I'm trying to make it a goal every year to go out and explore more places close to home, that I've never been. Small weekends away to go to places that are a reasonable drive to explore. The Cook Forest State Park area is one of those that has been on my list for years. Early May, my husband and I booked a weekend there to explore the landscape.
When I write I know I can share a lot. Its just me! I know when I am traveling, I like to get some details to know what to expect. Even if no one never reads it, I feel better saying it there for my own memories. In order to shorten this post some, I am going to break this into two posts. This post I am going to focus on where we stayed, the Gateway Lodge. Come back soon for a second post where I will talk about the activities and hiking we did in the Cook Forest Park.
In case not mentioned before, I have a list of hotels, inns, and B&B's, that have caught my eye through various forms of media. I have created a list of these in hopes to stay at them some day. Though some are far away and require a plane ticket; the majority are places within a reasonable drive (that way I can plan weekends away at some point). The Gateway Lodge in Cook Forest had been on that list for years and was finally excited to cross this place off my bucket list
A beautiful sign with water feature sits along the entrance along the road and is the first thing you see. The lodge is not visible from the road but a small drive up the dirt and rock road and it greets you. It is very rustic and almost feels like an old soul at first glance. The main building exterior put me in the mindset of a family camp or cabin that has been around for decades. You can see the new part added on to the one side but they do a great job of blending the everything into woods backdrop. The building feels like it belongs and isn't just some resort put there to make money.
The inside embraces that woodsy rustic feel but in modern way. The check-in in area is small and can get crowded. However, the staff is friendly, and efficient; making the process go smoothly.
Below the main building and entrance picture. next to that you can still see some of this but also the extension of the lodge some.
We stayed in one of the Gallery Rooms, which I think were more recently renovated. The floors were carpeted with a wood celling. The one wall was covered with bark tile. It was what felt and looked like bark from trees made into tiles. Along the one wall was a long desk with a coffee maker, and half a dozen home made cookies. A nice welcome as it was cool and rainy that day.
The door to the bathroom was a sliding barn door. Clearly also renovated recently they boasted some nice heated tile floors, and a lovely copper sink. The shower head was nice (thought it did take a while for the water to get warm in the mornings), and I enjoyed their bathroom amenities such as the shampoo and conditioner.
Not the biggest room but good for two of us. Overall a nice room that was clean, comfortable, and cozy for our stay. I didn't get the best pictures but did put some of the bathroom and its entrance below, Check out more their own (and much better) images on their website here.
Other things to note. The rooms we stayed in are few on the property and appear to be in the main house. There is second building attached to the main with suites that you can get rooms with jacuzzi tubs and balconies. They suites cost more but I also liked the more modern look of the gallery rooms form their website. Thus why, I choose them over a room with a balcony. There was no tv in the room, but I knew that from their website that only certain suite rooms have them. Finally, they also own several cabins nearby that you can rent out that look really nice. Just note those cabins don't have cell service or wifi.
Breakfast is included in your stay and COVID rules were in effect while we were there. When we arrived we were given the the weekend breakfast menu and had to selected our choices at check in. In the morning the items were put in a picnic basket and left outside your door. As a wedding planner I loved the creativity and presentation of the breakfast. It was wall packaged with all the food and utensils you may need. Things like the orange juice were put in glass mason jars with the lids. Oh and the food was delicious. We had an egg thing the one day and a fruit parfait thing the next. Both breakfast came with homemade baked goods that melted in your mouth. When we were done, we just put the basket back in the hall and someone picked it up.
There were a couple of public areas that you could hang out and relax. Their is a big one that seems to connect the house to the new building area with the suites. Its a room with huge glass windows looking out, a fireplace on the other side, and doors to a deck if you want to sit outside. There are also stairs to the second floor rooms, but a loft area with seating to hang out. Its big enough with plenty of areas that you can share the space with other guests but still keep a distance and have your own space. I will say some of the furniture in this area could use a little updating. Some pieces felt a little "belongs in nursing home" type thing.
My favorite public space was the billiards room. The room had a gorgeous pool table, some pub tables, and tv's. Steve and I played a few games, and that was probably the first time I played a game of pool in 20 years. I still overall suck, but had a couple of good shots!
There is also an onsite spa. Currently it appears they just offer massages. We saw the entrance but not the area itself as it was closed when we were there. Shockingly we did not book a treatment. We were not sure with the trails we wanted to hike if there would be time and wanted to leave more time for exploring the forest.
Below is just a waterfall feature in the main hallway I loved. I am a big fan of their logo and bought a mug with the logo on it.
There is an onsite restaurant that is open Thursday-Sundays. You don't need to be a guest of the lodge to eat there, but know that most Saturday's they have this meal called Taste of the Wilds. Its a 3 course, fixed, menu that changes with the seasons. Reservations are required for this meal, so plan ahead. We actually ate both of our dinners there that weekend. the regular menu on Friday and the fixed menu on Saturday. Since we were there early May, not a lot of other restaurants in the area were opened for the season yet.
They had live music on Friday and the setting is beautiful. Again you could tell it was redone with modern feel but still embraced the woods setting.
The food at the restaurant was overall good. I had some dishes and items that were absolutely amazing, such as a super moist, and deliciously seasoned chicken breast. I opted for crab over steak on the fixed menu night and was impressed. The panna cotta and cobbler desserts were incredible as well. However, the famous gateway chocolate cake let me down some as it was a little dry. I also got a hasselback potato as a side the one night was dry, and on the raw side. Still overall it was a pretty good place to eat. Service was excellent. Note, they do serve alcohol but it is limited to beer and wine only. They had a good selection of both though.
Below a picture I took of our desserts, the panna cotta and the chocolate cake.
The only real complaint is cell coverage sucks when you are there and so does their WiFi. I totally get the whole being the woods, disconnecting electronically, and connecting with nature and your travel companions. However, that is hard stay completely disconnected when their are things like a pandemic happening, or you own a business. While we did disconnect when out exploring the state park, it would have been nice to stream a movie on our tablets when we got back to our rooms. We couldn't with the terrible internet. They promote doing business meetings there but not sure I would recommend if you need internet for your meeting.
Internet aside, I would still recommend the place if in the area. firstname.lastname@example.org. A slower pace of life where time doesn't move quite the same. Gateway Lodge works well in that setting but offers an escape with a more traditional hotel feel for those who don't want to step to far back in time when it comes to where you stay. It's not quiet luxury in the sense of a high end resort you may find in a more populated area. However it higher end for the area, but still casual enough that its not pretentious. They also do some themed weekends with events such as wine and dine, or bed and brew, that sound fun.
To me, I am glad I finally stayed. Its not a place I would rush back to repeatedly like my Inn Boonsboro or Lodge at Woodloch that I try to do every year. I just didn't feel a deep connection with the place or area. When I want rest and to recharge those two places call me like the ocean calls Moana. I thought this had potential to be a third option for me, but not putting it on that list. However, I will definitely keep it in mind if we ever visit the area again and need a place to stay.
Check out their website here for more information and to book your own stay.
Come back soon as I talk about the Cook Forest area itself in more detail.