Our goal for our long weekend at Mountain Lake Lodge, perched at nearly 4,000 feet in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, is to show Maggie and Cleo, city slickers who live in Washington, DC, the joys of the countryside. On forest hikes, the girls stomp in woodland streams and run along the trails. On our New River raft trip, both splash in the water, blossoming as swimmers. At night we listen to the frogs’ bellowing as the girls sprawl on our cabin’s porch and we relax in rocking chairs. Before bed, we reward the girls with belly rubs and biscuits.
Like many pet owners, we enjoy vacationing, at least some of the time, with our dogs, Maggie, a 148-pound Newfoundland, and Cleo, a 70-pound Labrador. According to a TripAdvisor survey, 53% of respondents travel with their pets and pet-friendly accommodations are important for 62% of dog owners (as opposed to 38% of cat lovers).
The bone to pick with most dog-admitting lodgings is that their welcome is limited to allowing pets—mostly canines under 40-pounds—to bunk in your room. The hotels provide no places for dogs to romp. Not so at Mountain Lake Lodge, which features 2,600 acres for people and pets to play.
We have enjoyed visiting in spring, summer, and fall with our dogs. Mountain Lake Lodge served as the backdrop for scenes from the iconic Dirty Dancing released in 1987.
Whenever the resort is open, you can bring the dogs. Your pooches will thank you.
Mountain Lake Lodge
For Maggie and Cleo, forests feathered with ferns and dappled with sunlight bloom as a new world. Of the 22 miles of trails, we start our naturalist-guided walk on the mile-long Lower Jungle path. Sometimes we let the dogs run loose, a taboo act in the city. They sniff the shrubbery, prance back and forth, and pause to figure out how to slurp from a stream.
We walk to Treetop Adventures Base Camp, home to archery tag as well as bubble ball, a contact sport in which players don plastic bubbles and bounce against opponents in a soccer-like game. As the dogs roll in the meadow, we watch guests tackle the 20-element adult adventure course, stepping across ladders, swaying on rope bridges, balancing on a log, and gliding on ziplines.
On our next visit we aim to teach the dogs disc golf on the ridgetop course whose spectacular valley views are favored by brides.
In the afternoon we take Maggie and Cleo for “drinks” (water for them, wine for us) in the main lodge, a sandstone building constructed in 1936. They meet Tucker, a yellow Labrador and his person, Jeff, at the bar.
In the evening, we join the other families making S’mores at the campfire, keeping the dogs a distance from the sparks and the crackers (their favorites). One night we take in part of the outdoor Lego movie and on another, the dogs play ball with a group of vacationing kids.
The accommodations match the laid-back ambiance. The hilltop main lodge overlooks a campus of green wooden cabins, suggestive of a summer cottage colony, the role Mountain Lake played in Dirty Dancing.
A multi-million renovation in 2012 and 2013 upgraded Mountain Lake’s cabins with comfortable furnishings, but some of the funky, rustic feel remains. In our cabin, for example, the bathroom door has a big swatch of peeling paint. Nonetheless, the oversize room with its king bed, couch, fireplace, and porch with rocking chairs provides us and two big dogs plenty of space.
Although the Virginia retreat won’t be mistaken for an upscale Adirondack getaway aimed at one-percenters, Mountain Lake Lodge exudes its own charms. We like the sprawling land, the multiple trails, the big-enough, serviceable cabins, the moderate prices and the friendly staff who don’t turn to ice at the sight of a bit of dog drool. The meals are good. Select from daily comfort foods such as pasta and meatloaf as well as fish, chicken, and such southern fare as shrimp and grits.
The lake, last full around 2002, hovers at about 40% of capacity. Fed by underground springs, the lakebed’s fissures currently let our more water than comes in. As Mountain Lake’s website says “it’s a mystery” as to when the lake will return to full capacity. That’s why we head to the nearby New River.
Mountain Lake Lodge offers hotel rooms and one- to four-bedroom cabins. 800-346-3334.
A must, with dogs or without, is a trip on the New River with Tangent Outfitters. Josh, our guide, paddles us on a cata-raft to two beaches, best for first-time swimmers—dogs or kids. Descended from water dogs, Maggie and Cleo have never been swimming.
Josh paddles us to a sandbar that creates a current-free channel where Maggie and Cleo, at first hesitantly, and then more confidently, dog-paddle toward the tennis ball we throw. Next, we stop at a shallow sand bank that’s across from the river’s scenic grayish-white limestone cliffs, coaxing the dogs further into the river.
Call us crazy dog-lovers, but we feel joy as Maggie and Cleo splash and swim in the river, something they were born to do. Dog-friendly Tangent Outfitters creates custom float trips for families with or without dogs. The company also permits dogs on group canoe trips as long as the other guests don’t have allergies or objections. Tangent offers fishing outings as well.
With the dogs happily tired, we go to dinner at Palisades Restaurant, about 12 miles from Mountain Lake Lodge in Eggleston, a hamlet of some 180 people. One of the chef’s formerly cooked at the Inn at Little Washington and the fare is very good. Choose from entrees such as quail, soft-shelled crabs, trout, pork chops, duck, or pizza.
Back in the city, we think our dogs must dream of tennis balls floating on cool river currents. We can’t wait to take the girls as well as our now grown children back to Mountain Lake Lodge.
Tangent Outfitters offers canoe and kayak trips as well as custom float trips. 540-626-4567. Palisades Restaurant, Reservations suggested. 540-626-2828.