Have the Time of Your Life Reliving 'Dirty Dancing'

Who can forget the watermelon scene, the sultry dance moves, the coming-of-age love story, the lake lift and, of course, the pivotal final dance when no one put Baby in the corner? Though Dirty Dancing was set in a fictional Catskills resort in the summer of 1963, today, it’s easy to spend a few days exploring many of the original film sites of one of the most endearing love stories to film in North Carolina. 

Day 1: 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa

Start your walk down Dirty Dancing memory lane in the town of Lake Lure, where a handful of the exterior scenes and most of the interior scenes were filmed. Check in to the 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa, where Patrick Swayze, portraying bad-boy dance instructor Johnny Castle, and Jennifer Grey, the beloved Frances “Baby” Houseman, stayed during filming. Settle into Johnny’s Cabin or Baby’s Bungalow, both spacious Dirty Dancing-themed cabins.

Although none of the film was shot at the Inn, the landscape at nearby Camp Chimney Rock – including its original cabins, dining hall and gymnasium – were used in the film. The cabins doubled for the film’s Kellerman’s staff housing, and the gym was converted into the banquet room where Baby and Johnny performed their epic “Time of My Life” dance routine. The camp lake was also purportedly used for the famous lake lift scene. Camp Chimney Rock operated from 1918 until 1982, closing well before the 1987 filming. Today, the property is a private residential development called Firefly Cove at Lake Lure, where one resident incorporated the ruins of the dining hall into the planned community.

Grab dinner at the Inn at Moose & Goose Lounge, which offers a relaxed setting as you enjoy your fixed-price two-course meal. And make sure to check out its extensive wine list, too – and maybe Baby’s Watermelon Mojito.

Day 2: Chimney Rock State Park and Esmeralda Inn

Head a couple of miles west to Chimney Rock State Park and make your way to the top of the 535-million-year-old 315-foot rock outcropping. For the adventurous and bold types, take the 499 steps on the upgraded Outcroppings Trail to the top. For those looking for a more leisurely ascent, check to see if the state-of-the-art elevator is running, and then climb the final 44 steps to take in the spectacular views from the top of this peak. If you time it right, enjoy a magical sunset – and channel Johnny and Baby’s mountain romance – along the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Just a bit farther west is The Esmeralda Inn, Restaurant & Spa, where you can walk on the actual floor where Baby and Johnny showed off their legendary dance and lift at the end of the film. Although not originally at this location, the floor was salvaged after the gymnasium where the scene was shot was demolished in the late 1980s; it became part of the lobby floor in the Esmeralda Inn during a renovation in 1997. Enjoy a sumptuous dinner in the Esmeralda Restaurant or splurge on dinner at The Chef’s Table – located in the kitchen of the restaurant, allowing guests to watch the chef prepare their meals – before heading back to the 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa.

Day 3: Lake Lure Tours and Bald Mountain Golf

Spend the morning enjoying the charm of the 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa. Admire the antiques and artwork of the historic inn, stroll the property and lakeside, or treat yourself to a massage or facial in the Irongate Spa. Wander over to the marina and book a guided Dirty Dancing tour with Lake Lure Tours, and board a 28-foot open-air pontoon boat for an hour-long narrated tour of the lake. Sail past the stairs where Baby carried the watermelon up to the staff cabins and where she practiced her dance moves coming down. See the area of the original camp that served as the staff housing and banquet room in Firefly Cove at Lake Lure. Learn about the history of the area, along with the natural and cultural background of Hickory Nut Gorge.

Come afternoon, take the longer but more scenic route along the lake to Bald Mountain Golf Course, an 18-hole course at Rumbling Bald on Lake Lure. Designed by W.B. Lewis in 1968, the course was featured prominently when Baby interrupted her parents while they were practicing their swings to ask her father for money. The film was shot on the 16th hole, but it was made to look like a practice green. If you’re around on a Sunday afternoon, see if the “Nine & Dine” special is running, where you can golf 9 holes at either Apple Valley or Bald Mountain, plus eat at Legends on the Lake at Rumbling Bald, for just $39 per person.

Bonus Day: Dirty Dancing Festival

If you plan your visit in mid-September, you can take advantage of a Dirty Dancing highlight – the annual Dirty Dancing Festival at Lake Lure’s Morse Park (the 2021 event has been postponed due to COVID-19). Founded in 2010, a year after Patrick Swayze’s premature death and 23 years after the film debut, the Dirty Dancing Festival is a celebration of the inspiration, courage, and love that Johnny and Baby instilled in legions of fans worldwide. Featuring a full day of live movie-inspired music and dancing, watermelon races, shag competitions, dance lessons, Kellerman’s Talent Show, a lakeside screening of the film and, of course, opportunities to attempt the famous lake lift, everyone comes to the Dirty Dancing Festival to “have the time of their life."

And if you still want more Dirty Dancing in your life, head southwest to Hendersonville and Cashiers, both of which served as backdrops for the 2017 musical reimagination of the film (though High Hampton Inn – this version's Kellerman's Resort – is closed for the time being as it undergoes renovations).

Updated September 17, 2020
About the Author
Cele and Lynn Seldon

Cele and Lynn Seldon

Cele and Lynn Seldon are currently #midfiftiesgypsies, but they miss the sunsets and walks on the beach in Oak Island, where they basked in the North Carolina sunshine for 15 years.

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