Adventure Us: Mountain Lake

Adventure #24: Mountain Lake

Hidden away in a mountain hollow only an hour from Roanoke lies an iconic resort in a unique and beautiful location. Mountain Lake is truly a one-of-a-kind destination on many levels.

Known as the setting of the 1987 coming-of-age movie Dirty Dancing, Mountain Lake has a rich history. The famous stone lodge dates to the 1930s, while the lake was a tourist attraction as long ago as the 1850s. For both locals and out-of-towners, the resort offers a wealth of outdoor adventure possibilities and a great mountain getaway. Set within the 2600 acre Mountain Lake Conservancy, there are lots of outdoor programs, miles of trails to be hiked, biked, or skied, lots of wildlife to be seen, and some truly unique landscapes to be explored. Best of all, the property is free and open to be explored by anyone.

For our family, Mountain Lake was an opportunity for a little taste of Christmas! Climbing from the lowlands below, we found the mountain resort (which sits at nearly 4000 ft) covered with a light dusting of snow, the lodge decked out for the holidays, festive fires burning in the fire rings, and the wintry scene looking for all the world like a Swiss alpine village.

After poking around the lodge a while, we headed out on the Indian Trail to explore the most well known natural feature – the remarkable and mysterious Mountain Lake itself. One of only two natural lakes in Virginia, the lake inexplicably went completely dry back in 2008. Just as remarkably, it reappeared a few years later and has now risen to about a third of its original level, though it covers only a small fraction of its original 55 acres. Resting on a porous lakebed which is constantly draining, the lake level appears to naturally cycle every few centuries – although it also fluctuates with seasonal weather conditions. It’s a unique phenomenon found nowhere else in the world, and it’s still not well understood. The disappearance of the lake led to some interesting side-effects, such as the complete overhaul of the types of activities offered by the resort, and the discovery of the body of a man drowned 100 years ago!

Our walk around the lake took us through a winter wonderland – the mountain laurels green against the white snow. It was also remarkable to explore the geometric sandstone boulders and see the features of the exposed lakebed. 

While the icy snow and the brush led to some tough going for the kids, returning to the resort, we felt like we’d had a one-of-a-kind mountain Christmas adventure. And we still have a lot of Mountain Lake left to explore. I can see a return trip in our future!

Name: Mountain Lake Lodge, 115 Hotel Cir, Pembroke, Virginia 24136

Time from Roanoke: 1 hour

Activity Options: Hiking, biking, sledding, wildlife (plus tons of outdoor programs offered by the resort here); a great overnight getaway at the lodge or cabins!

Nearby Food: Harvest restaurant at the resort offers local food prepared in traditional Appalachian dishes

Nearby Attractions: Cascades waterfall hike 

More Adventure Us

Cristy Carr

Cristy and her family keep busy writing, tutoring, homeschooling, homesteading, and adventuring in the beautiful Appalachian mountains.
Share This: