How quickly 35 years passes. The 35th anniversary of the iconic 80s movie “Dirty Dancing,” which brought us the pinnacle of romance and dancing on the screen, has found new generations of fans over the years. The filmmakers set the scene in the Catskills of Upstate New York but real fans know that “Dirty Dancing” (DD) was filmed– not in the Catskills– but limited scenes in Lake Lure, North Carolina, and the majority of the enduring movie at Mountain Lake Lodge in southwest Virginia.
Fans of the movie are transported back to the skin-tingling scenes between Johnny Castle and Baby set amid the distinct beauty of Kellerman‘s Mountain House, filmed in 1987 but set in 1963.
If you have read up on your DD trivia or happen to see the Netflix series “The Movies That Made Us” DD episode, you might know that the filmmaking team was on a shoestring budget and none of the major studios wanted it; so the cast and crew filmed, at the last minute, at Mountain Lake Lodge, expecting no fanfare for the movie release (shocking!).
Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner
Well, we all know what happened after that and the rest is history after Johnny plucked Baby out of a corner. Fans flock to Mountain Lake Lodge (MLL) to soak up a bit of the romanticism viewed on screen as the lodge looks almost exactly like it did when they filmed in 1987.
Kellerman‘s lodge main structure is a sandstone grandiosity sitting high and mighty on a beautiful Virginia hill, surrounded by the property peppered with tan rustic cabins, beside Mountain Lake, which has a storied history in and of itself. The lake, due to geologic functions, has emptied and filled several times in previous decades. Currently, it is nearly empty which is hard to not feel a little bit sad about on property. But as Bo, the ATV gator tour guide says, “it’s not a reason to be sad.” The lake will come back in due time. It’s just a cleansing phase for it now.
She’s Like the Wind
Next to the empty lake bed sits Virginia Cabin, known as “Baby’s cabin” where the Housemans stayed in the movie, and it looks the same except the stairs have been moved and now there are adorable lights strung around the cabin; very inviting. There are several newer cabins (referred to as mountain homes) up on Blueberry Ridge which can sleep several people. In total, the property has 100 units that can sleep 350 guests.
Ripplemead Mountain Home (approx $450/night) sits at the end of a paved walkway up on the top of a mountain, as a two-bedroom (fairly rustic) cabin with no AC (but with the windows open, there’s a nice constant breeze). The cabin can sleep up to 8 people. The real beauty of staying at this cabin is waking up and feeling like you are in a treehouse when you look around. The windows look out on a fern-filled green forest, with not another structure, person or vehicle insight.
These homes have kitchens and large dining tables next to the living room but many people escape here, not wanting to cook and clean for themselves and so they enjoy dining at the main lodge. Harvest, the resort’s main restaurant, run by Executive Chef Michael Porterfield who has been at the resort nearly the entire 35 years since the filming of DD, features a breakfast buffet, a light lunch menu and a delicious varied menu in the evening ranging from spinach ravioli (“chef’s kiss!”) to steaks to good ‘ole chicken fried steak.
For an alfresco dinner in a casual setting, guests can enjoy the new Salt Pond Pub, sitting on covered picnic tables, dining on pizza and appetizers with a full bar featuring draft beers, cocktails and wine.
Whether guests come on their own, as a part of the Kellerman‘s Mountain House film package or as a part of a Dirty Dancing themed weekend that happens six times per year and are sold out a year in advance (2023 dates are available on the website), they can relive movie scenes all over the property. There’s a self-guided tour and a scavenger hunt that will reveal iconic locations used in filming such as the gazebo where Penny teaches dance lessons at the beginning of the movie, the boat dock, Baby’s table in the Harvest dining room, and, of course, Baby‘s cabin with the best view of the property.
When fans come for the DD weekends, they have an itinerary that includes a screening of the original movie, dance lessons on Saturday, and lawn games on the gorgeous lawn in front of Kellerman’s Mountain Home. In a sense, they get to be Johnny and Baby for a weekend if they so choose (yes, guests dress up in character).
But maybe you’re not a rabid fan of DD–we will excuse that. Those guests will find a destination full of adventure and outdoor beauty. As Heidi Stone, President and CEO says, “We have two distinct brands which are schizophrenic in nature, the Dirty Dancing destination and an amazing location for outdoor lovers.” The road leading up to Mountain Lake Lodge has the most impressive canopy of green trees that a Texan has ever seen! There are 20 miles of hiking trails on the 2,600-acre property that are open to local hikers at no charge.
Two-hour Historical Guided Gator Tours ($180 per 3-passenger gator) will take guests up and down the back roads of the mountains for breathtaking overlooks and a good bit of history of the property. As Bo, the tour guide says, “Our history book is 100 pages long and Dirty Dancing is only one page. I’m going to tell you about the other 99 pages.”
Clay shooting is also another unique outdoor activity for guests ($99 per shooter) where you are shuttled up to a beautiful panoramic overlook, and, after a quick safety lesson with Mike who has 20+ years of shooting experience, even beginners will delight in this fun sport with guns and shooting that involves no animals! Due to using low recoil 20-gauge ammo, it’s easy on the body and ears. This seasonal activity is available from April through November.
In addition, they offer a treetop zip-line tour ($55), bubble ball ($25), lawn games and other ways to soak up the beautiful Virginia weather.
So whether you travel to this part of the country to gaze upon the quintessential Kellerman‘s Mountain Home and dance where Johnny danced, or you’re looking to escape Texas heat, Mountain Lake Lodge is full of good vibes and good living!
Terrific Texas Tie-in
William Lewis Moody, who grew up in Texas with his family spending summers at MLL, owned the resort until 1954 (he purchased the predecessor which was a wooden hotel in the early 1900s). He was responsible for constructing the grand lodge in the 1930s (for approximately $50K) that it is today, with sandstone from the property.
In 1954, William’s oldest daughter, Mary Moody, ran the property until her death in 1986. She loved the resort so much and was staunch in her desire for the property to remain as is for guests to enjoy (no selling out to the big hotel chains), and her desire was for the property to be open to day hikers at no charge, ever.
Mary’s Estate established an Endowment which you may have heard of! The Mary Moody Northern Endowment, located in Galveston, owns and operates the property. You may have heard of or seen the Moody Mansion and/or Moody Gardens in Galveston. What a beautiful legacy the family has left, not only here in Texas, but all the way up in Virginia, too!
>Practice your lift in the brand-new resort pool that was added in 2019, heated to a perfect temperature.
>Splurge for a golf cart rental to get around the property if you are staying at Blueberry Ridge so you don’t have to spend too much time walking back-and-forth from your cabin to the main resort.
>Take this opportunity to unplug and disconnect as there is Wi-Fi but not great cell service. Just use these days to relax in an idyllic setting.
>Back in the early 1900s, families would come to Mountain Lake Lodge to spend the entire summer (summer is a verb in the Northeast). But guests can come for any length of time (we recommend three nights to a week), plenty of time to soak up the experience. If you choose to road trip, the other filming location at Lake Lure, North Carolina, is only about four hours away.
Keep your eyes peeled for a Dirty Dancing sequel to hit theaters as early as 2023, which will also be filmed at Mountain Lake Lodge, set in the year 1995. Get your dancing shoes on for that!
Cover photo Courtesy Mountain Lake Lodge
Marika Flatt, Outstanding Austin Communicator 2021, is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She began her travel writing career in 2002 with Austin Woman Magazine and now writes their “The Texas Traveler” section. She can be seen as a contributor on TV shows across Texas, offering travel tips.