I’ve got to say it, I had the time of my life…at Mountain Lake Lodge, which is located in Pembroke, Virginia.
That’s the stone lodge where Dirty Dancing was filmed in the 1980s.
As I began to plan out a few days in Southwest Virginia, I knew I had to stay the night at this beautiful lodge that dates back to 1851.
I read all the Mountain Lake Lodge reviews and came home with loads of Mountain Lake Lodge pictures on my iPhone and my Nikon D3400.
There’s the pet-friendly lodge, the cabins, the volleyball court, the gazebo, the lake, the hiking trails. Yes, Mountain Lake Lodge hiking trails.
To be honest, I was both surprised and not surprised to find hiking trails at Mountain Lake Lodge, which is surrounded by the idyllic Jefferson National Forest.
I thought people came to soak in all the Dirty Dancing nostalgia (like on Dirty Dancing weekends). This is Kellerman’s, you know.
Yet the natural setting in Giles County, a mecca for outdoor recreation, suggested there had to be forested Mountain Lake hiking trails on this 2,600-acre property.
I tackled three Mountain Lake Lodge hiking trails in the short time that I was at the iconic lodge.
If I had more time, I would have set off to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail, which is just five miles from the resort.
Here’s what you’ve got to check out on foot while at this beautiful and sophisticated lodge.
#1: Bald Knob Trail
The one-mile out-and-back Bald Knob Trail is a fairly steep trail. There’s a 400+ foot elevation gain over the span of just one-half mile.
It can feel like a slog to the top, even if the hike to Bald Knob takes under 20 minutes. Once you see the views though, you’ll agree they were worth your efforts.
The Bald Knob hike begins just behind Kellerman’s. Er, Mountain Lake Lodge.
There’s a sign with an arrow pointing to the right for the Bald Knob Trail. You’ll also see a movie moments placard – #6 Pre-Watermelon.
This area was featured in the movie scene where Baby is wandering the resort and spies the “Staff Quarters – No Guests Please” sign.
This is just before she happens upon Johnny’s cousin holding watermelons. The sign no longer exists, but you can see the outline where the sign once was.
Snap a few photos then begin to walk the trail. In a few steps, you’ll come to a split in the trail. Stay right to cross a small footbridge.
The trail then intersects with another trail. Turn left at this junction. In less than .1-mile you’ll reach a gravelly Bald Knob Road.
Cross over Bald Knob Road to continue on the Bald Knob Trail. From here, it’s fairly rocky and all uphill through a shady forest.
In one-third mile, you’ll be steps from the summit of Salt Pond Mountain, but then a trail sign for the Cliff Trail comes into view. So confusing.
The Cliff Trail veers right, but ignore it completely. Stay to the left for a small rock scramble to the summit for the rewarding views you so deserve.
The Bald Knob hike is a fantastic choice close to sunset thanks to perfectly scenic west-facing views.
It’s unquestionably the most popular hike for breathtaking views at Mountain Lake Lodge.
Since the lodge is 25 minutes from Virginia Tech, this hike is a favorite with students, too. It’s surely one of the most popular hikes near Blacksburg.
There are multiple rock outcrops atop Bald Knob (elevation 4,354 feet) to sit and savor all the delightfully colorful sunset views.
There’s room for everyone, but there’s more space if you walk past the left-most rock. Walk a hidden trail to more wide-open flat rocks and beautiful views.
Once you’ve taken in every view and the sun has dipped below the horizon, re-trace your steps to return to the lodge.
It will be dark in the dense forest, so bring along a headlamp or use the flashlight on your phone for this fairly steep descent back to the trailhead.
#2: Bald Knob Loop
A slightly longer way to reach Bald Knob is by way of the Bald Knob Loop.
This trail is 1.6 miles and also begins behind Mountain Lake Lodge at the Pre-Watermelon movie sign.
As before, the trail splits in just a few steps. However, this time, bear left. Do not cross over the wooden footbridge.
At the .1-mile mark you’ll reach the gravelly Bald Knob Road. Turn left to ascend up the road. I can’t lie, it’s pretty steep.
On the way up the gravel road, you’ll notice several trail signs, including signs for the Old Turnpike Trail, Bear Cliffs Trail and Homestead Trail.
Simply continue on up the gravel road. Do not turn off onto any of these lightly-trafficked side trails.
Just past the .6-mile mark, turn left to stay on the gravel road. At this point, you will thankfully begin to go downhill.
I set off on this hike in the early morning hours and it’s worth noting here that there is quite a nice sunrise.
Simply turn 180 degrees at the .75-mile mark and boom there’s your sunrise. It was gorgeous. Unfortunately, you’re also facing a massive dual-post utility pole.
If you don’t mind that – and the buzzing powerlines overhead – you’re good.
From here, press on and stay alert. Just past the .9-mile mark you’ll see a sign on the left for the Homestead Trail.
Directly across the gravel road from this sign is the continuation of the Bald Knob Loop. There is no sign, however.
If AllTrails had not directed me this way, I would have just kept on walking down the gravel road. I use AllTrails Pro so I can download maps ahead of time.
Since there is no cell service here (at least not for AT&T subscribers), this was a total lifesaver.
Ascend the mountain along the mostly dirt and rock path. The trail is fairly narrow and tight but otherwise passable.
You won’t see any trail markers or blazes, but it’s easy to see where to go. At the 1-mile mark you’ll reach the massive rocks and big views at the Bald Knob overlook.
You may see a subdued blue blaze here and there, but you’ll just know you’ve arrived. Keep walking across the rocks in the direction of the radio tower.
Take a seat anywhere you like for the gorgeous west-facing mountain views.
Once you’ve soaked it all in, look for the sign for the Bald Knob Trail just under the radio tower. Follow this and descend stone steps to the trail.
You’ll see the Cliff Trail sign on your left. Ignore this and veer right to continue on down the mountain.
On the way down, you may see some red blazes but you won’t need them. Just stay on the path and continue your descent.
Once you reach the gravel road (Bald Knob Road), cross over to stay on the trail.
In a few more steps you’ll see the lodge clearly, even through the forest and trees. When you get to a split in the trail, veer right to cross over the footbridge.
In a few more steps, you’ll be back to your starting point just behind Mountain Lake Lodge.
#3: Mountain Lake Loop
The 1.5-mile Mountain Lake Loop takes you on what’s referred to on-property as the Indian Trail. The trail starts to the right of Baby’s Cottage (known as “Virginia”).
It’s no surprise that this is the most popular cabin at Mountain Lake Lodge. It’s across from the swimming pool. You’ll see a well-placed signs for the hiking trail.
White blazes mark the trail. At the .15-mile mark you’ll cross over a small bridge and catch your first glimpse through the trees of Mountain Lake.
This mysterious natural lake seemingly fills and drains at random. The freshwater lake was last full in 2005.
Just three years later the lake was completely dried up. Then, in summer 2020, the lake made headlines as it began to refill.
It’s since risen to about one-third full and has held its water levels.
Still, it’s a shadow of its former self. It is studied and protected by the Mountain Lake Conservancy.
Scientists have studied the lake level, learning that Mountain Lake hits a low every 400 years.
It rises and falls in a cycle all its own and is the only lake of its kind on the planet.
No one really knows why this porous lake seems to leak out, then fill up to capacity.
Okay, back to the hike. Catching views of the lake, you’ll see it’s mostly a field of flowers, weeds, tall grasses and sediment.
A small basin of water resides at the north end of the lake. From here, you’ll need to navigate through a wiry, tangle of trees.
The flora is very dense, all but shutting out most of the natural light.
At the .6-mile mark you will reach the “Newport” cabin. It looks as though this cabin is no longer in use.
From here, walk to the right of the cabin and you’ll see some fairly large rocks. This is a good vantage point to snap a few photos of the lake.
Here’s where I made a mistake. A big one. I don’t want you to do the same. If you look just past the rocks you’ll see a path. This is not the Indian Trail.
This will lead you down to the lake, basically to dirt and rocks that are below lake level when the lake is full.
The rocks are extremely loose and it’s a challenge to maintain your footing.
I knew this could not possibly be right so I climbed up to the edge of the lake when it’s full, then essentially bushwhacked my way through the trees.
I was breathlessly hoping that eventually I would find a trail. Thankfully, I did.
Let me rewind to the moment “Newport” comes into view. Walk past the front of the cabin. My guess is that this is where the trail actually picks up.
Keep moving around the lake. At the 1.1-mile mark there’s a short spur trail on the right. This takes you closer to the lake for another view of Mountain Lake.
Continue on until the 1.4-mile mark where you’ll cross a nice wooden bridge over what was once lake water.
At this point, the Indian Trail is less dense and more like a typical forested trail.
By the 1.5-mile mark, you’re back on paved trail, at the white fishing dock. Sadly, there is no water for fishing or swimming.
In a few more steps, you’re at the gazebo. You will instantly recognize this as the location where Penny led dance lessons early on in the movie.
It’s also where Dr. Houseman and Baby engage in an emotional confrontation late in the movie.
Continue along the paved path and in a few more steps you’ll return to “Virginia.” You’ve now completed this loop hike around the Mountain Lake Lodge property.
This Mountain Lake Loop hike was satisfying as a forested hike, but it would have been nice to be able to see more of the lake.
Of course, it’s understandable that the trail can only get so close to the lake when you don’t know where the lake edge will be from year to year.
Though the Mountain Lake Loop was harrowing at times – like when I was slowly sliding into the lake on loose rocks – I very much enjoyed each of these hikes.
At the very least, the Bald Knob hike is an absolute must, whether as a loop or as an out-and-back hike. The summit views are beyond outstanding.
A nearby hike that’s a must-do while at the lodge is Cascades Falls. This 4-mile out-and-back hike is less than 20 minutes away from the lodge and beautifully scenic.