Mountain Lake Lodge – Virginia’s ‘Dirty Dancing’ Hotel

Mountain Lake Lodge – Virginia's 'Dirty Dancing' Hotel main

By Richard Jones

During the summer of 1987, one of the most beloved films in history quick-stepped its way into cinemas.

Thirty-five years on, Dirty Dancing is seen as much more than a guilty pleasure – although it is set in 1963, it is a quintessential 1980s movie, and fills audiences with feel-good vibes from start to finish.

Director Emile Ardolino’s film tells the story of teenager Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman (Jennifer Grey) who, tired of the genteel pursuits at Kellerman’s Resort summer camp, falls in with the rowdy below-stairs staff.

When dance teacher Penny (Cynthia Rhodes) falls ill after a botched abortion, Baby agrees to take her place in an upcoming competition, and has training sessions with snake-hipped bad-boy Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze).

As she is swept off her feet (literally) by Johnny, Baby must balance her free-spirited desire with both her family and society’s conservative expectations.

No one could have predicted the cultural impact of the film, which almost wasn’t made and was generally panned by critics.

It won an Oscar for the song ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’, while audiences fell in love with the characters’ forbidden love story, toe-tapping music, and electrifying dance routines, including the famous ‘lift’.

However, the movie wouldn’t have been the same without the stunning location.

Mountain Lake Lodge – Virginia's 'Dirty Dancing' Hotel baby's cabin

‘Baby’s Cabin’ at Mountain Lake Lodge

“Squeezes every drop out of its big screen moment”

Although Dirty Dancing was set at the fictional Kellerman’s mountain retreat in upstate New York, much of the on-location shooting actually took place at Mountain Lake Lodge in the state of Virginia, with some scenes at the staff quarters filmed in North Carolina.

Mountain Lake’s rugged stone façade and red roof is instantly recognisable to movie fans, and even if you’re not Dirty Dancing’s No.1 fan, it’s hard not to be captivated by nostalgia and the hotel’s secluded location.

A four-hour drive from Washington DC, Mountain Lake Lodge is set within a nature preserve and bird sanctuary in Jefferson Forest.

It was named after Mountain Lake, which has, sadly, almost entirely dried up, while the small town of Pembroke is a 15-minute drive away, as is Cascade Falls, a popular hiking area and waterfall.

During the 1800s, Mountain Lake was a popular stop along the stage coach route, while the main lodge, built in 1936, is crammed with Appalachian charm with rustic oak panelling, rugged stone walls and a huge fireplace.

The lodge is understandably still surfing the wave of Dirty Dancing popularity three and a half decades after it was filmed, and squeezes every drop out of its big screen moment.

Many of the film’s locations are still recognisable, including the magnificent Stone Lodge, the gazebo where Baby had a heart to heart with her father Dr Jake (Jerry Orbach), and the Harvest Restaurant and Patio, aka Kellerman’s dining room, where Johnny and Baby first clapped eyes on each other.

Mountain Lake’s main lodge has 100 rooms, most with views of the lawn, and there are also a dozen or so timber cabins dotted around the grounds, including Virginia Cottage, aka Baby’s Cabin.

Meanwhile, some of the hotel’s long-standing staff will take you on a guided tour of key movie locations, and there’s a small museum and a shop selling Dirty Dancing memorabilia, including ‘Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner’ t-shirts.

Mountain Lake Lodge – Virginia's 'Dirty Dancing' HotelMountain Lake Lodge – Virginia's 'Dirty Dancing' Hotel

“Picture-perfect spot”

There’s also Mary’s Market coffee shop, and Stony Creek Tavern, which offers an extensive range of craft beers and cocktails, and plays Dirty Dancing’s hugely popular soundtrack, including songs ‘Be My Baby’, ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘She’s Like the Wind’, ‘Hey! Baby’, and, of course, ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’, on a loop.

Over the next two summers, Mountain Lake Lodge is turning up the nostalgia a notch by inviting fans to step into Johnny and Baby’s dancing shoes for special Dirty Dancing Weekends and Kellerman’s Film Packages.

During these short breaks, guests are immersed in activities, from group dance lessons, movie screenings, themed scavenger hunts and quizzes, to guided tours of film locations, a dance party in Mary’s Barn, a ‘Paint and Sip’ activity and even a watermelon toss.

You also get a welcome cocktail in a souvenir glass, $200 dining credit, and exclusive gift bag complete with a Kellerman’s beach towel.

For those not on a Swayze pilgrimage, Mountain Lake Hotel Resort offers indoor and outdoor activities much like Kellerman’s.

They include table tennis and billiards, water-based activities like paddle boating, canoeing and fishing, and dry activities like mountain biking and nature walks.

Outside of the resort, the surrounding villages scattered across the valley are well worth checking out.

The Walker Valley Market is a store run by the local Amish community, and don’t be fooled by the name Dismal Falls – it’s a picture-perfect spot ideal for a dip on sun-drenched days.

But if you are getting out and about, make sure you make it back for the last dance of the season.

You’ll get to shake your maracas, forget all about your spaghetti arms, and have the time of your life.

Mountain Lake Lodge near Pembroke in Virginia is hosting a series of two-night Dirty Dancing-themed weekends from April-October, 2023.
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