For any nature lover, the wonders of the Steens Mountain, Alvord Desert, and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge are the big draws to Harney County, Oregon, but a stopover at the historic Frenchglen Hotel is a must-do while you’re there! The Historic Frenchglen Hotel is both a hotel and a state historic site. It opened as a hostelry in 1916, built by the Swift & Company Meat Packers to accommodate people who came to the area to do business with them and area ranchers. A newer building was built in 1924. It was purchased by the US government as part of the Peter French P Ranch and Malheur Wildlife Refuge complex. The Oregon State Parks purchased the hotel from the US government in 1972 to preserve it as a historic heritage site.
We stayed at the hotel on our recent visit to the Steens because it was on our Oregon bucket list. We had a wonderful time there. Here are our top 10 reasons why you should add it to your bucket list, too!
- It’s a step back in time. Not just because the hotel was built in 1926 and renovated in 1938, but because your host greets you by name, you sign in on hand-written guest cards, there’s a hand-made quilt on every bed, and there are no room keys, just a lot of trust and old-fashioned hospitality.
- You can unplug. There are no televisions or telephones in the rustic, cozy rooms, and cell phone coverage is spotty. Staying here gives you a chance to unplug and unwind from the digital barrage of daily life. Take advantage and enjoy the silence.
- John Ross cooks up a magnificent family style dinner! John Ross has been the proprietor at the Frenchglen Hotel since 1991. He cooks up every meal by hand every single day. Dinners are served family style precisely at 6:30 PM (don’t be late!) at picnic tables inside the cozy hotel lobby. The food is down-home and delicious – mashed potatoes, spinach & artichoke casserole, baked chicken, roast beef, fresh salads, breads and…
- Apple cake with ice cream and caramel sauce. Yes, dessert is a highlight. Even after eating too much dinner, everyone partakes in the sweet, scrumptious freshly made dessert of the day. He served apple cake one night and peach cobbler the next. I hear that marionberry pie is a favorite in the summertime.
- You’ll meet interesting people from all over. Those family style dinners in close quarters pretty much force you to socialize with whoever else shows up for dinner. They may include hotel guests, nearby campers, and sometimes even a local or two. On the two nights we were there we met folks from Buffalo, NY, Redmond, OR, Tuscon, AZ, Spokane, WA, Idaho, California, and The Netherlands. We learned about their lives and adventures and shared stories of travel and exploration.
- It will bring back memories of your childhood. Remember when your brother was hogging the bathroom and you couldn’t get in? Bathrooms are shared here. There’s a men’s room and a ladies room upstairs, shared by all the guests in the eight quaint bedrooms down the hall. If the bathroom is occupied, there is an extra one downstairs. If that one’s also occupied you can always use the public outhouse in the side yard!
- You can get breakfast or lunch to go. Remember, you’re in the middle of nowhere here. Restaurants are 30, 40, 60 miles apart. If you want to get an early start exploring the area or plan to be out all day, hiking or biking or bird-watching, you can get some tasty scones and coffee or a sandwich and chips to go – no need to wait for breakfast to be served at 7:30 or to return to the hotel for lunch.
- No traffic, traffic lights (or even stop signs). Frenchglen has a population of 12. That means it’s tiny. I can stand in front of the hotel on one end of “town” and throw a rock to the other end. So, the only sounds you hear are the birds and the wind. Cars and trucks are scarce, even at the height of tourist season. There’s a two-room schoolhouse and a general store. Bring what you need with you.
- There’s a wildlife refuge out the front door. Yes, Malheur Wildlife Refuge stretches all the way down to Frenchglen and just across the street from the hotel is a trail, a wetland, and interpretive signs. We enjoyed the sounds of sandhill cranes and watched birds, marmots, ground squirrels, and deer each day. Of course, it was also late spring and the mosquitoes were abundant and hungry.
- Steens Mountain looms large in the east. You can sit on the front porch of the Frenchglen at sunset, sipping a glass of wine or a cup of tea, and watch the sun light up the magnificent snow-capped Steens just 22 miles to the east (as the crow flies).
Have you stayed at the Frenchglen Hotel? What was your experience?