Classic mountain lodges roll out the welcome mat

These seasonal favorites provide an elevated experience just in time for spring.
LeConte Lodge inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park is so high in elevation that it receives dustings of snow in late spring.
Courtesy of LeConte Lodge/Stokely Hospitality

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

LeConte Lodge inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park is so high in elevation that it receives dustings of snow in late spring. Courtesy of LeConte Lodge/Stokely Hospitality

Spring’s around the corner, which means the South’s classic high-country mountain inns will spring to life again, on cue with mother nature. These are high-altitude lodges with proud traditions and great views, places where the focus is on nature and interaction with fellow guests. Whether they’re luxurious or homey, they all have a rustic, away-from-it-all charm that keeps the distractions of the modern world at bay. Enjoy an elevated experience away from the crowds and closer to the clouds at one of these four spots.

The front porch at The Swag is a gathering place for guests to take in the view.
Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

Credit: Blake Guthrie

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Credit: Blake Guthrie

The Swag

Located near Maggie Valley, North Carolina, The Swag requires a winding, four-mile drive up a mountain road from the highway before you reach the front gate. Then it’s another couple of miles on an even windier private road until you reach the check-in spot, at which point you leave the car behind and are shuttled even farther up the mountain to your accommodations atop the Cataloochee Divide on the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Originally a private residence built in 1969, The Swag opened in 1982 to accommodate visitors to the Knoxville World’s Fair. Aside from the views, what sets the property apart from others is the personalized service from an attentive staff. There seem to be as many employees as guests, all ready to cater to your every whim from check-in to check out.

Accommodations are luxuriously rustic with rooms and suites in two lodge buildings and outlying cabins. A seasonal, four-course dinner with assigned seating is served each evening at 7 p.m., with a social hour on the front porch beforehand.

Hiking is a big deal here and guests receive a handcrafted walking stick at check-in, along with a glass of wine. Named after an old mountaineers’ term for a dip in the ridgeline, The Swag has a walk-in entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and contains its own network of trails on the 250-acre property. Especially appealing are a series of small decks called hideaways tucked off the nature trail for relaxing and taking in the view. At day’s end, unwind in front of a fireplace in the main house or in your room with no TVs in sight.

The Swag. $850 and up, meals included. 2300 Swag Road, Waynesville, North Carolina. 828-926-0430,

LeConte Lodge

Just below the summit of 6,593-foot Mount LeConte on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, LeConte Lodge’s lofty position makes it the highest guest lodge in the eastern U.S. Guests must make quite an effort to reach it, though, as the only way to get there is to hike steep trails ranging in length from five to nine miles.

Adventurous types who want deep immersion in nature but with a comfortable bed and a hot, hearty meal to start and end the day will relish the experience. Accommodations are provided in one-room cabins made of rough-hewn wood with covered, rocking-chair porches and in three multi-room lodges for groups of 10-13.

Rustic is the order of the day at LeConte Lodge, which is only open March through November. The cabins do not have electricity, so rooms are lit with kerosene lamps and heated by propane, which comes in handy because it gets cold at night at such a high elevation, even in summer. Dustings of snow are common through late spring. There’s no running water in the cabins, either. A common privy with the recently added modern amenity of flush toilets is available, and there’s a washbasin in the cabins for a pioneer-style sponge bath should you need one.

Meals are served family-style in a common dining area. The lodge, which dates back to 1926 before the national park was established, receives its weekly supplies from a pack team of llamas. It’s a popular place, so book far in advance. If no dates are available, there’s a waitlist for cancellations.

LeConte Lodge. $162 per person for cabins, dinner and breakfast included. No physical address; lodge is is accessed via six hiking trail. Business address is Stokley Hospitality, 250 Apple Valley Road, Sevierville, Tennessee. 865-429-5704,,

Lake Rabun Hotel and Restaurant is surrounded by trees and colorful gardens in Rabun County.
Courtesy of Ralph Daniel

Credit: Ralph Daniel

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Credit: Ralph Daniel

Lake Rabun Hotel

Situated on one of North Georgia’s prettier mountain lakes in Rabun County, Lake Rabun Hotel dates to 1922 and claims to be the last surviving mountain lodge on a lake in the state. The bed-and-breakfast inn, featuring vintage wooden accents, stone chimneys and fireplaces, is located on a hillside across the road from Lake Rabun, an 853-acre reservoir along the Tallulah River, six miles upstream of Tallulah Falls and Tallulah Gorge State Park. Surrounded by old-growth trees and colorful gardens with stone-lined pathways and patios, it also has a lot of deck space upstairs for alfresco dining and sipping in the treetops.

The hotel’s restaurant, a destination spot for locals as well as guests, serves sophisticated farm-to-table Southern fare with international touches in a casual atmosphere. It’s open for dinner Wednesdays through Sundays and for Sunday brunch. Choose from 13 rooms on the second and third levels of the inn and an adjacent two-bedroom, two-bath cottage. For even more woodsy and remote accommodations, the hotel has five cottages a mile away at the Lake Rabun Fish Camp.

If you want to get on the water, it’s a short walk down the road from the hotel to the Rabun Boathouse, commonly referred to as Hall’s Boathouse, for boat rentals. The boathouse, like the hotel, is a mainstay on the lake and a longtime seasonal gathering place for the community.

Lake Rabun Hotel. $114 and up, breakfast included. 35 Andrea Lane, Lakemont. 706-782-4946,

The view from the lawn at High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, North Carolina. 
Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

Credit: Blake Guthrie

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Credit: Blake Guthrie

High Hampton Inn

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, High Hampton Inn — part of the 1,400-acre High Hampton Resort in Cashiers, North Carolina — has been welcoming guests seasonally since 1922. Now under new ownership and open year-round for the first time, the inn recently underwent a major renovation that kept the rustic historic charm intact while upgrading the facilities.

Generations of families have made their annual summer pilgrimage to High Hampton to reconnect with nature and each other in a relaxing environment with a proud tradition. You dress up for dinner here, and if you forget to take off your baseball cap before taking a seat in the dining room for breakfast, a staff member will politely remind you to remove it.

The experience still has a summer camp feel to it, but like a high-end summer camp for adults as well as kids. A wide range of games and activities are offered, including bingo, croquet, pickleball, water sports on the 35-acre lake and hiking 15 miles of trails on the mountainous property. In addition to the resort, the tennis facility and the 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed golf course have also been renovated.

The rooms in the inn have been expanded, but the wooden floors and staircases still creak. Adjacent cottages have multi-bedroom suites for larger groups. Guests interact in common areas that include a large lobby with a four-sided fireplace, wraparound porches with red rocking chairs and a rolling lawn next to the inn overlooking the lake at the foot of a rock-faced mountain, appropriately called Rock Mountain, the signature High Hampton view.

High Hampton Inn. $745 and up, dinner and breakfast included. 1525 Highway 107 South, Cashiers, North Carolina. 800-648-4252,