For nature lovers and ‘Dirty Dancing’ fans
It didn’t take long after arriving at Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, Virginia, to realize that, despite the resort’s name, it has no lake. What it does offer guests is a long, colorful list of activities that can fill many a day.
Then there’s that not-so-secret reason many people go there: Most of the popular 1987 movie Dirty Dancing, which supposedly took place at a vacation retreat in New York’s Catskill Mountains, was filmed at the Virginia lodge.
Taking advantage of the almost cult-like following the motion picture spawned, Mountain Lake Lodge stages a series of special weekends focused on the film.
During our recent visit, my wife, Fyllis, and I combined an immersion in the movie’s mystique with a sampling of other things to do and see on the resort’s 2,600-acre spread.
Resort’s setting, amenities
The history alone is enticing. In the early 1800s, a wooden hotel was built to serve as a stagecoach stop. Following several reincarnations, a businessman purchased the property and, in 1936, erected the sprawling stone lodge that still stands.
Today, the resort is owned by a foundation that preserves its role as a place where people can forge a close connection with nature.
There are 24 miles of hiking trails of varying degrees of challenge. Birdwatchers can explore the tranquil hemlock forest and marsh bog nearby. Guided tours reveal hidden areas of the property.
The resort clings proudly to its past. Hallways are lined with historic photographs and memorabilia, and cottages built during the early 1900s have been refurbished to serve as accommodations. Stone benches from that time are scattered about the campus to provide rest and respite.
Those seats come in handy for guests seeking a bit of R&R after taking advantage of the resort’s eclectic A-to-Z choice of recreational alternatives, from art classes to zip lining.
Escape rooms challenge the ingenuity of those who venture into them, and a ropes course tests their bravery and balance.
An onsite shooting range, Clays at the Overlook, offers rifle shooting at moving targets, and lessons are available for a fee to help beginners score a bullseye.
Other opportunities close to the resort include fishing, kayaking and canoeing, river rafting and golfing.
What happened to the lake?
Not long ago, the on-site lake itself offered a choice of water-related opportunities. Geologists explain that Mountain Lake was formed about 6,000 years ago by rock slide dams.
It’s the only body of water in the world that goes through natural periodic cycles of draining through leak holes, and then refilling as those openings are plugged by sediment.
While the lake bed was empty when Fyllis and I were there, it’s famous for another reason. During the making of Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey practiced “the lift” there — the most famous part of a dance routine at the end of the film. The location is identified by one of a number of signs that mark spots where scenes were filmed.
The resort’s special Dirty Dancing weekends, which are held throughout the year, attract both first-time participants and fans who, I learned, have watched the movie as many as 50 times.
At a costume contest, Hollywood wannabes dress up like various actors. Dance lessons introduce some of the moves that gave the movie its name, and games like a scavenger hunt and trivia quiz separate die-hard groupies from less dedicated devotees.
The weekend warriors we met told us that a Dirty Dancing sequel is in the works, written by and starring Jennifer Grey. It’s not yet known when filming at the site will take place.
Not a resort to be satisfied with its film fame, Mountain Lake Lodge also offers other themed events: Independence and Mother’s Day celebrations, football weekends, craft beer tastings and Thanksgiving and Christmas fetes.
Even if the inventory of special occasions doesn’t tempt a visit to Mountain Lake Lodge, the beautiful setting and relaxing campus may do so. Fyllis and I returned home with fond memories and the hope of returning in the future to create more of them.
If you go
Mountain Lake Lodge is about a five-hour drive from Washington, D.C. Accommodations include the historic lodge building and cottages located around the property.
Nightly rates begin at $199, and prices for the all-inclusive Dirty Dancing weekends start at $499 a night per person.
Meals in the Harvest Dining Room, where some Dirty Dancing scenes were filmed, offer a farm-to-table experience using locally sourced ingredients. A meat and cheese charcuterie board, listed as a “small plate,” was enough to share ($18). Cast iron chicken ($21) and sesame seed-crusted salmon ($23) were among other entrée alternatives.
For more information, call (540) 626-7121 or visit mtnlakelodge.com.