Vista House Observatory At Crown Point On The Columbia River Highway

Vista House Observatory at Crown Point On The Historic Columbia River Gorge Scenic Byway

Called the “crown jewel of the Columbia River Gorge,” Vista House sits atop steep cliffs, towering above the Columbia River Gorge below. We first glimpsed the gorgeous, round, stone building from I-84 and knew right away that it would be one of the stops on our day trip to the Columbia River Gorge while visiting Portland.

Vista House

Sitting 733 feet above the Columbia River, Vista House sits upon the summit of Crown Point. Once called Thor’s Heights, Crown Point is a basalt promontory shaped by the same volcanic lava flows, floods, and winds that created the Columbia River Gorge. Cited for its exceptional value in illustrating the natural history of the U.S., it was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1971 and is protected through the Oregon State Parks as the Crown Point State Scenic Corridor.

Since 1918, Vista House has been a stop for travelers to take a break and enjoy one of Oregon’s most inspiring views. From the top viewing platform, you can see Portland and Vancouver, Washington to the west and to the east, you can see Beacon Rock on the Washington side of the gorge.

Today the observatory houses an information desk, a public museum with displays about the Historic Columbia River Highway and Vista House construction, a gift shop, and an espresso bar (that wasn’t open when we were there), as well as regular flush restrooms 🙂 The scenic overlook is framed with stone guard walls and graceful arches, similar to those seen at Shepperd’s Dell Falls and typical of the highways’ exquisite craftsmanship.

History of Vista House

Samuel Lancaster, chief engineer and designer of the Historic Columbia River Highway, designed the highway to show off the waterfalls and natural features hidden in the gorge. Lancaster’s idea to also construct an observatory named Vista House on the summit of Crown Point, one of the most scenic points along the Historic Columbia River Highway, was another reflection of his desire to inspire travelers and make the wonders of the gorge accessible.

Financing the building of Vista House was challenging. No state dollars were available, leaving the project dependent on funds from Multnomah County and donations from private parties, including local schoolchildren — but they did it! The first segment of the Historic Columbia River Highway was dedicated in 1916 at Crown Point, and later that year construction began on Vista House. Designed by Edgar M. Lazarus and built under the direction of a Multnomah County road master, John B. Yeon, total cost of construction by its completion on May 1, 2018 was about $100,000.

Vista House quickly became a popular stop for travelers, providing a place to rest, enjoy the panoramic views, and refresh themselves as they made their way down the magnificent Columbia River Gorge.

Vista House is an octagon building with a domed rotunda 55 feet high and 44 feet in diameter. One set of staircases lead down to the 64 foot diameter base floor, and another set of stairs lead up to the elevated viewing platform. The exterior is grey sandstone with a green tile roof, and the interior — even the restrooms — is finished in marble. The inside of the dome is lined with bronze and the windows are opalescent glass in a simple tracery pattern with colored glass at the tops.

Described as “a temple to the natural beauty of the Gorge,” Vista House has long been recognized for its historic significance and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

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