Inn of the Month: Sun Mountain Lodge

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Confidential to visitors of Sun Mountain Lodge: Pack eye drops. One tends to forget to blink while absorbing the panoramas from this four-star resort perched like an eagle's aerie above the Methow Valley in north-central Washington State. Although the toothy North Cascades and the glacier-rubbed Okanogan foothills beguile the eye, Sun Mountain is not known for Alpine skiing, but as a winter hub of cross-country skiing (it's North America's second-largest network). Autumn remains an even better-kept secret¿when you can spend tart fall afternoons playing tennis, fishing for German browns at the resort's Patterson Lake or mountain biking and riding horses in a million acres of surrounding wilderness.

The lodge is cut from blond Douglas pine and features split-spruce counters, chandeliers of rusted plows and saw blades that impart a husky pioneer elegance. The 102 guest rooms (most with fireplaces) are adorned with escutcheons and mirror frames forged by area blacksmiths, while local artisans crafted the beds' bent-willow headboards and hand-painted coverlets. Yet all is wisely arranged to call one's attention¿call it cowboy feng shui¿to the cyclorama of Cascade peaks and valleys at every window. At night, you can chase a day's feast of fine singletrack with alpenglow on 8,897-foot Gardner Mountain, followed by a grilled tenderloin from the owners' nearby Sunny M cattle ranch.

Just don't forget the Visine at bedtime; the stunning views atop Sun Mountain start again at dawn. Fall rates range from $70 nightly for a lodge room overlooking the valley to $405 for a two-bedroom suite in the resort's Mount Robinson building. The Fall Color Package, good through October, starts at $65 per person, including breakfast. Sun Mountain Lodge is a 4-hour drive from Seattle or Spokane, or catch Horizon Air into Wenatchee, 90 minutes to the south. Contact: Sun Mountain Lodge, P.O. Box 1000, Winthrop, WA 98862; (800) 572-0493; fax (509) 996-3133; www.sunmountainlodge.com.