Deciding to forgo our usual family beach vacation for something a little more nature oriented, my husband and I booked a summer trip to Mountain Lake Lodge in the western part of Virginia, close to Blacksburg’s Virginia Tech. We’re not campers, so the cottage with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a TV, a kitchen, and electricity sounded only slightly rustic (no A/C) without being too roughin’-it.
In the weeks leading up to our July getaway, I read online reviews of Mountain Lake Lodge and was getting worried that we’d have problems with customer service, unsatisfactory accommodations, and a lack of activities. But we decided to keep our reservation and hope for the best. And are we glad we did! During our visit we stayed very active while also finding moments to relax in our cottage and around the grounds of the resort.
Two important notes: 1. Mountain Lake Lodge’s claim to fame is that many scenes in Dirty Dancing were filmed there. 2. The word “lake” should probably be dropped from the resort’s name since a muddy pond is all that was there on our visit (the natural lake started having fluctuating levels 10 years ago, and we were told it was especially low during our stay).
We were booked for Sunday through Wednesday nights. It took a little more than four hours from Montgomery County to get to Blacksburg. Then we started the steep winding drive up the mountain.
The main lodge, some cottages, and connected units are all in a lovely, grassy setting overlooking the fading lake. Our cottage, part of the Blueberry Ridge Homes, was a short drive or 10-minute walk from the main area. From the Blueberry Ridge parking lot, we had a short stroll to our woodsy cottage, where we found decent accommodations on par with a Holiday Inn or an older timeshare. But really we came for the activities.
When checking in, we got a printout of the week’s scheduled activities, which included about four per day. Monday morning we arrived at the Mountain Lake Outfitters building (gift shop, restrooms, equipment rental, and home base for all organized activities) for the start of our busy stay.
Our activities on the mountain included
- A guided hike. We were the only ones who showed up for the hike so had a private program where we were able to ask all about the area and the activities while we hiked 1 1/2 miles around the lake on Indian trail. The trail was filled with rhododendron roots but mostly flat, so was no problem for our family,
- A climb, swing, and zip on the treetops course for my older son (one of only two activities we did that cost extra); he was able to do the adult course but there’s also a less challenging kids’ course.
- A fun kickball game on the lawn with a couple other families (organized by the lodge)
- A few games of foosball and billiards in the indoor game room.
- A steep hike up to Bald Knob for incredible views from the mountain’s highest point, then down to the lodge’s lounge area for refreshments and a game of checkers.
- A swim in the outdoor pool (burr) and a soak in the hot tub.
- Lots of target practice with borrowed archery equipment (the targets were falling apart a bit but we still had fun; small fee).
- An attempt to kayak through the muddy lake (this was declared our vacation dud by the whole family).
- A bonfire at the lodge’s stone fire pit (set up by staff at our request) to enjoy our $6 s’mores kit purchased from the lodge (you can also bring your own s’mores supplies and they will light a bonfire for you).
- More hiking around the lodge’s property.
- A chess match on the giant outdoor chess board, basketball (though the ball kept getting stuck in the net), bocce, and playing on a small playground.
- 10 minutes browsing the pictures and info in the small Dirty Dancing exhibit building (my husband and I watched the movie at the end of our trip and enjoyed spotting the lodge and lake).
Off the mountain we
- Hiked 2 miles up to the Cascades waterfall for a picnic and a dip in the chilly water.
- Went tubing on the New River through New River Junction, bumping on rocks in the shallow water with slow currents (my younger son can’t swim yet, but his tube had a flat bottom and was attached to mine by a line, plus he wore the required personal flotation device; I never felt he was in any danger, and we exited the river before the rapids area).
- Walked around Blacksburg and grabbed a bite to eat.
- Noshed on yummy barbecue at Due South BBQ in Christiansburg.
The activities on our list that we didn’t get a chance to do
- Go mountain biking
- Play disc golf
- Go fishing
- Walk around the Virginia Tech campus
Because we had a full kitchen in our cottage, we bought groceries in Blacksburg and prepared our meals, except for the two dinners we ate out. The lodge has a restaurant we had planned to try, but it seemed a bit stuffy and pricey when I checked it out. The bar menu was also pricey with limited offerings.
One of my biggest worries before our trip was surviving with no A/C. With the mild summer, we wound up with sweatshirt weather — temperatures in the 70s, dropping to the 50s at night. We were actually chilly and used the fireplace every night. We found the temperature up the mountain to be about 10 degrees cooler than down in Pembroke and Blacksburg. We were also surprised by the lack of mosquitos.
Our cottage (called Ripplemead) was the farthest from the Blueberry Ridge parking lot, making for a secluded, quiet stay. We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, laundry, a TV, a fireplace, and a full-sized kitchen that could have used more dishes and supplies (such as a working can opener). Because our cottage was separate from the main lodge/activities, we found this to be a very walking-heavy vacation. There are golf carts available to rent, which would be great for anyone with physical challenges, but that seemed unnecessary to us.
We left our vacation with sore legs, a ton of family memories, and the plan to someday return.
- Certifikid had an offer in the summer (we had already booked before that offer came out), and other specials and packages are listed on the lodge’s site.
- Rooms in the main lodge do not have TVs (but our cottage did).
- During our summer weekday stay, we didn’t find the resort very crowded. But weekends often include weddings and could be a different experience, and other times of year there may be less planned activities.
- We didn’t find any maps of the resort or the trails online before our trip, but both were readily available at check-in and made finding our way super easy.
- My family did not experience any customer service problems as I feared. The staff was nothing but friendly and accommodating.
Photos by Kathleen Seiler Neary.