Graves Mountain Lodge

 A Rustic Getaway near Shenandoah Hiking Trails
Hiking * Relaxing

Huddled in a leafy hillside, crisscrossed with trails, Graves Mountain Lodge is a rustic retreat in the Blue Ridge. Since 1965, Washingtonians looking for a weekend in the wild have made their way here, to bask in beautiful mountain scenery, hike wooded trails, and eat some of the best country food around.

It’s the sort of place kids come with their parents, then they grow up and bring their kids. But couples retreat here, too, loving the return-to-summer-camp experience. You have your choice of motel room, cottage, or cabin, all located on the sprawling grounds. They’re nothing fancy. but after a long day outdoors, it doesn’t matter. Sitting on the balcony, watching the sun set over purple peaks, you will take a breath of fresh air and truly relax. Guaranteed.

That said, there are tons of fun events throughout the year, including apple picking in autumn, evening hay rides, fishing, horseback rides, and more.

[stay]  Graves Mountain Lodge

Nothing but gorgeous scenery at Graves Mountain Lodge

David and I stayed in one of Graves Mountain Lodge‘s motel rooms perched on the hillside. It was spacious but dark, with two Queen beds, brown carpeting, and country-style fabrics—not the sort of place we wanted to hang out in. But that didn’t matter. We were too anxious to be outdoors, soaking in the natural beauty. And we loved sitting on the balcony, sipping a glass of wine as we watched the sun set over Old Rag and Hawksbill mountains.

Insider Tip: Check out the website for lots of other accommodation options, especially for families and groups.

[eat]  Graves Mountain Lodge

Fried chicken at its best

All overnights at Graves Mountain Lodge come with three hearty, family-style meals at community tables that will stick to your bones; buffets are served Friday and Saturday evenings. Menus are predetermined: Friday is rainbow trout, Saturday is rib-eye steak, Sunday is fried chicken and country ham, and so on through the week. You’ll get hearty portions of potatoes, vegetables, and bread—and it’s all you can eat. The waitress points you to your table; I’m not sure if you have a choice where to sit. Clearly, it’s not the place for romance or a private chat, but it’s a great place to get to know people from all walks of life.

David and I were late to lunch, since we had hiked Oak Creek Canyon that morning (amazing fried chicken, by the way). An elderly couple was directed to our otherwise empty table. Turns out they ended up being Jimmy and Rachel Graves, the lodge’s current owners. We sat and talked for awhile, learning all about the history of the place.

The family’s hospitality business started in 1852, when Jimmy’s great-great grandfather, Paschal Graves, opened an ordinary along the Blue Ridge Turnpike. Around 1857 he moved to the spot where the farm is today. Four generations of Graves have since welcomed guests, in the meantime adding cabins and other buildings.

Jimmy himself got into the picture after graduating from Virginia Tech in 1961 with a degree in ag econ and serving two years with the armed forces. He returned to the farm, met Rachel, and they married in 1964. Graves Mountain Lodge opened in 1965. The warm family welcome has been in place ever since.

[fun] Hike Oak Creek Canyon

Blooming mountain laurel everywhere in summer

Of all the trails to walk and explore in Shenandoah National Park, there’s one that always stands out: the Whiteoak Canyon Trail. The trail leads through pristine forest to a steep-walled canyon, where six different waterfalls drop over bedrock ledges. The seasons bring an ever-changing variety to this beautiful corner. In winter you’ll find a silent refuge, where powdery snow dusts dark green hemlocks, ice-cold streams are mere trickles, and the only signs of life are the footprints of foraging deer. In summer, puffy white mountain laurel decorate the trailside, mountain streams splash over moss-covered stones, the waterfalls fall in torrents, and the forest is filled with joyful birdsongs and the laughter of young kids dipping their toes in moss-friend pools. Anytime, it’s a magical place.

The trailhead (and parking area) is 4.5 miles from Graves Mountain, via VA-670. You need to pay to enter the park, of course.

The back entry to the fabled Old Rag is nearby as well (a 6.5-mile drive to the parking area). Or, if you don’t feel like driving anywhere, Graves Mountain has plenty of its own hiking trails on property.