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Make a Day of It: The Historic Balch Hotel

Run Oregon loves running - that's no surprise. But we also love the Pacific Northwest and all that it has to offer. Running is a part of us, but it does not fully define us. In our new "Make a Day of It" feature, we aim to showcase some great local non-running events and highlight where to run and how to make the most of your experience! If you have ever spent time in The Dalles or Hood River, you may have heard of a little town called Dufur. Dufur is a charming town where the Columbia Gorge and Oregon's high desert meet. Dufur covers 371 acres and has a population of 604 (as of 2013) and is a farming community where wheat, apples, pears and grapes are a part of its crops. While this town is 100% rural, it packs a punch with a plethora of things to do and see and is so much more than meets the eye. First the running:  Full disclosure: my husband and I did not run while staying at the Historic Balch Hotel because, frankly, there was too much relaxation to be had and a lot of other things we wanted to do like hang out on the Deschutes, visit the Pastime Saloon and lounge around the Balch property in one of their hammocks. But there is plenty of places to run (read: literally out the door of the hotel you can go for over 30 miles in either direction without much traffic) and I made sure to take note so that I could relay the information to you, Run Oregon reader.

The Historic Balch Hotel makes a stately presence in the quaint town of Dufur, Or.

Races in or near Dufur and Wasco County:

Now, on to what you came here to find out more about; The Balch Hotel!

The Balch Hotel uses the word “historic” in its name, and it truly is historic. Here is just a small sampling of the history on the Balch, taken from the hotel’s website:

“The Balch Hotel was built in 1907 by Charles P. Balch, a local rancher and druggist owning approximately 1,600 acres adjoining Dufur. The bricks used were made on his ranch. It opened January 17, 1908. Rooms cost $0.50 to $1.25, touting “hot and cold water in every room, electric lights and steam heat.” 18-inch thick brick walls keep the building cool during the hot Dufur summers.

The Balch family is from Beverly, Massachusetts, and their family home is the oldest surviving house in the New World, having been built in 1638.

In 1914 the Ingels family, Frank B. and Ethel, purchased the property and operated it until the 1940′s. The hotel was sold and used as an apartment and rooming house, and private residence until being purchased by Howard and Patricia Green of Portland in 1988.

The Greens worked many years restoring and repairing the hotel – from the brick work to adding individual bathrooms in South facing rooms.

Jeff and Samantha Irwin purchased the hotel from the Greens in the summer of 2006. They continued the Green’s restoration process restoring the grandeur of the hotel.

In 2015 Josiah Dean and Claire Sierra took over operations of the property and are keeping the grand tradition of outstanding guest service built by the Irwins.” (Balch Hotel Website, 2016)

We headed to The Balch Hotel on a Friday after rush hour traffic had dwindled down to a trickle, and arrived just after 9:00 pm (feeling guilty for arriving past check in) but were greeted by such a friendly and warm front desk attendant who made us feel right at home. There was chocolate chip cookies and a tea and hot cocoa service that guests could help themselves to, which we found out, is put out every evening. Despite it being somewhat warm out, we helped ourselves and took a peak into the parlor on the main floor before heading up to our room.

Once inside, we put our bags down and the first thing we noticed was the silence. All around us. We could hardly hear the other guests and they were almost at capacity that night. Talking in a whisper almost seemed too loud! The peace and quiet that is advertised on the Balch website was true – there was no TV or phone to be heard. It was pure bliss! Of course, if one needed it, there was a Wi-Fi connection, but we stayed unplugged while at the hotel for the weekend.

Some of the gorgeous waterfalls along the Deschutes river.

After a refreshing night in our cozy bed, we went downstairs to a buffet-style breakfast in the hotel dining room. Again, I was struck by how quiet and pleasant the atmosphere was. We ate well and the spread was amazing; scrambled eggs, eggs folded in to a fluffy omelette with fresh roasted vegetables, a sweet potato hash, chicken breakfast sausages, homemade granola with vanilla yogurt and the most amazing buttermilk pecan pancakes with just a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. Topped off with the Balch’s own roasted coffee and we were fueled for a day of adventure.

At the recommendation from Josiah, we set out on a little drive down to the Deschutes and to White River Falls State Park, where we took in the scenery and some beautiful waterfalls. Next, we headed down the river and observed people out fishing for salmon. We then explored Mt. Hood National Forest, taking in a small hike. For lunch we drove into The Dalles and had burgers at Clock Tower Ales. In need of a rest, we headed back to The Balch to hang out in their lovely garden. I napped in a hammock with a book and my husband lounged in one of the Adirondack chairs before heading into the parlor/library of the downstairs lobby.

After a nice little respite, we decided to head out to the only bar/restaurant in Dufur – the Pastime Saloon – to grab a brew and a bite. Words can’t quite describe the look and feel of this local haunt, other than to say in the Fall it hosts many hunters from all over looking for some down-home comfort food after a long, cool morning in the fields chasing pheasant. We had the $6.95 special that night, which was chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes with country gravy and garlic toast. A meal fit for a king and queen who spent a day outdoors traipsing in the mountains and lounging in grass next to wheat (or hay) fields all afternoon. Pure heaven.

After we enjoyed a few beverages and the company of a few locals, we headed back to our room to have a nice shower. The bathrooms at The Balch are well-appointed with claw foot tubs, but they are communal. A few of the rooms at the hotel have their own bathrooms if you need that kind of extra privacy. Personally, I didn’t mind one bit as the bathroom was always free when you needed it and each room had a little sink, perfect for brushing teeth or washing the grime off from a long run or hot day outdoors. After another 8 hours of sound sleep, we had yet another scrumptious breakfast downstairs with the other guests, enjoying some of the same savory egg dishes as the day before but instead of pancakes there were homemade muffins.

The room we stayed in -full of class and grace and aptly named- the Queen Suite.

I was delighted to have an opportunity to relax and unwind just a little over an hour away from home. The proprietors of the Balch, Josiah Dean and Claire Sierra have created a lovely and quaint bed and breakfast experience that is comfortable, unpretentious and personable. With just 18 rooms, guests truly feel like they have escaped to a little retreat of their own. The antique furniture is warm and inviting and not cold and hard like some vintage decor can be. Whats more, Claire has a built a lovely spa on the second floor where patrons can arrange to have a facial or body therapy, customized to their specific needs. While I did not partake in one of the treatments, I did find the treatment room to be on par with other spas I have been to before.

Our weekend away was perfect and just what we needed. The Balch would be a great place to stay if you are in the area for a race, or to raft the Deschutes. It is also perfect for someone who needs a meditative weekend retreat, to unplug from it all. And, (as noted on their website and from one of the many photo albums I perused while sitting on one of the sumptuous leather sofas in the parlor), a perfect place for a wedding or girl’s weekend. The Balch offers a small, but carefully curated wine list from local wineries in the area (like Cascade Cliffs and Sunshine Mill to name a few) and also offers a selection of beer and charcuterie plates, perfect for an afternoon happy hour or late-evening snack.

The view of Mt. Hood from our room on the second floor.

Josiah, Claire and all of the staff at The Balch thought of everything to make our stay enjoyable. It is no surprise that they were awarded TripAdvisors Certificate of Excellence for 2016. To tell you how truly great our experience was, I even bought a gift certificate for my mom to giver her as one of her birthday presents. And, as if you couldn’t ask for anything better, the rates are very reasonable and every stay includes breakfast the next day…can’t get better than that!

For further insight into our experience, my husband wanted to give his take on things as he volunteered to give his two-cents about our weekend:

When Abby approached me about spending a weekend at the Balch Hotel in Dufur, I was admittedly skeptical. There’s history between Dufur and I; I make the 90 minute drive from PDX several times each fall in pursuit of pheasant and quail. For hunters and fishermen Dufur is paradise.  Just a mere 16 miles West from downtown,  and one can be in the heart of Hood River National Forrest. Likewise, the Deschutes is only a short trip south and east. White River SWA is just down the road and numerous smaller rivers and streams flow through the adjacent valleys. That said, there’s not a whole lot to occupy one’s time apart from outdoor recreation…

Hanging out at the Pastime Saloon, a local watering hole.

…As it turns out I judged too hastily; Abby and I found plenty to do and returned well relaxed, a staycation that struck the perfect balance of activity and inactivity. My takeaway from our two nights at the Balch is that luxury isn’t necessarily synonymous with king-sized Tempurpedic mattresses and rain showers. Our experience was luxurious in that we enjoyed impeccable service and comfortable accommodations in a place that encourages unplugging and engaging with one’s own thoughts.

For information on booking your own retreat at The Historic Balch hotel, or to take part in a local race, visit: www.balchhotel.com or read Josiah Dean’s blog at: http://www.balchhotel.com/blog. Hope you enjoy your time and Make a Day of It Run Oregon-style!

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About Abby Meek (88 Articles)
Abby was raised in Tigard, Oregon and moved to Denver, Colorado in 2007. While in Colorado she ran her first 5K, which led to a 10K, which led to a half-marathon. Abby moved back to her native Oregon in mid- 2015 and has since completed more 5K's, 10K's and more half-marathons. Abby's favorite distances are the 10K and the half marathon.

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