Elk River Inn & Restaurant
A nature lover’s paradise, this Pocahontas County retreat has it all, just minutes away from Snowshoe Mountain.
This sprawling four-season, multifaceted, resort alternative sits on 156 picturesque acres just off U.S. Route 219 in Pocahontas County at the headwaters of the scenic Elk River. In the spring, summer, and early fall, Elk River Inn & Restaurant caters to mountain bikers, fishermen, and just plain nature lovers. During the warmer months, Elk River offers guided and unguided mountain bike treks as well as Orvis-endorsed, guided trout fishing trips. And as the seasons change, so do the enthusiasts—cross-country and downhill skiers and snowboarders enjoy the amenities and the inn’s close proximity to Snowshoe Mountain.
Owners and high school sweethearts Gil and Mary Willis settled on the original five-acre plot, given to them by Gil’s father, in 1977. The land included a farmhouse that now serves as an extension of the inn’s grounds. Though the other 150 acres didn’t appear overnight, Gil says that the thriving business has grown in small increments while acknowledging humble beginnings. “I settled here, worked odd jobs, learned to ski, and in December of 1979 started renting out a few rooms,” he says.
The main structure in the complex is a 4,500-square-foot cedar building. Inside is a 55-seat restaurant with a full bar, five more guest rooms, a pro shop, and offices. A large wood-burning fireplace anchors the space, much to the delight of the patrons in winter. Mary explains, “We use gas logs in the rental cabins and sitting areas for convenience, but there is no substitute for the snap and pop of a real fire.”
Across from the main building are two rental cabins and the farmhouse. Just up the road towards Snowshoe, the Willises own a separate six-acre parcel that features a ski and snowboard shop, three guest rooms, and two log cabins. But even with a packed house, the inn is still cozy. Mary says, “At full capacity, we have about 50 people.”
Guests don’t have to be gunning for outdoor activity to enjoy one of the area’s best-kept secrets—the restaurant at the Elk River Inn. Best described as fine dining with a casual feel, the establishment is renowned for its homemade breads and desserts and creative, health-conscious menu using local, organic ingredients. Mary has been chief cook since the inception of the eatery in 1988. Satisfying the masses comes naturally to her—she grew up cooking for her nine brothers and sisters in Warrenton, Virginia, before taking culinary classes in California. “I love to experiment and I draw inspiration from many of the talented chefs I have worked with over the years,” says Mary. Gil laughs, “Mary started out with a menu specializing in fresh Elk River-raised trout. This was our hallmark then and still is today.”
With praise from publications like Cooking Light and Bon Appétit, the Willises have taken their culinary goals even further by bringing Fayette County native Chef David Carte on board. A graduate of Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts in Providence, Rhode Island, his influences on the menu have been well received.
The Elk River Inn enterprise has grown to the extent that Mary and Gil can’t be “fun hogs” as in the past. Their full attention is now devoted to managing their ever-growing lodging adventure. “We built the business around this beautiful place we are lucky to live in, and we wanted to share it with people who enjoy the outdoors, especially as we were here raising our two sons,” says Gil. And, according to Gil, everyone with an appreciation for nature—or the need to just get away—is welcome. He says, “Even though we offer year-round activities for sports enthusiasts, we would just as soon have the nature lover who does nothing but revel in these beautiful surroundings and never leaves the property.”
Elk River Inn & Restaurant, HC 86, Box 7, Slatyfork, WV 26291; 304.572.3771; 866.572.3771