Mountain Lake Hotel - Old Time Fun in Virginia

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by Jeffrey A. Rendall and Mountain Lake Hotel


PEMBROKE, VA – It doesn’t have a golf course, but I’d send golfers there.  From the Washington DC area, it’s also a half a day’s drive, yet it’s worth the trip.


I’m speaking of the Mountain Lake Hotel, in Pembroke, Virginia, about a half hour northwest of Blacksburg in the southwestern part of the state.  Having grown up on the west coast and visited a solid representative share of its mountainous regions, I’d have to say Mountain Lake is as close as you’re going to find to a real ‘Sierra-type’ experience in the Mid-Atlantic.


Yet it’s also distinctly southern at the same time – and maybe even adding a pinch of the northeast to give it additional flavor.  The hotel’s proximity to Virginia Tech makes it well known to the school’s alumni, but there’s enough there to offer everyone who makes the trip.

From out on a paddleboat in the middle of the lake. There are few things in life finer than an afternoon on the water, under your own power and in no hurry to get back to shore.


Something about Mountain Lake must’ve attracted the attention of the producers of the film ‘Dirty Dancing’ in the mid-80’s, as about half the movie was shot there.  There’s that extra-regional quality that you just can’t put your finger on.  It’ll remind you of a lot of things in your memory banks, all of them pleasant.


The final seven miles is the only two-lane road you’ll see, which also makes Mountain Lake convenient to get to.  And once you’re there, everything’s taken care of – but it’s not stuffy in the slightest.  Quite simply put, Mountain Lake is the best place we’ve seen to take a family – from the accommodations to the dining facilities, to the activities… it’s all there.


Yes, Dirty Dancing is kind of a ‘chick-flick,’ but the film is what initially drew our attention to the property.  Though the hotel won’t go out of its way to say ‘This is Kellerman’s Lodge,’ just seeing the grand old building will bring you right to the setting of the movie.  Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey have long since moved on, yet anyone who’s seen the movie from its years of syndication on just about every channel imaginable will feel right at home (note, the ‘other’ half of the movie was shot in North Carolina).


Mountain Lake, like its mountain resort siblings to the north (Greenbrier and Homestead) has a long history, which dates back to 1751 – at least when considering European settlement.  The lake is one of only two natural spring-fed lakes in Virginia, and is the highest in elevation east of the Mississippi – which helps in adding that ‘sierra’ feeling to it.

Virginia Tech's golf course is a newly re-designed Pete Dye special. True to its name, many of its holes are along the river.


And because the lake is fed from underground, its level goes up and down, depending on the direction of water flow from underneath.  During our visit the lake was down somewhat, and we weren’t quite sure if it was due to this summer’s lack of rainfall or for some other reason – but it didn’t impact activities on the water, that’s for sure.


‘Resort activities’ at Mountain Lake date to 1857.  Then the land was purchased by General Herman Haupt of Pennsylvania (it was formerly known as Salt Pond) in 1870, to serve as a mountain retreat for visitors up north.  For you Civil War buffs, you might recall Haupt was in charge of operating the Union’s railroads, including laying new track, repair and the building of trestle bridges.  Haupt was West Point educated, and one of the key ‘behind the scenes’ players in the war.  It’s somewhat ironic that this Pennsylvania Yankee was so instrumental in establishing a resort in this part of the country, but that’s history for you.


The resort evolved over the years with a series of owners, which began allowing individuals to build cottages on the property, many of which still stand and are in use, carrying the names their original owners/builders gave them.  A great many of them date to the early 1900’s.


The great sandstone hotel which dominates the resort was built in 1936 by the Moody family, which had purchased the property in 1930.  The resort eventually descended to Mary Moody Northern, and then to the Mary Moody Northern Endowment in 1986, upon Ms. Moody’s death.  The Endowment still owns and runs the hotel.

Sunset's a great time to be outside, and Mountain Lake is a fine place to relax.


Though its history is interesting in itself, Mountain Lake would be just a side note if it wasn’t a great place to spend some time with your family.  The first thing we noticed upon checking into our room (in the Chestnut Lodge) was the absence of a TV.  My kids didn’t appreciate it very much, but the concept is perfect – if you’re in the mountains, who needs TV?


There are over 20 different types of accommodations at Mountain Lake, ranging from single hotel rooms to four-bedroom cottages.  It’s hard to imagine, but the resort seems to have something that fits every family’s individual needs.  Couples looking for a weekend getaway will also appreciate the opportunity for some seclusion.


One of the things we particularly enjoyed about staying at Mountain Lake was the meals.  Included in the accommodations packages that you purchase, meals are served in the same dining room so prominently featured in Dirty Dancing, and offers buffet style (the days we were there) self-service with the locally based wait-staff providing beverages and conversation.  The choices were as tasty as they were plentiful, with delicious prime rib the featured item on our Saturday night meal.  To finish off, there was a pretty impressive selection of deserts to go along with the main courses.


Sunday brunch was also excellent, with all your favorite breakfast choices included along with fresh fruit and juices.  Delicious. 

Photo from Mountain Lake's website.


There are other eating alternatives, including pizza parties and cookouts on certain nights during the season, and the staff will even pack you a box lunch if you’re going to be out on the grounds during your mid-day meal time. 


Activities?  Yet another appealing attribute at Mountain Lake – nearly all of them are included in the package price, which eliminates the need to budget extra money for each separate interest.   


On the water, there’re kayaks, canoes, paddleboats and history cruises.  We took the kids on a paddleboat tour of the lake, and the once-around was a good chance to get some exercise as well as an opportunity to keep the little ones reigned in for an hour.  The boats are first-come, first-served, and there’re several times a day when it’s no problem at all securing a boat.  We chose sunset, when a good many of our fellow guests would be choosing to dine!


For those with extremely warm blood, there’s swimming in the lake (usually below 70 degrees), or a heated outdoor swimming pool and hot tub.  You can also choose volleyball, badminton, croquet, horseshoes, or giant checkers and chess, amongst other offerings.

Hanging Rock is about an hour's drive from Mountain Lake, and offers a no frills golf experience where you'll remember the views, and have fun along the way.


And for the truly outdoor adventurous, mountain bikes are available for rent, for use on an extensive network of trails.  Needless to say, hiking’s an option on the trails as well, and there are guided hikes offered through the Wilderness Conservancy. 


Perhaps most memorable were the evening activities at Mountain Lake.  In season, something’s always going on at the hotel – from classic movie night, to Karaoke, to Magic Shows for the kids (or young at heart).  The magician entertained the kids while we were actually able to enjoy some adult-level conversation with other guests in the bar area.  It was great knowing the kids were in a welcome, secure environment without having to worry about them – and also a chance to make some new friends, many of whom had been coming to Mountain Lake for years.


This is only a partial list of the offerings at Mountain Lake, just a few of the things we especially noted.


As mentioned in the beginning, there is no golf at Mountain Lake, and it is a bit of a drive to reach the nearby facilities.  There’s plenty of quality to choose from when you do venture off property, as we discovered, but be prepared for a 45 minute drive minimum to get there.

Photo from Mountain Lake's website.


Finally, the service at Mountain Lake was available and locally grown.  From conversing with some of the staff, we gathered that many of them have been working and serving guests for many years – and from what we observed, they enjoyed helping out the guests.


Mountain Lake is just an enjoyable all-around experience, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll long to go back.  I know we do.



Mountain Lake Hotel

115 Hotel Circle

Pembroke, VA  24136


Phone:  1-800-346-3334




Consult the website for more information on rates, accommodations and activities.  The hotel is closed during the winter, but there are alternative choices ‘up on the mountain’ during the cold months.

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