The Valley Vagabond: Off season at Sun Mountain Lodge

[Article by Melissa Grant, North Bend resident, outdoor and wildlife enthusiast, travel lover and owner of Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs.]

I have a knack for scheduling vacations when no one else is leaving town. It’s usually October or November and on the one hand, it’s nice-cheaper, slower, quieter (since kids are back in school) and cooler. However, off-season vacations do have their problems and drawbacks.

You may remember last year around this time we were on a pet sitting extravaganza in Germany, France and Luxembourg. Luxembourg was a bit of a bust because I didn’t know All Saints Day is a national holiday there and everything was closed. Sigh.

Since like other normal humans we don’t do lavish vacations every year, we decided to stay semi-local, go check out Sun Mountain Lodge and the town of Winthrop, Washington. Work schedules, pet-sitters and hotel availability didn’t line up for us until the week after Thanksgiving, but “Hey look, it’s pretty cheap that week! Let’s go!” Double sigh….I never learn.

As usual the vacation gods seemed determined to keep us home, but we persevered through possible food poisoning (dang lettuce), a wounded hip and a newly blind old kitty to get our show on the road.

The trek from North Bend to the Lodge is about 4 hours and 215 miles. We left around 11:30AM, had no issues getting over the pass and to Cashmere where we switched drivers. Much of the remaining drive was along the Columbia River and was spectacularly gorgeous. I’m always fascinated with how different the terrain is on the east side of the state vs. the west side. Fortunately, Mark is well versed in geology and I can annoyingly pepper him with questions while we drive.

Much to his relief we turned off the main road shortly after Twisp and started the 6.5 mile drive up to the hotel close to 4:00 pm that afternoon. The drive started off clear and we got a good look at Patterson Lake and a surprising number of deer grazing the snow-covered grass fields on both sides of the road. The higher we got, the thicker the fog got and by the time we reached the driveway to the hotel, we could scarcely see 5 feet in front of the car. As we pulled up, I was suddenly reminded of “The Shining” and the off-season Overlook Hotel. Oddly enough, the moment that entered my mind, Mark voiced the very same thought. The lodge looked empty, almost abandoned somehow. As we walked into the hotel, we found out basically it was empty. My knack for picking “right place, maybe not best possible time” had struck yet again.

Sun Mountain Lodge entrance

The vaguely spooky feeling vanished the moment we walked into the lobby. Though we were two of the only seven people staying in a hotel with a capacity for 300, we were greeted warmly in a lovely setting. Since my companion was slightly hobbled by a hip injury, I had called ahead to secure one of the few rooms with a TV. I wasn’t sure how much hiking we would do and wanted to have some downtime entertainment. My choice had been a valley view room, but be warned if you choose a TV room, while the room is large and comfortable, you get a view of the roofline. We were disappointed, but at this point because of the fog, we didn’t know what we were missing.

After a short rest, we decided to have dinner in their Wolf Creek Grill. Another side effect of our midweek off-season vacation was that the dining room was not open for dinner. I knew that going in, but breakfast was available in the dining room, so it wasn’t a problem. Speaking with the loneliest server ever, we found out how few people were there and why. First, the week after Thanksgiving is typically slow and second, people start showing up for cross-country skiing when the snow shows up. As of the end of this November, there was virtually no snow and so we were alone. The food in the grill was expensive but good, and fortunately the fog cleared enough before dark to show us the gorgeous view.

Sun Mountain Lodge dining room
View from Sun Mountain Lodge Dining room

The next morning Mark woke early and took his computer down to one of the many cozy seating areas to wait for me to join him for breakfast. When we arrived in the dining room, we were greeted by two more VERY lonely servers. They told us the day before, NO ONE came for breakfast. Attentive and friendly, they brought us very good lavish meal. At this point it was starting to feel like we were the very wealthy owners of a large house and this was our personal staff. The feeling was equal parts fun and vaguely uncomfortable.

After eating entirely too much we decided to set out to explore Winthrop. It was a gorgeous sunny but cold day, and the views along the way were spectacular.

From Wikipedia

“Winthrop was officially incorporated on March 12, 1924.  Native Americans were the first inhabitants of Winthrop. They lived along the banks of the Methow, Twisp, and Chewuch rivers, digging camas root, picking berries, fishing and hunting. The first white men to visit the valley were trappers in the 19th century….All the buildings in town are of American Old West design making it a tourist attraction.”

And aside from two galleries, a mountain wear store and two general stores, it too was closed.

Okaaaay, after getting directions from a local we decided to drive Highway 20, the North Cascades Scenic Highway, as far as we could until, wait for it, the road closed! Ha! That one while true was no surprise this time of year. The drive was snow-covered and magical, we vowed to return when we can drive the entire 400-mile loop. Driving back into Winthrop we stopped for ribs only to find they don’t make them when the town is slow. Foiled again!

We returned to our lonely server at the Bar and Grill in the hotel, had another nice dinner and called it a night. The next morning, I sent Mark off to a lonely breakfast and I slept in. We left shortly before our 11 am checkout time, stopped by the Cinnamon Twisp Bakery on the way out and headed home.

Would I recommend the Sun Mountain Lodge? Absolutely. At that time? Maybe or maybe not. If you want a quiet peaceful vacation away from work and responsibilities, it’s great. Probably even better with more snow and more people, a little quiet without. But don’t be like us and get a TV room, the view sucks.

Valley view from Sun Mountain Lodge grounds


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