By Ann Randall
A retreat center can be the perfect venue for a group looking for some relaxed, focused time. Often located in small towns, these facilities offer serene settings without the distractions of television, glittering amenities and big city activities. Retreats exist as a place for reflection and learning. Many of them come with the bonus of activities to help set the mood – labyrinths, meditation trails, massages, yoga and hot spring soaks. Here is a selection of excellent retreat centers that are ideal for a special group activity or event.
CHICO HOT SPRINGS
Chico Hot Springs began in the 1890s as a hut holding two wooden tubs that captures the mineral water from the area’s hot springs. Later, a hotel was built and partially converted to a hospital with a physician and health staff on site. Guests came here to “take the waters” for a cure. Today, the venue, located 30 miles from Yellowstone Park, calls itself a resort. But its rural location, commitment to lodging rooms without TVs or phones and clusters of buildings grouped in private settings still allow guests to re-create the retreat ambiance of the venue’s roots. One of the resort’s biggest draws remains its two hot spring plunge pools.
The North 40 Cabins consist of eight log cabins, each with a king size bed, grouped around a private lawn located away from the main lodge. The Chalets are two large log A-frame houses, situated on a hill with a view, that can sleep up to 18 people in lofts and bedrooms. Each chalet has a fully-equipped kitchen, and the larger chalet has a comfortable living and dining area suitable for small group meetings. Mountain View House, also located on a scenic hill above the main lodge, is a self-contained five- bedroom log home that can sleep up to twelve people. It has a large living room that can accommodate meetings. For a rustic experience, the venue is adding several Conestoga Wagons, each sleeping four guests and calling it Cowboy Camp.
Meeting space is also available in conference rooms located throughout the property.
In addition to the plunge pools, the venue has a spa offering yoga and a menu of massages and other spa services. The expansive grounds are ideal for outdoor team-building activities.
ALBION CAMPUS RETREAT
The retreat center occupies the campus of the former Albion State Normal School, one of Idaho’s two original teacher training colleges. The bucolic campus, founded in 1893, is set in the small, rural community of Albion, the gateway to some of southern Idaho’s best outdoor recreation opportunities.
The campus consists of six historic red brick buildings, the school’s original stone building that now houses the campus museum and a building that was the former home for the college presidents.
Miller Hall, at one time the men’s dormitory, has been beautifully renovated and modernized for meeting, meal and accommodation space. Fifteen bedrooms can accommodate up to 75 people, each room having a queen size bed and bunkbeds or foldout couch. All rooms have private toilets and sink with shared shower facilities down the hall. The ground floor level has a large fully-equipped kitchen adjacent to an open meeting area; The meeting area can be configured in a variety of ways. The third floor has an open game/media room with ping pong table and a screen and projector for movies or presentations.
The President’s Cottage on the campus is the 1930 home to house the college’s presidents. It can sleep up to sixteen people in six double occupancy bedrooms, has three bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen, lovingly decorated living room and dining space as well as an expansive deck. Suitable for a smaller group, the Presidents Cottage can be a self-contained meeting venue.
Comish Hall Event Center in the cafeteria of the former women’s dormitory is a restored space with a full commercial kitchen that can seat up to 250 people for weddings, receptions, banquets and parties.
There are no provided meals on campus or any restaurants or grocery stores in Albion. The owners can provide a list of local caterers, or meals will need to be brought and prepared.
The campus has plenty of space for outdoor activities with barbecues, two hot tubs and a picnic area. The museum displays two stories of artifacts from the venue’s days as a teacher training college and the history of education in Idaho which can be opened for tours upon request.
Albion is about 2.5 hours from either Boise or Idaho Falls, both cities are served by a major airport.
AURA SOMA LAVA LODGE AND RETREAT
LAVA HOT SPRINGS, ID
Aura Soma Lava (ASL) is a complex of buildings set in a small southeast Idaho community, and it is endowed with natural mineral water hot springs. The lodge has taken advantage of the water by incorporating a guest soaking pool on Riverfront Meadow, a park-like setting that borders the town’s Portneuf River. Riverfront Meadow also has a labyrinth for guest use. For additional relaxation, the lodge offers a full menu of massage options in therapy rooms that are located in its new main building.
The ASL Lodge building has twenty king and double queen rooms that can sleep up to forty people double occupancy. The Cottage, a charming house that sits in the meadow, can sleep up to four people and comes with a fully equipped kitchen. New to Aura Soma Lava in 2017, are five colorful tiny houses, all named and individually decorated in a global theme. Each 366- square foot tiny house comes equipped with a kitchen and queen-sized bed. The lodge also has three vacation rental homes of varying sizes located elsewhere in town within walking distance of the main complex.
ASL Conference Center is located on the edge of Riverfront Meadow abutting the Portneuf River. It’s a 2,000-square-foot house outfitted with a commercial kitchen, a large meeting area and eight single beds located in a combination of bedrooms and a sleeping porch. The Conference Center comes with its own deck over the river, picnic tables, barbecue and fire pit. Local catering is available.
Aura Soma Lava coordinates with Zipline Adventure for any group that wants to add a team-building adrenaline rush to their meeting agenda. Three ziplines and a ninja warrior obstacle course are available year around for a three-hour group experience that includes a trip to the course in a decommissioned military truck.
ANANDA CENTER AT LAURELWOOD
Ananda is a 225-acre retreat center run by a residential, non-denominational yoga and meditation community. Located 26 miles west of Portland in the Tualatin Valley, the center operates out of the repurposed buildings of a former boarding school. The center uses the campus dormitories, classrooms, cafeteria and auditorium for its own workshops and classes, but it also rents its facilities out to groups.
Harmony Hall, the former girls’ dormitory, houses Green Hill Café, a large communal dining area serving three vegetarian meals a day that come as part of the rental fee. The hall also houses simple and comfortable guestrooms that can accommodate up to 100 guests in single and double occupancy rooms, with a combination of shared and ensuite bathrooms.
Expansion Hall is a former three- story classroom building with a large auditorium and stage and a variety of classrooms, all available for groups to use. As an added benefit, the center’s schedule of community yoga classes take place in one of the classrooms, and they’re open to anyone using the facility for a meeting.
Trails wander throughout the property leading to viewpoints, shrines and Ananda’s apple orchards, providing opportunities to exercise, reflect or to use for team building opportunities. Additionally, arrangements can be made for an Ananda staff member to lead your group in guided meditation, qigong or yoga as part of the meeting’s agenda.
WELLSPRING RETREAT AND SPA
Wellspring is a woodland retreat set on ten acres tucked into the woods just outside the Nisqually entrance to Mt. Rainer. It offers a variety of accommodations from a treehouse to rustically decorated small and large log cabins and a fully-equipped lodge scattered throughout the property. In total, Wellspring can accommodate up to forty double occupancy guests.
Two indoor meeting spaces are available including the large, thirty-foot diameter Tom-Tom Yurt which offers an open interior space for trainings, presentations and group meals. The largest of the cabins, The Tatoosh Lodge, has a comfortable living room with a river rock fireplace and large cedar table dining area that would be appropriate for a smaller group meeting. Tatoosh Lodge can be rented as a self-contained meeting space because it also sleeps up to fourteen double occupancy guests in its upstairs loft and extra bedrooms.
The venue has no meal service, however there’s a covered patio with cooking grills and the three larger cabins and lodge have full kitchens. The Copper Creek Restaurant in nearby Ashford has catering services.
The grounds have a one-mile Meditation Trail while the Woodland Labyrinth offers a meditative walking experience. A magical path through the ground’s old growth forest leads to the imposing Grandmother Maple tree. Additionally, the retreat venue offers massages, cedar saunas and hot tubs for guests.