KILLINGTON, Vt. -- We have stayed in far more luxurious places than the Inn at Long Trail, but rarely have we slept better. And we have certainly eaten in fancier restaurants, but rarely with such gusto. Set on a mountain rise between Pico Peak and the Green Mountain National Forest at an intersection of the Appalachian and Long trails, this country hostelry makes a congenial place to crash after a vigorous day outdoors.
In summer and fall, it's a stopover for through-hikers; it even has a hikers' mail drop in the lobby. Many winter guests are skiers, and a hand-lettered sign at the door pleads, ''Please do not wear ski boots on our nice floor." (The broad plank flooring is one of the inn's rustic charms.) We prefer snowshoes to alpine skis, and the same steep trails that serve summer hikers make challenging winter trekking. We asked for advice on check-in and got a color-coded map. One route climbs quickly to a side trail that curves around to Deer Leap Overlook, a massive shelf of rock that looks straight across to Pico Peak.
We could actually see the edge of Deer Leap from the windows of our ''cozy country bedroom" on the second floor of the main lodge, which was built for skiers by the Green Mountain Club in 1938. The steps and risers of the stairs are massive split birch logs, and peeled birch branches serve as banisters. All that wood tends to bend and stretch, so stairs and floors creak underfoot, and the whole place seems to be mumbling under its breath in a strong wind.
When the McGrath family took over in 1977, they added the Irish pub and upgraded the whole place from clubhouse to inn. Our simple room, about 200 square feet, had sturdy maple furniture -- double bed, dresser, desk, and armchair. The 5-by-7-foot bathroom sported a new shower stall and toilet and an older pedestal sink where a basket held two bars of soap and two bottles of shampoo.
We could have chosen one of six modern suites with gas fireplaces in a 1970s annex, but we preferred the ambience of the original lodge. Except for sleeping, we spent most of our indoor time downstairs, where maple rockers and plaid couches are arrayed around a rugged fieldstone fireplace. We soaked in the redwood hot tub and tried to fill in a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle on a table. Other guests sat beneath birch-branch lamps to read, while children spread a board game on a giant split-log coffee table. One woman left her crocheting on a couch to pick up later. On Saturday night, a mother and college-age son raptly watched ''Trading Spaces" in the sunroom-cum-TV lounge. Not one of its designers could have captured the raffish, woodsy look the inn has evolved over the years.
The builders of the lodge dealt with the massive boulders below Deer Leap simply by constructing one wall around the biggest rock, which now serves as a conversation piece in the corner of the dining room. Long windows along the back wall reveal a naturalist's still life of weathered rocks fringed with club mosses and bristling with gray-green lichens.
The green tablecloths might be the first hint of the inn's Irish accent. Dinner and breakfast are included in the room package on weekends and holidays, and the evening menu might be deemed ''Killington goes to Kilkenny": a rich Guinness beef stew, corned beef and cabbage, double chocolate Irish soda bread pudding with Irish whiskey cream sauce. (That same soda bread is a breakfast option, along with eggs, French toast, or pancakes.) In fairness, one could dine on less Gaelic fare, like scallops mornay, stuffed peppers, or ''strawberry marguerita [sic] cheesecake" -- but, we figured, why mess with a good thing?
McGrath's Irish Pub is as authentic a local establishment as we've found in New England. Wee folks and gramps alike eat, drink, and make mellow talk. We watched one young woman rest her head on her companion's shoulder and drift off during a song or two (there's Irish folk music on Friday and Saturday nights), then snap awake for a lively singalong chorus. Regular performer Tom O'Carroll held the audience with a mix of lively patter (''It's a nice Irish love song -- nobody gets killed") and stout philosophy (''It's hard to distinguish between history and grudges," he said, introducing a war song).
We turned in after a couple of sets and a few Imperial pints. Our room, we soon realized, sat above the pub, but O'Carroll's rhythms slowed and mellowed by midnight, and we drifted off to the choruses of drinking music as the wind whistled past the rocks outside.
Next time, though, we'll ask for a room on the third floor.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon are freelance writers who live in Cambridge.