service to the National Park Service.

The chateau was purchased by the National Park Service in 2003 and is currently operated by Oregon Cave Outfitters, a non-profit organization from nearby Cave Junction that pretty much breaks even on the operation. Another non-profit, The Friends of the Oregon Caves and Chateau, assists the National Park Service with donations for the monument and chateau.

Oregon Caves National Monument is a relatively small unit visited mostly by individuals wanting to tour the caves. The monument protects several caves, including a 3-mile cave that includes all the Earth’s six main types of rock. Tours are offered from mid-March through late November and last approximately 90 minutes.

The lodge is a wonderful place to stay or visit, especially for those who appreciate history. Unlike lodging facilities that call themselves a lodge, but are actually a collection of cabins or motel-type buildings, the chateau is a lodge in the truest sense of the word. Everything including guest rooms, dining room, lobby, coffee shop, and gift shop are in one building.

Walk down the stairway from your room and relax in the lobby with a morning cup of coffee. Later, walk down another flight of stairs for breakfast in the 1940s coffee shop. Or, after dinner (believe it or not, a stream runs through the dining room) relax with other guests in front of the large stone fireplace.

In short, the Chateau at the Oregon Caves is what every national park lodge should be. No television, no phone, no Internet, and not a lot of people. Hiking trails near the chateau lead through old-growth forest.

The 23 chateau guest rooms are quaint and range in price from $99 for an economy room with one queen bed to $120 or $150 for larger rooms with up to two double beds and better views. The most expensive option is a two-room family suite costing $180. Room views vary depending on location. Some windows overlook a wooded ravine while others provide a view of a waterfall pond. The chateau does not have an elevator so rooms on the top floor require climbing two flights of stairs.

The best part of the chateau is the impressive lobby. Huge wood beams supported by giant logs, along with a crackling fire and original Monterey furniture provide a perfect environment for guests to play cards, read a book, or carry on a conversation with other guests.

From Oregon Caves we're off for Crater Lake National Park and a two-night stay in Crater Lake Lodge, one of our favorite national park lodges. The drive is a little over 160 miles so we won’t need to leave early. The sky is clear, so things are looking up.