As you travel east from Portland along Interstate 84, the lush, tree-lined corridors give way to towering cliffs and recessed waterfalls. Between watching the road and marveling at the craggy bluffs surrounding you, it can be easy to miss seeing the Crown Point Vista House perched atop a rocky outcropping hundreds of feet above.
Know Before You Go
The Vista House is open daily from 9 a.m.–6 p.m. A one-of-a-kind custom lift, designed to match the Vista House’s historic architecture, helps the building meet ADA standards for full accessibility.
Dubbed the crown jewel of the Columbia River Gorge, the Crown Point Vista House is a century-old observatory, rest stop and museum. Located only 25 miles (40 km) from downtown Portland, Vista House serves as a beacon for Oregon’s founding history and yields jaw-dropping views, making it a favorite destination.
History and Architecture of the Crown Point Vista House
When the Columbia River Highway was completed in 1913, engineer Samuel Lancaster proposed the construction of a “comfort station” atop Crown Point, a stunning basalt promontory jutting out 733 feet (223 m) above the Columbia River. Offering breathtaking, unobstructed views of the gorge, Lancaster declared it a place for weary travelers to rest — “an Isle of Safety to all the visitors who wish to look on that matchless scene.”
The house was designed by architect Edgar Lazarus in the style of German Art Nouveau. The octagonal building stands 55 feet (17 m) high with tall, opalized glass windows offering 360-degree views of the gorge. The interior floors and hand-carved water fountains are constructed from Tokeen Alaskan marble, which extends into the stairwells and bathrooms on the lower level.
The building’s peachy-hued walls are pink limestone, which arch fluidly upwards toward a domed ceiling whose supporting ribs are each adorned with a bust of unidentified Native Americans. The sandstone exterior creates the illusion that the observatory was carved out of the mountain itself — a steadfast symbol of Oregon’s connection to the state’s stunning natural beauty.
After its completion in 1918, Lancaster named it the “Vista House” and declared it a memorial to “the trials and hardships of those who had come into the Oregon country.” Ironically, many Oregonians at the time chided it for being an overpriced outhouse. Its opulent $100,000 price tag was considered steep during the end of World War I, when materials and manpower were scarce. Over time, however, Vista House’s ethereal charm, historical significance and practicality won out, landing it on National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2000.
Modern Upgrades to Crown Point Vista House
After nearly a century of wear, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the State Historic Preservation Office and the nonprofit Friends of Vista House banded together to finance a site restoration. The five-year, $4 million renovation began in 2001 and included restoring the roof, adding new interpretive displays, updating plumbing and providing ADA accessibility throughout, including a custom-designed “invisible” lift.
Now, visitors can get a crash-course in Oregon’s history along with a warm beverage at the espresso bar, then stock up on locally made crafts at the museum gift shop before heading outside to bask in a natural scenic wonderland that has mesmerized generations of travelers.
Visiting Crown Point Vista House
Heading east from Portland along Interstate 84, use exit 22 (Corbett) and wind your way up along the Historic Columbia River Highway until you reach Crown Point. The Vista House is open daily from 9 a.m.–6 p.m., but those seeking solitude (and an epic sunrise or sunset) can park in the surrounding lot for free at any time.
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