News & Politics

West Virginia’s Lost River Valley

Hike or swim or canoe by day, then check into this friendly lodge for a good meal, a massage, and a cozy bed.

Writer James T. Yenckel ( is at work on a new travel guide to Washington.

The Lost River Valley of West Virginia has been found.

Tucked between two mountain ridges, the valley—a couple of hours from Washington—is drawing more weekenders. The lure is rugged woodland scenery, tumbling mountain streams, and outdoor fun—hiking, fishing, biking, canoeing, swimming, rafting, climbing, horseback riding.

Now there’s a new reason to go. The Guest House, an upscale but affordable 16-room lodge with Blue Ridge views, recently opened the valley’s first fine-dining restaurant.

After a day in this outdoor playground, return to the lodge for city comforts—a massage, maybe, or a game of billiards; a dip in the hot tub or the pool; cocktails in the bar; a candlelight dinner. Later, watch the stars twinkle in the pitch-black night.

I first visited the Guest House soon after it opened in 1982 with only six rooms. Even then its spacious, window-bedecked public spaces, comfortably furnished with large leather chairs and sofas, wowed me. Since then I’ve watched the place grow; it now has more rooms in several cottages.

Friendly and casual, the lodge cascades down a forested slope, its many levels yielding views of cloud-draped ridges marching into the distance. On arriving, your first urge is to explore, seeking out the lounges—five by my count—where you can curl up with a book. Decks and porches tempt with rocking chairs lined up to catch the views. A fitness room is angled for scenic workouts.

For years, the Guest House billed itself as gay-friendly. It still is, but the restaurant and bar have been drawing more of the public at large to the lodge. That was the case the night my wife and I stayed.

Chef Jay Vetter, 38, who grew up in these mountains, is a graduate of the Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts in Rhode Island. He and chef de cuisine Day Dettinburn seek out locally grown meats and produce. One of their offerings caught my attention—Arctic char, a salmonlike fish whose usual habitat is the Arctic coast. Char is being farm-raised in West Virginia’s deep icy springs. Vetter serves it blackened and topped with a crab-and-corn sauté ($18.50). My wife, Sandy, ordered a tender strip steak, grilled just right and finished with a bourbon glaze. It came with horseradish mashed potatoes ($22.95).

For an appetizer, we chose tasty grilled shrimp topped with a blackberry sauce ($6.75). And for dessert, a delicious peanut-butter-and-jelly tart ($3.95).

Meal portions are hearty, so you’re going to want to work off the calories. The Guest House is surrounded by George Washington National Forest (Lee Ranger District, 540-984-4101, There you can hike, canoe, fish, or swim from the sandy beach at Rockcliff Lake, in Trout Pond Recreation Area.

Nearby Lost River State Park (304-897-5372, maintains miles of hiking trails and a horse stable in the summer. Climb or ride to Cranny Crow—elevation 3,200 feet—for commanding panoramas. A scenic drive of less than an hour brings you to Eagle’s Nest Outfitters in Petersburg (304-257-2393, open April to October), which organizes canoe and kayak outings on a gentle stretch of the South Branch of the Potomac.

As for the valley’s name: The Lost River, fast-flowing in spring, disappears underground for a couple of miles at the northern end of the valley, and re-emerges as the Cacapon River.

The Guest House, 304-897-5707; A room for two is $125 to $150 a night, including a full country breakfast served communally at 9 am. The lodge is 125 miles from DC.

For more information on the area, see or or contact 800-callwva.