The Lodge: Then & Now

Historical photo of the lodge before its renovation.

The story of Minam River Lodge begins in 1950, when Mert and Erma Loree embarked on a dream to build a little hunting outpost deep in the wild beauty of the Wallowa Mountains.

The couple used mules to haul lumber and supplies through miles of steep switch-back trails to a scenic bluff above the sparkling clear Minam River. One load slipped so many times that Erma tore most of her clothing into strips to hold it in place. If the Lodge had been located one mile further, she said, she would have arrived stark naked.

The Minam Lodge thrived for many years, attracting customers eager to enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of the area, which boasts Oregon’s highest lakes set among granite peaks and wildflower-strewn alpine meadows. Hunters prowled a region so prolific with game it was known as “Mert’s Meat Locker.”

Congress placed the area into the Wilderness Preservation System in 1964, and the Eagle Cap Wilderness grew through subsequent expansions to cover 359, 991 acres. The Lodge became a rare private inholding, inaccessible by road and completely surrounded by the state’s largest federally protected wilderness area.

Over the decades and through a succession of owners, the Lodge fell into disrepair. Hunting shifted to other areas of the Wallowas. The log cabins began to fall apart, and the beautiful wilderness oasis became littered with broken-down equipment and relics of a bygone era.

In 2011, native Oregonian Barnes Ellis bought the 126-acre Lodge and grounds. A guest of the Lodge over the years, Barnes was struck by the opportunity to restore the beloved property and transform it into a unique wilderness hideaway for the next century. The new Lodge would preserve the pioneer spirit of the original homestead while cultivating a more contemporary wilderness cuisine featuring the bounty of an organic garden and the best of Eastern Oregon’s small family ranches. Instead of hunting, guests would unplug from civilization with relaxing activities including yoga and massage in the open-air pole barn.

Rebuilding the Lodge, cabins and infrastructure was a six‑year project involving craftsmen from around the country. Instead of mules, airplane and helicopter pilots flew hundreds of missions to remove dilapidated equipment and refuse from the wilderness site, and bring in the pieces of the new Lodge.

Workers harvested trees from the property to build new log cabins, using hand tools and traditional techniques. Recycled logs from the original structures were incorporated in the new structures, along with salvaged wood from around the state. The rosy fir flooring in some of the cabins came from old barrels originally used to make maraschino cherries at a plant in Salem.

The new Lodge runs largely on solar power, with a lithium-ion battery bank to store electricity. The central wood-burning fireplace heats not only the living area but also the building’s water. Although a well was added, the original water source, a mountain spring high above the Lodge on the other side of the river, remains an integral part of the system.

The new Lodge is filled with the work of local craftsmen and artists, from the historic photographs on the walls to the hand-fired pottery on the dinner table. The curtains were sewn by hand, and the bar with inlaid steel lovingly burnished to serve a collection of wilderness-inspired cocktails.

Most of the furniture in the Lodge and cabins was designed and built by Oregon’s Liz Holoubek. Liz, who earned an MFA in furniture design at the Rhode Island School of Design. Liz describes the custom designs as inspired by the values of preservation, simplicity and beauty.

“Minam is a place to discover a simple way of being,” she said. The use of reclaimed fir with imperfections “is respectful of our natural resources and brings a little of nature’s beauty indoors to provide warmth and comfort.”

The new Lodge opened in 2017 to wide acclaim, including being named to Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List of Best New Hotels in the World. The little Minam River Lodge was ready once again to welcome guests to share the beauty of the Oregon wilderness, unplug from civilization and create magical memories!

Top photograph by Evan G. Schneider