Lodge Language

Learn the lingo on how to love lodge life.


Like a duo of rough-terrain amateurs, we set out into the wilds of Virginia to answer one question: What does it take to legitimately hang at a hunting lodge?

Or more than that, what does it look like to “lodge” like a seasoned outdoorsman?

Lodging is different than simply staying at a resort. True, lodges can be “resort-y” but if you pack several kaftans and platform espadrilles, you will feel like a fool. 

Not only are there differences in what you wear onsite, there is also paperwork that requires a spin down the rabbit hole of procuring state applications, not to mention equipment to purchase and pack. And assessing your own level of physical fitness is a must, way before you even set foot in a forest. 

Most of the lodges we cover here are four- or five-star, but those ratings were not a parameter for inclusion. Rather, after extensive field research, wherein we went out and roughed it for the better part of the past two years, we chose to cover places where we were met with an outstanding experience that taught us how to shoot skeet, fly-fish, quail hunt, avoid bears, and eat really, really well. 

Here, we share what we learned about lodges in Virginia and how to prepare for what you’ll do when you’re visiting any one of them.

Fort Lewis Lodge — Millboro
Home Cooking—No, Really

Fort Lewis Lodge, in Millboro, sits in the middle of a 3,500-acre cattle farm, nestled in pastures as far as the eye can see. 

Jumping Rocks Photography

Fort Lewis Lodge, VA

Open from April until November, the destination sees repeat visitors every year since it established itself as a hospitality enterprise in 1987. In previous years, it had been a working cattle farm long before the Cowdens bought the land in 1959. The farming tradition continues, and Fort Lewis’ beef cattle are presently sold to Whole Foods and other major food purveyors.

The Cowden family has worked on the farm for three generations, since its inception as a farm in the 18th century. Older and newer members of the family still live and work on the property. 

One of the key Cowdens is chef and owner Caryl, the family matriarch and full-time cook who works at the Lewis Mill Restaurant. She serves breakfast at 9:00 in the morning and dinner at 7:45 in the evening, after a 6:30 p.m. happy hour at Buck’s Tavern, which is next door on a screened-in porch overlooking the Cowpasture River. 

“I’ve been coming here for 13 years, and I come back every year for the food,” George Eanes, a lodge guest from Glen Allen tells me. I meet him in the restaurant on my first night there. His wife echoes the sentiment. 

In fact, everyone present in the tavern said they come to Fort Lewis Lodge for the food. And that is the culinary genius of Cowden, who has been working in the kitchen making breakfast and dinner for more than 35 years. 

The food on the plate is made with what comes from the gardens on the property and out of the chicken coop. The cattle operation is too large-scale to accommodate small orders, so the beef at Buck’s Tavern is sourced from other local purveyors. “We want everything to be as farm-to-table as we can possibly make it,” Caryl Cowden says. 

But there is something else in these dishes that makes dinner—prepared by someone who’s not a trained chef—heads-and-shoulders above the food I’ve had at some Michelin star restaurants.

“I just love what I do,” says Cowden. 

When I say that you can taste the love that goes into her cooking, it sounds like a cliché—but it’s the truth. Each plate tastes like it was prepared just for you, as opposed to being produced for hundreds of heads a night. 

Aside from the food, you can stay in a room in their historic lodge, book a night in a terracotta-tiled grain silo apartment, or move into one of their free-standing cottages, which is where I stayed. Mine was one room, comfortable and intelligently laid out, with a small kitchen and ensuite bathroom. 

SETH BINSTED

The beauty of the land hits you when you sit and look out into the cattle fields, while sipping a glass of wine, fishing in the river, or enjoying the sauna that overlooks the river. The lodge also offers inflatables, perfect for floating down the Cowpasture River, as long as you’re comfortable in a bathing suit around Bath County’s wildlife. FortLewisLodge.com

Here are some recipes by Caryl.

Inn at Willow Grove & Rounton Farm — Orange
Shoot to Thrill

I learned to skeet shoot at Rounton Farm. I stayed at The Inn at Willow Grove. Both are in Orange with exceptionally different vibes. Rounton Farm is a working cattle farm that offers guided hunts, shooting lessons, and has perfect boho-looking barns at-the-ready for your next outdoor wedding. It’s recommended that if you go to shoot skeet, you bring some noise-canceling headphones, bug repellent, and wear canvas pants, hunting boots, and a durable jacket. I, on the other hand, wore linen pants, a black tank top, and a pair of Keds. 

Jenny Taylor

R.J. Farrar of Rounton Farm teaches writer Meredith Lindemon the basics of skeet shooting.

Aside from your wardrobe, you should be licensed to hunt, if you’re going on a guided hunt, and able to handle a firearm. You can also bring firearms of your own to use. 

I could have stayed at Rounton’s Airbnb—a quaint cottage, rustic and comfortable—but fly fishing was on my agenda, so I traipsed up the road to the Inn at Willow Grove. Its spa, with a seemingly endless supply of free-flowing champagne, has a dreamy location, overlooking the pool smack in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The food at the inn’s Vintage Restaurant is legendary, with a menu that leans heavily into the freshest flavors of the season. And the luxurious accommodations in a restored Georgian house that dates to the late 18th century are downright decadent.  

Armed with a fishing license from the Virginia Department of Natural Resources—required to fish in any of Virginia’s waters—I was lucky enough to learn how to fly-fish in Shenandoah National Park with Matt Scibal, general manager of The Inn at Willow Grove Resort and Lori Carter, communications director. This intrepid pair attempted to teach me how to ford the Rapidan River, in which I splashed and flailed in impotent humiliation. 

I did eventually get the hang of casting with my three-weight fly rod and Adams Parachute dry flies, which considerably inflated my ego with a brand new skill (and vocabulary). I ultimately found myself walking through the Rapidan before the three of us hiked up to President Hoover’s Rapidan Camp to enjoy a packed lunch courtesy of the inn. 

And once again, wardrobe is key to a fly-fishing expedition. And being new to the experience, I came dressed completely inappropriately. I didn’t have a clue what to wear under the hip waders and waterproof jacket they leant me, so I wore jeans, a linen shirt, and those same Keds. This is not the way of a fly fisher: wear ripstop pants, flat-bottomed boots, and dress in layers on top that go under the bib of your hip waders with a waterproof, zip-up jacket. InnAtWillowGrove.com, RountonFarm.com

Courtesy of the Inn at Willow Grove
Courtesy of the Inn at Willow Grove

At The Inn at Willow Grove, guests can choose their own adventure: unwind in the Mill House Spa, or relax on the porch at the main lodge

Mountain Lake Lodge — Pembroke
Don’t Put Baby in a Corner

Remember this: It’s always cooler on top of a mountain. And you’ll want to be outside as much as possible when staying at Mountain Lake Lodge, known to legions of film fans as the location for the movie, Dirty Dancing.   

Courtesy of Mountain Lake Lodge

At nearly 4,000 feet of elevation, the lodge leans into its location with a variety of outdoor pursuits, including off-road Gator™ vehicle tours and clay shooting, with instruction and equipment provided. 

Scheduled to open in May, the new Giles County Trail Center at Mountain Lake Lodge will offer guidance on more than 20 miles of trails on Mountain Lake property and a fresh, four-mile loop to Bald Knob, with spectacular views of the New River Valley and into West Virginia. You can also traverse the thickly wooded Mountain Lake Loop, which encircles the famous lake. Interestingly, it’s now mostly drained, thanks to mysterious geological effects.

Enjoy al fresco dining at Salt Pond Pub, which overlooks the lodge’s pool, tennis courts (warning: no pickleball), and a grassy area perfect for volleyball, bocce, and badminton. There’s a cozy firepit, too. 

A variety of accommodations are available within the 2,600-acre nature preserve: classic hotel rooms at the main lodge; fully restored, but still rustic cabins dating to the resort’s origin in the mid-1800s; and newer Blueberry Ridge cottages of varying sizes, perfect for romantic weekends or family reunions.

“Mountain Lake Lodge is one of the few places where you can step back in time, a time when life was slower, and nature was appreciated and savored,” Heidi Stone, Mountain Lake president and CEO told me. “Guests love to park their cars on arrival and take shuttles to all the activities and through the nature preserve.” MtnLakeLodge.com

Courtesy of Mountain Lake Lodge
White Oaks Preserve & Sunnyside sisters — Clarksville
Low Pressure Guided Hunts

Situated on 350 acres just outside Clarksville, White Oaks Preserve is the place to feed your love of the outdoors. Owners Tiffany and Evan Jones took over the property from Evan’s dad in 2022; they now host sold-out dove hunts in the fall and offer five-stand shooting, private hunting excursions, and a 100-yard shooting range. The Jones’ describe their hunts as “low pressure.” The preserve also offers fishing, Polaris Ranger rides, and a blueberry festival in July, which came about as a result of abundance. “I couldn’t keep up with picking them all,” Tiffany says.

Hunters who come for guided excursions may rent the lodge, which is a three-bedroom farmhouse. Novices are welcome, too, though you should bring your own firearms. (Metal and paper shooting range targets are provided.) “Even though hunting and shooting sports may seem intimidating for someone who hasn’t tried them, it’s incredibly fun and a great way to spend time outdoors,” Tiffany says. “We will make sure that you are properly coached and taught proper firearm safety while having an incredible time.”

Chris M. Rogers

For a historical vibe, head to The Sunnyside Sisters, a B&B just outside downtown Clarksville that pays tribute to the sisters who once ran the property as a women’s school. New-ish owners Martijn and Eveline Broeders moved from the Netherlands and opened the business in 2021, restoring the nearly 200-year-old structure and adding modern touches like marble bathrooms, convenient USB ports, and high-end amenities. The Broeders paid homage to the property’s founders by naming guest rooms for each of the sisters. Guests are welcome to park their boat trailers for use on nearby Buggs Island Lake and can explore walking trails or the historic cemetery on the 23-acre property. WhiteOaksPreserve.com, SunnysideSisters.com

Courtesy of Tthe Sunnyside Sisters
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