Atmosphere: Rustic, informal, warm. Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 8 p.m. Closed Mondays. Price range: $8 to $12.50 for full-course dinners. Reservations: Advisable on weekends. Credit cards: American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, VISA. Special facilities: Plenty of parking.Booster and highchairs for children. Directions: Take I-270 toward Frederick. Turn off on Exit 49, I-70. Take I-70 west approximately five miles to alternate US-40. Take US-40 north 10 miles to the Inn.

If your are looking for a place to visit in the country now that spring has arrived, you're not likely to find a prettier spot than the old South Mountain Inn near Boonsboror, Md.

Your ears will pop as you climb Turner's Gap to reach the Inn, about an hour and a half out of Washington. Getting there is half the fun once you leave nerve-racking I-70 and descend through the beautiful Middletown Valley, heading back into the foothills of the Catoctin Mountains.

It's still largely rural: stone and brick homes that are more than 200 years old perch on ledges overlooking alternate US-40.

If your make it a day's trip, you'll have time for sightseeing. You can drive through the Civil War battlefield of Antietam near the Inn or hike on a stretch of the Appalachian trail that winds through nearby Washington Monument State Park or take a short side trip to Myersburg, where the Byrd Vineyards produce much of Maryland's very good wine.

As the afternoon darkens, you can stop at the Inn for dinner, as long as your expections are realistic. The Inn is of historic rather than culinary interest, but still we enjoyed a recent meal there.

The setting is beautiful. Much of South Mountain is solitary and wooded, part of a national park. The Inn is a large, old, stone and brick house on the edge of the road. I was built in 1732 as a stagecoach stop on the old National Trail, a major route westward.

Like many buildings in the area, the Inn saw action during the Civil War. It was captured and held as an outpost by John Brown's band after they left nearby Harper's Ferry.

Later, the railroads took business away from the National Trail. Business at the Inn declined. Since then, it has had its ups and downs as a private residence and local bar.

In th early 1970s, it was purchased by Charles Reichmuth, dining director of the National Georgraphic Society, who restored it.

Inside, the dim lighting comes partly from fireplaces which are always roaring in each room on cool mountain evenings. The decor is simple. The solid oak floors have no rugs. The walls -- some whitewashed brick, others paneled in dark wood -- are simple and warm.

If you go to the Inn, go hungry. You get a lot of country-style food for your money.

On weekdays and Saturdays, dinner includes salad, an entree and two vegetables. On Sundays, it includes a relish tray, appetizer, entree, two vegetables and dessert.

The relish tray includes apple butter, cottage cheese, piccalilli relish and that country favorite, watermelon-rind pickles.

The appetizer we tried was a fine chicken and corn soup with homemade dumplings. The fruit cocktail was poor, a concoction of apple pieces, canned citrus and sliced bananas.

Pick your entrees carefully. You'll do well with beef. Prime rib was tender and well-trimmed. The menu lists prime rib and steaks in the $12.50 range.

You might want to try the cured country ham. If that's too spicy for you, there's regular baked ham with pineapple sauce. Many seafood dishes are made from frozen seafood, but are nicely prepared. Fried shrimp was just fine and filet of sole was light sauteed.

If they are available, try country-style string beans cooked with smoked port butt. They're soggier than city folks are used to, but the seasoning is good.

Expect adequate but not excellent food. We ordered the special of the day, roast duck, and received a huge portion, practically a whole duck, smothered with an uninteresting sauce.

The entrees on the children's menu are fried chicken, ham in pineapple sauce and fried shrimp. They come with appetizers for $4.50. Dessert is included on Sundays.

The Inn claims most desserts are made on the premises, which may be true, but they are made mostly with canned ingredients that lack distinction. The best was cherry cobbler.

We selected a wine from the nearby Byrd Vineyards, Byrd vidal blanc. It was pale, light and dry, very mild in flavor but fun to drink in such a pleasing, historic setting.