Stay and play in Giles County, Virginia…you might have the time of your life.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Mountain Lake Lodge feels familiar, even if you’ve never been there before. There’s good reason for that: It played the part of Kellerman’s Resort in the movie Dirty Dancing.
I was unaware of that trivia before my arrival. I learned when checking in at the registration desk, where a stack of brochures titled “detailed map & photo history of the filming of Dirty Dancing self-guided tour” sat on the counter. I grabbed one to review later.
My main goal while staying at the property was to hike. Mountain Lake Lodge and its new Blueberry Ridge Homes are located in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and part of the 2,600-acre Mountain Lake Conservancy. The elevation ranges from 2,200 to 4,365 feet, so there are several challenging hikes with steep slopes among the 22 miles of trails for hiking and biking. What’s more, the lodge is just five miles from the Appalachian Trail.
Great plan. Then it rained my entire stay.
Initially, I ignored the rain and hiked the 1.5-mile Indian Trail, which is rated challenging. Looping around the lake, it weaves under trees, over rocks and roots, past rhododendrons and around boulders. It was beautiful, but after getting drenched I decided to go back to my room, get clean and dry, and explore alternate entertainment options. The resort boasts abundant choices, from archery to yoga, and of course Giles County had oodles more.
I was staying in the Chestnut Lodge, which was built in 1944. Each of the 16 rooms in this two-story building feature a sitting area with wood-burning fireplace, private balcony, kitchenette, one king or two queen beds, and private bathrooms.
Chestnut Lodge is a short stroll from the Main Stone Lodge, which was built in the 1930s. Rooms in this historic building are rustic with contemporary amenities; corner suites boast fireplaces. Looking at the Main Stone Lodge from the Indian Trail entrance is when I was most struck by the Hollywood presentation of Kellerman’s; upon arrival, signs direct traffic to the back to park under a stone overhang while checking in. If you stay at Chestnut Lodge could easily miss the key angle: To really see the place in its full glory, walk out to the front lawn area.
In 2012 Mountain Lake completed a renovation of many guestrooms and cabins, added new recreational activities, and planned several new special events throughout the year. Chestnut Lodge bathrooms will be renovated soon.
During a property tour with general manager Heidi Stone, I got to peek inside several of the new Blueberry Ridge Homes, which are upscale cottages with one- to four-bedrooms (each with a private bathroom) plus full kitchens, fireplaces, decks, laundry facilities, and living/dining common areas. Located near a state-of-the-art conference center, these homes would be ideal for a corporate retreat—whether the goal is heads-down meetings or adventure-based team-building—as well as friends/family reunions or weddings.
Mountain Lake is one of only two natural fresh-water lakes in Virginia and the lake with the highest elevation east of the Mississippi River, at nearly 4,000-feet above sea level. The lake drains and fills itself, a mysterious cycle unique in the world. “Scientists come to study our lake and lakebed,” said Stone. A video on the resort homepage details the phenomenon. In terms of pure nature, these 2,600 acres are a treasure.
I’d seen the movie Dirty Dancing, but it had been a few years. So when I learned that the front desk offers free use of DVD players and movie discs for guests, it sounded like a fun way to spend the evening in front of the fireplace. It was fun! Once familiar with the resort, it’s easy to spot which scenes were filmed at Mountain Lake Lodge and which were filmed in Lake Lure, N.C.
The next day, though still raining, the lure of the Appalachian Trail was too great to ignore. I discovered a spot in Giles County where you can park just yards from an entrance onto the trail. A short, quarter-mile stretch of trail leads to a historic cemetery; along the way are trees, flowers, and even benches alongside the trail. Benches!
During lunch at Harvest Restaurant back at Mountain Lake Lodge, ladies seated at a table adjacent to mine were discussing their hiking plans. I shared my morning discovery and they immediately decided to go find it, since they’d never set foot on the AT before. It’s a perfect, easy, relatively flat stretch to stroll and be able to say that you have indeed experienced a wee bit of the famed trail.
Harvest Restaurant is billed as a farm-to-table restaurant and as such showcases local ingredients and flavors on its seasonal menus. Breakfast options are tasty standard American fare; lunch and dinner is when the chef’s creativity most shines in dishes like the surf and turf starter of local black angus with fresh chimichurri with lobster mac and cheese, and entrées like the baby spinach ravioli with wild mushrooms and light cream, smoked chicken confit with sweet potato apple hash, and coffee molasses pork chop with fingerling sweet potatoes.
Mountain Lake Lodge can offer a true retreat: You need not leave during your stay. Or you can set up home base then get out and explore Giles County, the Appalachian Trail, the New River Water Trail or whatever most compels you away.
Mountain Lake Lodge is warm and welcoming, in any weather. My initial plans may have changed, but I had a great time and left with good memories.
As my luck goes, the sun was shining bright on the morning of my departure. I took a quick stroll—trail options range from 0.1 miles to 2.0—then reluctantly drove away.
I know I’ll be back.
Mountain Lake Lodge hosts Dirty Dancing-themed weekends each summer, which include a sock hop, walking tours, movie screening, watermelon toss, dance lessons, dance party and a scavenger hunt. Update: I joined a Dirty Dancing weekend in 2017. Read more about it!
Any time of year, a little building near the Main Stone Lodge serves as a “Remembering Dirty Dancing” mini-museum that offers a peek at production details.
- Free parking
- Free Wi-Fi
- Lodging options include historic rustic cabins, cottages and main lodge plus new Blueberry Ridge Homes
- Yes, you can stay in the historic Virginia Cottage, where Baby (Jennifer Grey) and her family slept in the movie, if you book well in advance; some dates for that popular cabin are booked a year in advance
- Some accommodations and amenities are available seasonally
- Two on-site restaurants: Harvest Restaurant and Stony Creek Tavern
- 22 miles of trails for hiking and biking; 5 miles from the Appalachian Trail
- Guided hikes and mountain biking
- 24/hour fitness center with sauna
- Game room with pool tables, ping pong, arcade games
- Outdoor pool (open seasonally)
- Meeting facilities and team building experiences
- New “Treetop Adventures” base camp with zip lines, archery tag, bubble ball
- Activity options include yoga, naturalist programs, archery, arts & crafts, disc golf, geocaching, orienteering, tennis, and more plus skiing, snow shoe tours and sledding seasonally
- Odds of Encountering Children: High, but with 2,600 acres you can find quiet spaces.
Mountain Lake Lodge
115 Hotel Circle
– Photo Credits: property images courtesy Mountain Lake Lodge; food images © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.