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THE WATER'S FINE

You definitely don’t have to dance like Patrick Swayze or Jennifer Grey to have the time of your life at Mountain Lake Hotel. The location of the filming of 1987's Dirty Dancing, Mountain Lake is a magnificent 2,600-acre resort situated in Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains that's much more than a movie set.

But what a set. Located near Roanoke and reached by a dramatic rise over the crest of Salt Pond Road, just reaching the resort is well worth the drive. Once there, visitors have a variety of possible diversions: hiking, biking, fishing, boating, lawn games, the Explore Nature program (sponsored by the Wilderness Conservancy at Mountain Lake), kids-only cruises, magic shows, movie nights, the new Executive Retreat Center, and much more--including dancing.

A Historical Retreat

Originally known as Salt Pond, Mountain Lake is one of only two natural freshwater lakes in Virginia. It is fed by underground streams, which means the lake’s water temperature rarely rises above 72 degrees.

The first known owner of the lake and land around it was Henley Chapman, the first commonwealth’s attorney for the county and a member of the convention that framed the Virginia Constitution in 1829. Chapman and other settlers “salted” their cattle in the area and it’s believed this is why the lake was first know as Salt Pond and the mountain rising from it as Salt Pond Mountain.

The property was first used as a “resort” in the late-1850s, when General and Mrs. Herman Haupt bought the property and built a hotel to accommodate travelers. They also changed the lake’s name to Mountain Lake and called their getaway Mountain Lake Resort.

After the Civil War, a number of owners would continue to operate the resort, with Gilbert Porterfield running it for 25 years and earning rave reviews for his cuisine and southern hospitality. During this time, individuals were also allowed to build cottages for themselves, receiving 15-year leases and discounts on meals and maid service from the hotel. After the leases ended, the cottages reverted to the resort and many still carry the original names given to them by their turn-of-the-20th-century builders.

In the early-1930s, Texan William Lewis Moody bought the property and proceeded to tear the original hotel down and build a new one out of native stone. The inscription over the lobby fireplace--”The House of Moody”--refers to him.

After Mr. Moody’s death in 1954, the property was deeded to Gal-Tex Corporation. However, Moody’s daughter, Mary Moody Northen--who had fond childhood memories of her time at Mountain Lake--re-purchased the property in 1969.

When Mrs. Northen passed away in 1986, the resort became part of the Mary Moody Northen Endowment. Her will mandated that the natural beauty of Mountain Lake be preserved and maintained for future generations of visitors. This goal was enhanced by the formation of the Wilderness Conservancy at Mountain Lake in 1989.

Love Your Mother

If you love Mother Nature, you’ll love Mountain Lake. Whether it’s a short stroll to your accommodations or a long hike on one of the resort’s many trails, it’s easy to enjoy the great outdoors at Mountain Lake.

Whatever your outdoor activity, you’re sure to be accompanied by lots of birds. In fact, Mountain Lake is included in the western end of the relatively new Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail and hosted the region’s first birding festival in the spring.

Thanks to habitats that include the lake, several streams, mixed hardwood forests, marshes, and crags, Mountain Lake is home to more than 85 species of birds, including barn swallows, red-tailed hawks, scarlet tanagers and dark-eyed juncos. The resort even provides interested guests with a colorful “Birds of Mountain Lake” brochure that includes a map, color drawings, and descriptions.

For those who’d like to soar like eagles--but still stay on solid ground--mountain biking is also another recent addition. Trails varying in difficulty welcome all levels of bikers, and the recreation office has adult and children’s mountain bikes, helmets, and child seats for rent.

Boating in its many forms is popular with guests. The resort’s dock provides free access to canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, and rowboats, while boats with electric trolling motors are available to rent for a fee.

In addition, daily boat tours of the lake are typically available from spring to fall. There's a “Lake History Tour” that is free to guests, as well as specialty cruises offered for a fee, like the Wine and Cheese Cruise or the after-dinner Coffee and Cookie Cruise. The lake is also popular with swimmers, so along with the beach, there’s a pool complex with a hot tub, kiddie pool, and a snack bar.

The lake is heavily stocked with rainbow trout, so shoreside fishing is a popular choice, even if the big one does get away. Rental gear and bait are both available at the dock with a tackle shop in the nearby recreation office. Those who take fishing seriously might consider a guided outing aboard the resort’s pontoon boat.

Further choices include an activities barn with games and entertainment for guests of all ages; pony rides (for kids 60 pounds and lighter); shopping (including locally-made crafts and souvenirs); movies for all ages in the hotel’s TV lounges; and a large array of games and puzzles at the front desk.

There's also archery, tennis, horseshoes, croquet, lawn chess, volleyball, badminton, bocce ball, and a Fit-Trail with exercise stations along the lake.

Very Accommodating

Lodging at Mountain Lake is as varied as the rest of the resort--from a historical hotel to rustic cabins to new cottages.

The alternatives start with the landmark 50-room hotel. The lobby’s rustic decor and large stone fireplace provide a fitting introduction. The rooms are simply appointed and popular with repeat guests.

The bustling dining room serves all three meals, including a popular Sunday brunch. The resort operates under the Modified American Plan with dinner, breakfast, and gratuities included in the nightly rate. The fare is casually creative, with lots of American standards and local produce. From mid-June to Labor Day, optional dining choices might include a pizza party, luau and barbecue cookout. For pre- and post-dinner gatherings, Peetoot’s Lounge is the place to be for beverages of choice (and a great view of the lake).

Next to the hotel, the 16-room Chestnut Lodge has rooms with fireplaces, balconies, and small sitting areas. Convenient to the hotel, but with an inn feel, the lodge is a popular choice for those who want an alternative to a traditional hotel experience.

Even more offbeat are 13 turn-of-the-20th century cottages and cottage suites located within easy walking distance of the hotel. They include a refrigerator and microwave, and many also feature fireplaces and wraparound porches. The well-situated Lake Cottage is also referred to as the Honeymoon Cottage, thanks to its location by the lake and popularity with newlyweds.

Mountain Lake added nine additional cottages in the fall of 2003. These modern options, known as the Blueberry Ridge Cottages, are nestled among the resort’s pristine forests--but are still just a five-minute stroll from the hotel, lake, and other amenities. The cottages, with one-, two-, three, and four-bedroom varieties, feature master bedrooms, separate dining areas, full kitchens, living rooms with vaulted ceilings and sofa beds, wood-burning fireplaces, private decks, picture windows, whirlpool tubs, and laundry facilities.

New Castle, a one-bedroom cottage suite, has received rave reviews as the most romantic Blueberry Ridge choice. It offers a secluded deck, a fireplace in the great room that’s also visible from the bedroom, and a spacious bathroom with a whirlpool tub for two.

Radford, Narrows, and Ripplemead are all two-bedroom cottages. Narrows offers the highest elevation and a deck overlooking the new cottage complex. Radford features forest views, and Ripplemead features wheelchair access and stunning views of the New River Valley. Eggleston, Fincastle, and Bluefield all feature three bedrooms. Eggleston hugs the edge of the ridge, Fincastle offers forest views and Bluefield lays claim to being the most private cottage available.

The sprawling four-bedroom cottages are already a hit with large families, reunions, and other groups. There are two king bedrooms and two queen bedrooms (with two queen beds each), as well as a queen sofa bed, providing space for up to 14 guests!

The opening of the Blueberry Ridge Cottages allows Mountain Lake to once again be open year-round. While the Mountain Lake Hotel, Chestnut Lodge, and older cottages are open from May through October (with weekends through Thanksgiving in November), the Blueberry Ridge Cottages remain open all year. Along with spring flowers, summer fun, and fall foliage, Mountain Lake guests can now enjoy the silence and solitude of winter.

So, whether you like to dance or take a hike, it’s simply a matter of choosing your accommodations and heading for Virginia's Mountain Lake.

Before You Go

*For further information, call (800) 346-3334 or visit www.mountainlakehotel.com.

*For information about the Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail, call (866) VABIRDS (822-4737) or visit www.dgif.state.va.us.

The Time of Your Life

Dirty Dancing was filmed at Mountain Lake by Vestron Pictures in 1986. Directed by Emile Ardolino and starring Patrick Swayze as Johnny Castle, Jennifer Grey as Frances “Baby” Houseman, and Jerry Orbach as her father, Jake, the movie was set in the Catskills during the summer of 1963.

In the film, Baby tries to make the best of attending wig demonstrations and merengue dancing classes, but her summer changes dramatically when she meets Johnny, the resort’s dance instructor. After learning how to “dirty” dance--and falling in love with Johnny--Baby grows up in a hurry in this classic coming-of-age movie filled with music, dancing, and dramatic settings.

Mountain Lake’s scenery, as well as the hotel and several of the old cottages, had a star billing in the film. Today’s visitors will recognize many of the scene locations from the film.