You know you’re not in Kansas any more when you look out your hotel window and the first thing you see is a herd of elk. In fact, you’re probably staying at the Cowlitz River Lodge in Packwood, where elk sightings are as common as rain in December.
“We always get a lot of comments about the elk,” says Brandie Dantinne of HC Lodging. “We can’t guarantee you’ll see them, but they’re usually in the field right next to the lodge.” In an overall assessment of their stay, one guest remarked, “As an added bonus we were visited in the evening by a small group of elk right outside our window.”
The Cowlitz River Lodge is just one of five lodging options that HC Lodging oversees within the region, all owned by founder Harrison Christian. His other properties include the Nisqually Lodge in Ashford, Seasons Motel in Morton, Mill Village Motel in Eatonville, and Crest Trail Lodge in Packwood.
All of the properties have 49 rooms or less, providing a comfortable, home-like feel, but also contain modern amenities. “We keep to the standards of large franchises, minus a pool and an exercise room,” says Dantinne.
The Lewis County lodging accommodations each offer full continental breakfasts, and several also serve wine in the evenings, an extra touch their guests appreciate. “Rick and Diane couldn’t have made us more welcome with their complimentary wine served in front of the fire,” said one Nisqually Lodge guest. “Being close to the restaurants enabled us to just fall into bed (with 4 different pillows to allow for choice) without a long drive home.”
Guests also appreciate the cozy atmosphere, says Dantinne. “A lot of people say that our managers made them feel like they were at home.” As another Nisqually Lodge guest observed, “The owners go out of their way to make sure you are comfortable and work hard to make it a relaxing place to be.”
Some recent guests have taken particular note of the rooms’ cleanliness and the lodges emerge with high marks. One visitor even got her pet involved. “We had a pet-friendly room and you can always tell when they aren’t clean because my dog can’t stop sniffing,” she says. “Not this one. She just came in and went to sleep. That’s always the way we know they do an excellent job of cleaning.”
Harrison Christian built his first motel, Seasons, in 1985. It did so well that he went on to build three more, eventually creating the Nisqually Lodge just five miles from the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. “Harrison is a unique guy,” says Dantinne. “He started out logging with his brother right out of high school and then started building rental houses.” After a stint in Africa during the 1980’s, Christian returned home with enough money to literally build his own business.
“He saves every dime he makes,” says Dantinne. “He never finances anything. He has a knack for knowing what’s needed in an area and will save up his money until he can buy a gas station or another hotel.” Christian owns several convenience stores and service stations in addition to his other properties.
After losing the Cowlitz and Nisqually Lodges in a divorce settlement, he was able to purchase them back during the past three years and decided to consolidate his holdings under the new brand, HC Lodging (for Harrison Christian). “We’re in the process of having new signs made,” says Dantinne.
Summer is the busiest time at all of the lodges, as tourists from near and far flock to Mount Rainier for scenic hiking and recreation. “There’s so much to do in this area,” says Dantinne. “We’ve got the mountain, lakes, and White Pass Ski Resort. I grew up here and I love the mountains.”
Tourists can enjoy the Scenic Byway which goes over the Cascade Mountains along Highway 12. Three of the five lodges are along the byway, which offers hiking and magnificent views throughout the warmer months. “A lot of people don’t realize that they can go up to Mount Rainier one way and come back another,” says Dantinne. “You can stay in Ashford one night and come out through Packwood.”
Many of the guests are international, hailing from all over Europe, Japan, China, and especially Germany, but there are plenty of American travelers as well. During the recession tourism slowed, says Dantinne. “Last year was the first year where we could really see that the economy is back. We’re always looking to increase our numbers.”
Mainly, she wants visitors to take away a memorable experience that combines comfort with modern conveniences. “Sometimes I hear things like, ‘We’ve been on a two-week trip and this is the nicest place we’ve stayed,’” she says. “Or, ‘Wow – this is a gem in the woods.’ That’s what we want: for visitors to be satisfied and want to come back.”
For more information about HC Lodging, visit whitepasstravel.com. Book a room and relax in comfort.