IT SOUNDS LIKE THE PREMISE FOR A horror movie: Eight unmarried twenty-something urbanites rent a cabin for a long weekend in the mountains. Happily, we didn't get hacked to bits by a chainsaw-wielding psycho. At Lost River State Park, in Mathias, W.Va., my friends and I treated ourselves to an inexpensive and invigorating weekend hiking, cooking, swapping books and playing Scrabble.
Heading to the hills is an age-old prescription for weary workers' woes. It's especially refreshing for those of us on the cusp of adulthood, whose daily lives can seem overwhelmingly complicated at times. Being young and single in Washington requires a great deal of adaptability and rapid-fire decision-making, and finding a foothold here can feel relentlessly daunting.
So when the eight of us found ourselves inching along a slippery, moss-covered trail high in the Shenandoah Mountains, we giddily clung to one another to keep from falling, happy to have only one concern: getting down the mountain in one piece. That's the beauty of the mountains -- their power to narrow your focus.
Lost River's 26 cabins are set among the trees in the mellow, 3,712-acre park. Winterized cabins, available year-round, and three-season log cabins cost $59 to $156 a night. (When we visited in the spring, we paid $80 per night for a roomy four-bedroom cabin, courtesy of a "rent two nights, get one free" online coupon.) Cabins rent by the week in the summer and have a two-night minimum the rest of the year. Each has a wood-burning fireplace, full bath, linens and a modern kitchen. Most also have porches with rocking chairs, the perfect spot for sipping coffee while watching young deer graze nearby. Friends, forests and fawns: the recipe for relaxation.
WHERE TO STAY: Lost River State Park, 321 Park Dr., Mathias, W.Va.; 304-897-5372 or 800-225-5982; www.lostriversp.com. There are two routes that each take about three hours from the District. Northern route: Take Interstate 66 west to Route 55 west. Turn onto Route 259 south, then turn right onto the service road at Mathias. Southern route: Take Route 29 west to Warrenton, then Route 211 to New Market. Go south on I-81 to Route 259 past Tenth Legion, and follow Route 259 west to Mathias. Turn left onto the service road into the park. If you aren't going to rent a cabin but want to visit the park, stay at Big Ridge Campground (6547 Dove Hollow Rd., Mathias; 304-897-6404). From the park, turn right at the sign for the stables and campground -- it's just outside the park boundary. For cushier digs, try the Lost River Grill & Motel (8079 Service Road 259, Lost River; 304-897-6482).
WHERE TO EAT: There are several noteworthy restaurants en route to the park, one very good place near Mathias and several grocery stores. If you take the northern route, eat the cheesy quiche and Snickers Mountain pie on the front porch at the charming County Seat Pub and Eatery (104 Royal Ave., Front Royal, Va.; 540-636-8884). Along the southern route, refuel with a sandwich and frozen mocha and browse through the book selection at A Moment to Remember Espresso Bar & Cafe (55 E. Main St., Luray, Va.; 540-743-1121).
The Lost River Grill (next to the motel) has classic American fare, dark wood booths and low prices. It's a popular spot, and rightly so, serving scrumptious country cooking -- green beans simmered with pork, rib-eye steak and cheesecake -- and it doubles as exhibit space for local artists. In Mathias, get home-style vittles at Cove Run Restaurant (160 Upper Cove Rd., Mathias; 304-897-7066) or N & S Family Restaurant (13842 Route 259, Mathias; 304-897-6502).
Since the cabins have modern kitchens, stock up on gourmet sundries at the Lost River General Store (7015 Route 259, Lost River; 304-897-6169). Find Ben & Jerry's pints, Celeste pizza, veggies, and deli meats and cheeses at Misty Valley Grocery (12834 Route 259, Mathias; 304-897-5976). South End Grocery carries jumbo cans of chocolate pudding and nacho cheese, but it also stocks soups, cereal and other necessities (9039 Route 259, Lost City; 304-897-5101). Both markets carry marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars; sharpen some sticks and make s'mores in the cabin's fireplace.
WHAT TO DO: While roasting marshmallows might be enough entertainment for some, there's a lot to do at Lost River State Park. Well-marked trails boast breathtaking vistas and mysterious abandoned cabins. In the summertime, the guarded swimming pool is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:30 to 5:45. Go on a trail ride or take a riding lesson at Hidden Trails Stables. A rainy day could be whiled away in the park's game room, with its pool and Ping-Pong tables, jukebox and video arcade games. Up the hill from the pool, you'll find tennis courts fenced in by huge, knobby logs -- a stunning sight. For a history lesson, drop by Lee Cabin, the summer retreat built by Revolutionary War hero "Lighthorse Harry" Lee, father of Robert E. Lee.
In the mood for art? Visit the Lost River Craft Cooperative and Museum (7151 Route 259, Lost City; 304-897-7242; www.lostrivercraft.com). The downstairs museum showcases the area's artistic legacy, with hundred-year-old looms and other tools. At the cooperative, local artists' wares illustrate the continuation of traditional craftsmanship, with soft-as-butter wooden trunks, handspun wool and pottery in muted hues for sale.
The museum regularly hosts lectures, quilting bees and demonstrations and will have special exhibits during Hardy County Heritage Weekend from Sept. 24 to 26 (Hardy County Tour and Crafts Association; P.O. Box 1001, Moorefield, W.Va. 304-538-8080; http://heritageweekend.com). This popular annual event includes house tours, a Civil War encampment, craft shows, music and other events throughout the area. It's a celebration of neighborliness, creativity and history, a reminder of the propensity of a community to form powerful bonds -- and discover great beauty -- in the mountains.
-- Christina Talcott