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 and varied list of activities and attractions that can fill many a day. Then there’s that not-so-secret reason why many people go there. Most of the popular 1987 motion picture Dirty Dancing, which supposedly took place at a vacation retreat in New York’s Catskill Mountains, was filmed at the Virginia property.

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.

History Comes Alive at the Mountain Lake Lodge

Its 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. In 1936, the sprawling lodge that still stands today was erected using native stones from the surrounding hills. The foundation that owns it now preserves its role as a place where people can forge a close connection with nature.

Mountain Lake Lodge.
Mountain Lake Lodge. Photo by Victor Block

The resort clings proudly to its past. Hallways are lined with historic photographs and memorabilia. 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.

An A-to-Z List of Activities at Mountain Lake Lodge

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.

Birdwatching is great at Mountain Lake Lodge
Birdwatching is great at Mountain Lake Lodge.
Photo: Mountain Lake Lodge

There are 24 miles of hiking trails with varying degrees of challenge. Birdwatchers can explore the tranquil hemlock forest and marsh bog nearby. Tours reveal hidden areas of the property, and guides share little-known stories about its past.

Escape rooms challenge the ingenuity of those who venture into them, and a ropes course tests their bravery and balance.

Clays at the Overlook, Mountain Lake Lodge
Clays at the Overlook, Mountain Lake Lodge. Photo by Victor Block

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 Mountain Lake Lodge 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. They say 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. This is the most famous part of a dance routine portrayed in the movie. The location is identified by one of a number of signs that mark spots where scenes were filmed.

Where Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey performed “the lift”
Where Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey performed “the lift”. Photo by Victor Block

The resort’s special Dirty Dancing weekends, which are held throughout the year, attract both first-time participants and fans. These fans, I learned, have watched the motion picture as many as 50 times.

Not a resort to be satisfied with its film fame, Mountain Lake Lodge also offers other themed events. These include Independence and Mother’s Day celebrations, football weekends, craft beer tastings and Thanksgiving and Christmas fetes.

Even if this inventory of special occasions doesn’t tempt a visit to Mountain Lake Lodge, the long list of activities may do so.

Staying at the Mountain Lake Lodge

Accommodations at Mountain Lake Lodge include the historic lodge building and cottages located around the property.

Gourmet meals tempt the palate at Mountain Lake Lodge
Gourmet meals tempt the palate at Mountain Lake Lodge Photo by Victor Block

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,” provided a bountiful meal for my wife Fyllis and me to share.  Entrée alternatives include cast iron chicken and sesame seed-crusted salmon.

For more information, call (540) 626-7121 or visit mtnlakelodge.com.

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