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Set in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center is a truly unique and exceptionally green resort. I will say up front this isn’t a place I would recommend to everyone or every family—leave your electronic gadgets at home and say goodbye to the car for your stay (and decide whether or not you want to bring the bathing suits along), though I know there are certainly those who could appreciate this relaxing, off-the-grid getaway. We did.
For a retreat that is centered on wellness and whole living, where meditation, yoga, and self-improvement seminars are par for the daily agenda, I find it impressive that children are allowed to stay at Breitenbush at all. With such tranquility in the air, it doesn’t strike you as that kind of a place on arrival. Yet sure enough, ours were not the only wee elves to be found in the forest and exploring the stone labyrinth. A surprising number of young toddlers were found roving the grounds.
The main draw at Breitenbush is the geothermal bounty of naturally heated mineral water, channeled into hot soaking ponds and tubs. However, the hot springs do much more than soak and steam guests here. Breitenbush also uses the geothermal power to keep the lights on (compact fluorescents, as you might guess) and amply heat more than 100 buildings on the property through snowy winters. The steam from the earth is also used to make its large compost “tanks” extremely efficient in turning the dining hall food scraps and garden clippings into rich fuel for the next round of organic vegetables and herbs.
Breitenbush offers daily personal wellness programs including yoga and meditation opportunities. The retreat also hosts several events and workshops each year ranging from writer's workshops and massage therapy courses to couples and family workshops including an annual Natural Parenting Retreat and a Mother's Day Retreat that includes childcare for children 3 years and older (and potty trained).
Walking along a nature trail meandering off from the main lodge, you'll discover the first of three stone-lined pools overlooking a meadow. Each pool is continually fed by a small built-in waterfall, and temperatures range from kid-friendly warm at the first to hot-hot-hot at the final pool along the walk (also known as the “silent pool—shhh”). Behind the historic lodge, you'll also find a gated flower garden with a deck where four tiled "hot tubs" of varying temperatures await, and a cold plunge calls to the courageous.
My absolute favorite feature of Breitenbush is the whimsical “sauna” built on stilts over a natural vent where bubbling hot water seeps up from the earth. Enter through a low doorway and sit surrounded by octagonal windows as steam rises through holes in the floorboards, then close your eyes and listen to the slosh, slosh, slosh of the water below. Afterward, take a quick cold shower or plunge into the clawfoot tub outside.
As mentioned above, bathing suits are optional in the pools, tubs and sauna areas and, unless you bring your own, you're not likely to see any there. However, total modesty is the fashion elsewhere at the resort, so bring respectable cover-ups for the walk from pond to cabin and certainly to the dining hall.
Most guests stay in the small, rustic cabins set in rows among very large trees. Some cabins have a sink and toilet, though most have no interior plumbing and guests use the nearby shared toilets and showers. We stayed in an “ultra deluxe” cabin that had beds in two separate rooms, a sink (in the front room), and a toilet (just off the back room). Cabins have screened windows for fresh air in summer months, and as mentioned above, geothermal heating to keep them warm through winter. In summer and early fall, guests may also take advantage of Breitenbush’s large, family-size tents that are ready and waiting, or private campsites are available for families bringing their own tents.
There are two important things you must keep in mind when planning to stay in the cabins:
1) There are no locks on the doors, so leave your valuables at home or locked in your car,
2) You are cordially invited to bring your own towels and bedding (sleeping bag or sheets and blankets). If you respect the request at hotels to reuse your linens to help save water, you can imagine how much water is conserved when guests bring their own linens. If that doesn’t jive with your travel plans, however, you can rent linens for your stay for $22.
I'll start with that most significant footnote for me: No caffeine provided, but you can bring your own ground coffee, they have cone filters, mugs, and hot water at lodge. (I did.)
Otherwise, it's a largely vegan buffet each meal - line up at the appointed time (indicated by that charming bell) and enjoy on a first-come-first-served basis. While the food was largely delicious to us, a more skeptical toddler may struggle with distinctions between glass noodles and macaroni, so consider your child and pack extra supplies as needed. Fresh fruit and pancakes please most in any right.
Wooden dining boosters and high chairs are available in the dining hall. Remember! All leftovers scrape into the compost and hand-off those dishes to the washer when you're through.
Would we recommend it to our friends? Certain friends, yes. Would we return? Yes, but with kids of a certain age we would make careful considerations with regards of our time enjoying the hot springs and sauna. Visit www.breitenbush.com for special offers and reservations.
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