A Nostalgic Stay in Boone

Rhode’s Motor Lodge offers visitors the nostalgia of a drive-up motor inn and the warmth of a mountain lodge. Taylor McDonald Photography.

When I was a kid, road trips and roadside motels were the norm. Flights weren’t easy to book, gas was cheap, and the sliding door on the family Astro van was ready to crush all your fingers. Packing the car was an Olympic sport that only ended when you had zero visibility, and unloading it was like playing a giant game of Jenga. Blankets, pillows, snacks, and a notepad for doodling and playing MASH were all you had for entertainment — and in my case, Michael Bolton on repeat.

Get your caffeine fix at Boone’s own Hatchet Coffee Roasters!

Today, it’s easy to let the internet do the memory-making for us. We put our trust in a recommended Superhost on Airbnb, find a highly reviewed restaurant on Google for dinner, and call it a day. Flying by the seat of your pants while on vacation is rare these days — but an open mind goes a long way when planning a trip to remember (and nostalgia and modern comfort are not mutually exclusive).

A couple of months ago, my husband and I were invited to stay at Rhode’s Motor Lodge in Boone — a renovated mid-century motel, mere minutes from downtown. The transformation was the work of Loden Hospitality, a hotelier well known for its renovation of The Longleaf Hotel in downtown Raleigh.

I’ll be honest: Prior to this trip, my stays in Boone were almost exclusively limited to cabins found on Airbnb. Roadside motels, with their mom-and-pop vibe and retro signage, were things of my childhood. I’ve stayed at quite a few questionable establishments over the years, and they weren’t necessarily experiences I wanted to repeat.

Despite my misgivings, no self-respecting North Carolinian is going to pass up a free stay in Boone. Besides, Rhode’s promised something different — a boutique, one-of-a-kind hotel experience for those yearning for modern amenities and simpler times. With its nostalgic, retro design and on-site restaurant, I looked forward to our late afternoon check-in — but prior to that, we had a full day of adventure ahead of us.

The courtyard is the perfect place to enjoy a drink and warm up by the fire. Taylor McDonald Photography.

Our day began with a visit to Moses Cone Manor, the 1901 summer home of textile magnate Moses H. Cone and his wife, Bertha Cone. After taking in stunning views of the surrounding land — all part of Moses H. Cone Memorial Park — we took a walk around Bass Lake, a 0.8-mile paved loop. The weather was frigid, so we cut the hike short and thawed out at Hatchet Coffee Roasters. To say this is a popular hangout in town is an understatement — it was was chock-full of tourists, students, and locals — but I will admit that my Smashing Pumpkin Latte was worth the wait.

In the spirit of High Country adventure, we took a mountain drive and stopped at just about every overlook we could find before winding up in downtown Boone for a little shopping spree. Pro tip: If you don’t smell like incense after an hour of browsing, you haven’t done it right.

When it came time for check-in, I was interested to see how “motor-lodgy” Rhode’s Motor Lodge actually was. Constructed in 1957 and originally known as Greene’s Motel, the motel had been run by the Greene family until 1972. The following decades were not kind — the establishment fell into disrepair and languished on the side of the road for years, just waiting to be reimagined and revitalized.

Bad weather? Opt for a game of pool instead! Taylor McDonald Photography.

“We were looking at quite a few unique older properties up here in early 2021,” said Russ Jones, president of Loden Hospitality. “This one, to me, was the obvious choice. It was sitting up on this hill, and it’s got this really great prominence to it. It had presence. We could tell there were some really great bones.”

Once acquired, Loden began redesigning and repurposing the property in a way that honored its history and location. The nostalgia of a drive-up motor inn, paired with the essence of a mountain lodge? Yes, please.

We noticed all the hallmarks of a motor lodge immediately upon arrival, but nothing prepared me for the added sense of luxury. Visitors sat in large Adirondack chairs under a covered front patio, illuminated by string lights and a crackling fire pit. Inside, cozy chairs were positioned around a large terracotta tile fireplace. People milled around a pool table and game room, cocktails in hand, and dined both inside and outside at the hotel’s restaurant, Canteen — offering both breakfast and dinner to hotel guests, locals, and passersby.

Appreciate the terracotta tile fireplace in the lobby and dine at Rhode’s Motor Lodge’s on-site restaurant, Canteen. Taylor McDonald Photography.

The decor you see both in and out of the rooms is all carefully curated and custom made. A rug made of recycled plastic covers the original concrete floors. Tree trunk night stands, pendant light fixtures reminiscent of tent lights, and a Rhode’s Motor Lodge-branded Coleman cooler (doubling as an ice bucket) can be found in every room.

“We have washable wool blankets from Scotland that we love,” said Christine McDonald, COO of Loden Hospitality. “We wanted that kind of warmth and idea of a road trip. I remember my grandparents used to always have these kinds of blankets, so the idea of bringing that in was really important.”

When asked about her favorite special touch, McDonald had trouble picking just one.

Enjoy lunch and a beer at Booneshine Brewing Co.

“I can say that there’s not a single thing that you see anywhere that isn’t here for a reason,” said McDonald. “We thought about the impression we wanted to have on every single touch, down to the napkins. A lot of the custom furnishings and artwork, you’re not going to see that anywhere else. The overshot weaving, a style of historic Appalachian weaving, can be found on the walls and throw pillows. There are references to outdoor adventure everywhere.”

A mother and her baby sunbathe at Apple Hill Farm, a mountaintop alpaca farm you won’t want to miss!

Unlike a traditional hotel, cabin, or Airbnb, Loden Hospitality has made a concerted effort to make sure the property “lives and breathes” Boone. One of the best things about this hotel is you don’t need Google to help discover the area. Employees are happy to share great hiking spots, restaurants, and local best-kept secrets.

Determined to make memories without technology, I used my big-girl voice (a big deal for an introvert) and asked about unique things to do in the area. The tactic paid off: On our way out of town we visited Apple Hill Farm, a mountaintop alpaca farm that my husband had to be drag me away from, kicking and screaming.

With plans for outside movie nights in the summer and guided fly fishing and hiking trips in the spring (via Speckled Trout Outfitters in Blowing Rock), Rhode’s will soon be a one-stop shop for memory making. Our advice? Book a room before the word gets out!

“If you enjoy it here, it’s because it feels like Boone,” said Jones. “We want people who live and work in Boone to be proud of this. This is something the community can really embrace — and I don’t think you can get that in a new construction.”


Worth the Stop!

Swing by Venture Chocolate and Wine Co. — a bean-to-bar chocolate maker — for a handpicked box of bonbons or a glass of wine.

Visit Apple Hill Farm for an alpaca meet-and-greet!

Experience the largest outdoor beer garden in the High Country at Booneshine Brewing Co.

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