History of The Columbia Gorge Hotel

“We have built good roads"

The Hotel property, first described in the Lewis & Clark journals, was the Site of Phelps Mill in the mid 1800’s, after which our creek is named.  The mill made staves for the whiskey barrels carried by mules from Hood River to the east.

In 1921, Oregon lumber magnate and philanthropist, Simon Benson, speaking of the region’s fledgling tourism industry, observed, in part:  “We have built good roads and invited the world to come view our beauty spots, but we have done nothing toward taking care of them after they arrive.”  In response to that need, Benson built the Columbia Gorge Hotel.






The Wau Gwin Gwin Hotel

In 1904, Hood River pioneer, Robert Rand, capitalized on the area's spectacular beauty by constructing the Wau Gwin Gwin Hotel, named for the 207 feet (63 m) waterfall on the property, overlooking where Phelps Creek joins the Columbia River. The hotel operated successfully as a summer resort for 16 years offering twenty rooms, and served guests until 1920. The hotel and surrounding 25 acres was purchased by Simon Benson for $400,000 (about $5.3 million today), and was subsequently torn down to allow construction of the Hotel Benson, known today as the Columbia Gorge Hotel. The layout of the grounds and trails, developed by Rand, remain the setting for the current Columbia Gorge Hotel today.

The Hotel Benson

On June 21, 1921, the Benson Hotel opened with a grand reception and quickly developed an international reputation. Notable visitors in the early years included Presidents Roosevelt and Coolidge, plus actresses Clara Bow, Myrna Loy, Jane Powell, and Shirley Temple. The hotel is rumored to have been a favorite hideaway for Rudolph Valentino, after whom our Valentino Lounge is named.

Designed by Portland architect Morris H. Whitehouse as the “Hotel Benson”, the Hotel was under construction for less than a year.  The Italian stonemasons brought over to work on the new Columbia River Highway, built the stone walls and bridges for Benson’s new “Waldorf of the West”.  The “wooden” beams so visible in the public areas are actually made of plaster and required five artisans, working in concert, to construct.

During the depression, the Hotel fell on hard times and was purchased by the Neighbors of Woodcraft as a retirement home in 1952.  Such it remained for a quarter of a century, until the ongoing restoration began in 1977. 

Here's a 1920 blueprint of the south elevation of the Benson Hotel, which we now know as the Columbia Gorge Hotel.

A 1920 blueprint of the south elevation of the Benson Hotel, which we now know as the Columbia Gorge Hotel.

The Historic Columbia Gorge Hotel

The Columbia Gorge Highway had recently reached Hood River in 1916, bringing a steady stream of automobile traffic right by the hotel. In the spring of 1921, Alva Day spent six weeks with a crew of eight installing electrical service for the new hotel. 

Privately owned and operated, The Columbia Gorge Hotel continues to be an elegant oasis in the heart of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.  Renowned for its dramatic surroundings and award-winning cuisine, the Hotel is the perfect place for an extended escape or just a memorable evening! 


A view of the newly installed power line, taken from the vantage point of a power pole in 1921.

The Hotel Today

After a long road of renovations, we are excited to reveal our new rooms just in time for Valentine's Day!

Perched atop the majestic cliffs of the Columbia River, Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa has 40 guest accommodations. Facilities include our award-winning Simon's Cliffhouse Restaurant, the Valentino Lounge, an outdoor terrace for dining or drinks, and meeting space to accommodate up to 130 guests.