Treetop Adventures at the Mountain Lake Lodge near Blacksburg, Virginia!
Originally we’d discovered this 2,600 acre nature preserve high up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia a few years ago through the hit film Dirty Dancing. Little had I known that the principal photography for my favorite movie of all times ‘Dirty Dancing‛ was never filmed in the Catskill Mountains of New York and actually took place here at the Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia. During this amazing weekend of dirty dancing lessons, great food and lots of film themed activities we’d discovered that there was so much more to experience at this historic place that we’d promised ourselves to return some day. The Mountain Lake Lodge’s story dates back to 1751 when Christopher Gist of the Ohio Land Surveying Company became the first known European to lay eyes upon Mountain Lake. In the early 1800’s, the property was a stop along the public stage coach line providing lodging for passengers and during the Civil War, General George Crook and his Union soldiers passed through. Vacationers started visiting Mountain Lake in the mid 1800’s and many of the original cabins are still there today. My husband had wanted to return for the history and I for the adventures.
Our accommodation, The Doorland Cottage, a charming rustic suite granted us views from our porch over the lush green lawn to Baby’s famous cottage, the volleyball court and the pools. The Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, Virginia, offers only a few Dirty Dancing-themed weekends every year where guests can see where Frances ‘Baby‛ Houseman (Jennifer Grey) met, danced, and fell in love with Johnny Castle (the late Patrick Swayze). The original Lodge, first named “Salt Pond” was later operated as a pleasure resort by General Herman Haupt of Pennsylvania, who renamed it Mountain Lake. The original name of Salt Pond referred to the settlers who used to “salt” their cattle in the basin of the lake; the mountain is still known today as Salt Pond Mountain. Stagecoach travelers were the primary customers of Mountain Lake at this time. The Virginia and Tennessee Railroad built nearby in the 1850’s attracted more and more visitors to Mountain Lake. www.mtnlakelodge.com/our-history
Shortly after our arrival and a cup of my favorite organic tea in the coffee shop we were scheduled to climb, balance, and zip-line our way through one of Mountain Lake’s exciting Treetop Adventure courses. My husband had been suspicious, but I’d made sure that he would first get to try 3D-archery, a sport that he was familiar with since childhood. When we arrived, Noah the archery instructor was already in the process of teaching another couple how to properly shoot a compound bow and aim at 7 foam targets that replicated a bear, turkey and a 7ft Bigfoot. Here my husband got to test his aim with a larger than life Bigfoot. The temperatures up here in circa 4000 feet of altitude were just right for a weekend of adventures that included for us twenty elements over two Treetop courses, fifteen of those “obstacle” related, such as pogo sticks, lily pads, and swinging decks, and five zip-lines! When I had talked to Jeremiah, the Director of Recreation about what we should experience, I had declined the mountain bike rides, Bubble Ball and Archery Tag. I purposely didn’t mention to my husband that we would climb the Bald Knob Trail the next morning, a short but steep and direct trail to the highest point on the mountain with the most expansive overlook…
We were welcomed by Austin, Treetops Recreation Manager and his staff Zach, Brian and Max. As part of the experience, the guides that help with the facilitation of the Treetops Adventure Course assisted us with gear-up of the equipment, rules and instruction, and a demonstration course to help us to get familiar with the equipment.
We were a group of about 2 dozen people, parents with older children, couples, all younger than us and all clearly excited about two-hours of a thrilling adventure that would be leading us through treetop obstacles, zip lines, bridges, nets, and other various challenges. We had zip-lined a few years ago in Costa Rica, Mexico and more recently the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, therefore making my husband a little suspicious that I the dare-devil might be taking him to new heights. One of the guides had laid out the harnesses and helmets for us in a large circle and Austin gave us a detailed introduction of how the security log-in/out key-system works that wouldn’t require any second party interference on the courses. We all stepped into the disinfected (sprayed) harnesses, put on the helmets (wiped) and followed the guides to the first station where we got a trial phase and were advised that we could now opt out as the heights and challenge difficulty levels would gradually increase. No way!
In short Treetop Adventures is an adventurous and unique form of recreation for those who like activities that are healthy, inspired by nature, exhilarating, while physically and mentally challenging! The Treetop Adventure course features a whole bunch of different obstacles from rope swings to balance beams that hang at times high above the forest floor. We are certain that this experience can promote personal growth, family and group bonding and a sense of accomplishment. And boy did we feel accomplished, and we were so, so ready for dinner.
We loved Mountain Lake’s buffets in the past, laden with delicious country dishes and were happy to find out that their famous Harvest restaurant was serving breakfast, lunch and dinner now in a socially distant table setting. “We celebrate the best flavors of the Southwest Virginia Region and respect the agricultural heritage of our area. We source from our farmer friends like: Hollow Hill Bison, Dodd’s Acres Farm Produce, Woods Hole Hostel Heritage Hogs, Mountain View Farm, Brush Creek Buffalo Farm, Foods for Thought, and Good Food Good People, providing us with fresh and local ingredients.”
Delicious and creative cuisine featuring local produce, meats and venison with an Appalachian twist like the “Venison Cutlet, Wild Boar Sausage, Stout Reduction, Pickled Blueberries with the Chef’s Signature Mashed Potatoes” for my husband, a lover of the wild. I loved the juicy Organic Pan-baked Chicken, the Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese and Jalapeño Bacon and ordered the Chef’s tomato bisque once again the next day for lunch. We could taste that the foods were prepared with the freshest ingredients, true farm to table cuisine. Our charming waitress explained that the menu changes with each season to present the natural flavors of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It was a little chilly when we returned after dinner that evening to our cottage and my husband lit a fire in the fireplace in front of our king sized bed. We tried to read a few pages about the famous Mountain Lake or Salt Lake that seems to be on and off appearing and disappearing, but listening to the crackling fire we fell asleep like logs. The next morning after a sumptuous breakfast in Baby’s Corner at the Harvest restaurant, with a beautiful fog still lingering over the tree top, I asked my husband if he might be up for another adventure? The Bald Knob Trail is a short but steep and direct trail to the highest point on the mountain with the most expansive overlook I explained. The trail has an elevation gain of 375’ once at the top you will be at an elevation of 4,365’, and he agreed. Bald Knob is the highest peak on Salt Pond Mountain, the 26th highest peak in VA, and supposedly the 7th most prominent. We followed a lovely trail through a grassy, shaded forest with lots of ferns. We saw white and red trillium and flame azaleas. We had to wait for the fog to clear before we were rewarded with breathtaking views. We made the way back down to the Lodge in half the time. It had started to rain and since we got really wet and a little chilly I was looking forward to another cup of The Chef’s delicious hot Tomato Bisque. On the way to lunch we ran into Heidi, the highly accomplished hands-on General Manager of the Lodge. We talked briefly of the challenges of managing the resort during the opening phases of Covid-19. Heidi and her team are clearly on to creating another ‘Miracle on the Mountain.’ www.mtnlakelodge.com
Until next month from another interesting location!
~ Love, Ingrid