Rustic Kitchen Shelters for Foul Weather & Good Friends
written by Mike J. Allen | photos by Rob Kerr and Ben McBee
The Pacific Northwest does not offer the easiest picnicking. Wind, rain, cold and primitive ovens all complicate the picture of eating fresh grapes on a blanket under the sun. In the Northwest, nonetheless, where dads in cargo shorts barbeque into January even, rainy day picnicking is another way to extend the fleeting “outdoors season” into something a little more substantial. Hidden shelter homes on state parks offer the overlooked opportunity for off-season adventurous picnicking types.
These kitchen shelters have come with historic tales behind them, too. From 1933 to 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) employed three million young men as part of the most ambitious peacetime work program ever implemented in the United States. Its work endowed Region 6, the Pacific Northwest. The “three C’s” tackled various projects, like tree planting, road and trail digging, fire suppression, brush clearing and structure building. Mostly, the structures remain noticed.
In their best incarnations, the shelter houses appear as part of the landscape, barely rising from the forest floor, snug below the forest canopy, constructed by hand from local timbers and stone, and protected by mossy roofs of cedar. Although they all conform to the National Park Service (NPS) rustic architectural vernacular, each area of the country speaks its own dialect. In the Pacific Northwest, park shelters are defined by big timbers, big overhangs and heavy shake roofs—so-called Cascadian style.
Many of the structures have kitchen shelters, replete with stone woodstoves or fireplaces. In the off-season, it’s possible to just walk right up and settle in. Grab firewood, one-kettle pot, ingredients and loved ones for an adventure in perfect, fair or foul weather. OnTrak highlights the top kitchen shelters.
Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park
Closest Amtrak Cascades station: Eugene
84505 U.S. 101
Florence, OR 97439
Cleawox Lake historic cooking shelter is not available for reservation.
Florence, Oregon, is 60 miles west of Eugene Station on Oregon Route 126. Honeyman Park is two miles south of Florence on Highway 101.
Firewood is $5 a bundle at the Welcome Center.
Designed by John Elwood Isted, the late Bend architect, this hexagonal, open-air shelter overlooks the freshwater Cleawox Lake. Three stone woodstoves arranged around a central chimney are topped with heavy, cast-iron cooking surfaces. Each stove is served by its own sink set into a heavy timber plank. The only drawback is that the picnic tables are located outside the shelter, so bring a couple of camp chairs to lounge in while watching the coast storms roll through.
Beacon Rock State Park
Closest Amtrak Cascades station: Union Station
Stevenson, WA 98648
The lower picnic shelter is not available for reservation.
Exit 44 for Cascades Locks—which leads to the Bridge of the Gods—is a two-dollar toll. Return west on Washington Route 14 and take the driveway on the north side of the highway (on the right) to the Hamilton Mountain trailhead.
There is a public transportation option. The Gorge WET bus leaves four times a day from the Fisher’s Landing Transit Center in Vancouver, Washington. Details are available at gorgetranslink.com or by calling 509.427.3990.
Skamania General Store just west of the park on WA 14 sells firewood for $5 a bundle.
Beacon Rock State Park is 56 stunning miles east of Portland’s Union Station on Interstate 84. In the fall and winter, the wind will be whipping at Beacon Rock State Park. If weather is fierce here, the little grove where a CCC shelter sits under a tall canopy of old Douglas firs is safe and calm. The twin woodstoves, with the help of a hot toddy, drive the chill from the room. Surrounded by an emerald carpet of dicentra, oxalis, and claytonia, its charm is captivating. The shelter is rough-hewn and comfortable in its surroundings.
When visiting in the fall and early winter, make sure to swing through Cascade Locks to pick up fresh-caught salmon from Brigham Fish Market. In summer and early fall, a half-dozen Native American fishermen sell Columbia River fish from coolers under the Bridge of the Gods.
Hiking to the top of Hamilton Mountain will give the salmon plenty of time to marinate in its rub of salt, brown sugar, and dill. While waiting for the blaze to roar, walk to the Upper Picnic Area, a lovely place to admire Beacon Rock from above, without worrying about how you’ll get down.
Silver Falls State Park
Closest Amtrak Cascades station: Salem
20024 Silver Falls Hwy SE
Sublimity, OR 97385
Online reservations at
Silver Falls is a scenic 25-mile drive east on Oregon Route 214 from the Salem station.
Firewood is $6 a bundle from the campground host.
Silver Falls State Park is one of Oregon’s CCC architectural gems. Hike the falls in the depths of winter, when the mists create rippled sheets of ice on the canyon walls and the creeks are bordered with rime. The pool at the bottom of the South Falls freezes around the plunge when it’s really cold, while cliffs above are crowned with icicles. If it gets too cold, you can always escape to the rustic lodge.
The three shelters here feature fireplaces, water and electricity. There are grills located just under the eaves. The shelters are labeled B, D and E. A and C, who knows?
Of those that officially remain, you can reserve B and E, while D has been marred by a concession stand and closed in the off-season. Although the shelters are booked nearly every weekend from late spring through early fall, they can easily be snagged by a walk-up the rest of the year. Just check the online schedule before heading out.
Closest Amtrak Cascades station: Centralia
633 Leudinghaus Road
Chehalis, WA 98532
360.291.3767 (Call the office to reserve for free.)
It’s 4.4 miles from Centralia Station to the center of Chehalis. The Willapa Hills Trail is 15 miles of flat path, both paved and gravel, from the trailhead on the west side of Chehalis to Rainbow Falls. The trailhead begins at the end of SW Hillburger Road.
By car, it’s about 14 miles on Washington Route 6 from Jeremy’s Farm to Table to the turnoff for the park. Watch closely for signs to the entrance, as the bridge directly from WA 6 no longer exists, and online maps have yet to update the change.
Firewood is available from the camp host for $5 a bundle.
While this state park gets short shrift from hikers to waterfall enthusiasts that shouldn’t deter anyone who likes cycling, quaint farms and good cheese. Chehalis River’s Rainbow Falls isn’t much of a falls at all. A torrential speed bump in the winter and spring, and more of a pleasant little rapid in the summer and fall. The CCC came along to spruce it up, as the rebuilt shelter across the highway predates that era.
Pass through Chehalis for a sojourn through Jeremy’s Farm to Table, a restaurant and small market offering seasonal produce, sausages, some breads and, most importantly, cheese. Domina Dairy’s raw milk, Newaukum Hill, is a rustic farmhouse cheese with character. It suggests fondue. Pick up kielbasa and bread for dipping. In season, cyclists should keep an eye out for apples along the scenic Willapa Hills Trail to add to the basket.
Fondue needs two cheeses, and Rosecrest Farm, right off the trail on Spooner Road, makes a Mountain Swiss that fits the bill (go for the subtle but satisfying plain). There might not be anyone around, so just grab a chunk of cheese from the refrigerator and drop your cash in the honor box.
The cooking facilities are similar to those at Hamilton Mountain—two woodstoves sharing a stone chimney. The design is open but there is little wind.
Deception Pass State Park
Closest Amtrak Cascades station:
41020 SR 20
Oak Harbor, WA 98277
Deception Pass is 18 miles by car from Mount Vernon Station by Washington Route 536 to Route 20.
Most of the kitchen shelters here are reservable, and visitors do book these shelters year-round. Rosario shelter runs $35.60 for up to twenty people on a weekend. A small cook shack at Cranberry Lake is available first come, first serve.
Firewood is available at the entrance store for $5 a bundle.
Deception Pass State Park is the most popular park in Washington’s state park system. More than two million visitors a year come for the compelling combination of old forests, sweeping Pacific views and documented history. Deception Pass has a CCC museum.
If you can, get the Rosario Beach shelter. Designed by a young Washington State University graduate named Roland Koepf, it has an artful eclecticism that sets it apart from the standard CCC style. Koepf also designed the kitchen shelter at Bowman Bay. Both adhere to the basic design principals of NPS rustic—low-rise, no severe lines and pioneer building methods. They do, however, sport a subversive sophistication that belies their humble simplicity. From the Mount Vernon Station, walk three-and-a-half blocks north to the Skagit Valley Food Co-op to pick up sausage and local wild mushrooms. Choose a rustic Northwest red wine that will brace you for the wind. Fortunately, the reservable shelters at Deception Pass have real windows on the seaward side.
How to Cook on a Stone Woodstove
With the exception of the Silver Falls shelters, which have fireplaces and grills under the eaves, the shelters here all employ a similar design of stone woodstove.
They take some wood and some time to warm up. Get four or five bundles of wood and clean any old ashes out of the firebox before starting.
Open the dampers. There might be one in the door and one underneath in the ash pan. Open both to start. Once the fire is established, the dampers can be used to control the intensity of the heat.
After the kindling gets going, add three or four logs and close the door. Once those are ripping, add five or six more and close the dampers about halfway to prevent the wood from turning immediately into a pile of ash. Thereafter, wood can be added as necessary to keep the heat up.
The cooking surfaces will likely be rusty. Cooking directly on them will take more work than you probably want to do. Cover them with a layer of aluminum foil and cook on that. This much metal might take a while to get hot.
To get a direct heat source with a minimum of fuel, rake out a good bed of hot coals, very carefully move one of the griddles aside (make sure it doesn’t fall and break your foot), and place a portable grill grate straddling the opening. Now you have direct heat. Don’t move the plates while the fire is just warming up, as the draw to the chimney will not have been established, and the shelter will fill with smoke. Cooking directly in the oven is a good way to go, too. Think aluminum foil packets in hot coals.
One-Kettle Cheese Wonder
Chehalis Valley Cheese Fondue
The heavy cast-iron plate of the CCC woodstoves tends to temper the heat enough that fondue can be successfully made and kept warm by a moderately attentive cook.
1 tablespoon cornstarch
12 ounces medium to semi-hard cheeses
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
Juice of one lemon
Splash of kirschwasser
(fruit brandy), optional
Salt and white pepper to taste
(black pepper if you must)
Hearty bread, cut into
Kielbasa, sliced thickly
Apples, cut into wedges
Grate the cheeses together into a bowl. If lacking a grater, cut the cheese finely as possible with a knife. Toss the grated cheese with the cornstarch.
Add the white wine to the sauce pot and start heating. When the wine is steaming and tiny bubbles form at the edges, add the lemon juice, and heat again. Begin whisking the cheese with cornstarch in by small handfuls, waiting until each addition is incorporated before adding more.
Stir in the kirschwasser, if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Move the fondue to relatively cool corner of the woodstove. If it thickens, add a splash more wine, move back over the heat, and stir vigorously.
Skewer pieces of sausage and bread onto sharpened sticks and toast over flame. Dip. Eat. Enjoy. Repeat.