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The Wilderness Cure

by Becca Hensley

With the lockdown’s unexpected gift of “pause,” nature became a needed healing replacement for our beloved brick-and-mortar spas. And so, as we plunged into wilderness’ largesse, we sought the spa within. Human-powered activities, from hiking to biking, became our metaphorical spa treatments.

Though spas are opening again, let’s keep the gains of slow travel alive with wellness forays that combine the gamut: physical activities, the outdoors and bona fide, duly missed, old-school spa visits.

Cycle and Mud

As apt a pairing as wine to cheese, Backroad’s California Wine Country Bike Tour, a cycling jaunt amidst the redwoods, through vineyards and down the coast, couples well with a grand finale visit to Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection. At 20,000-square-foot Spa Solage, created to evoke Calistoga’s historic mud and mineral water therapies, indulge in The Bathhouse’s geothermal pools. After hours, have the place to yourself with Starlight at the Bathhouse, a private experience, which includes a candlelit rose petal bath and a detoxifying Mudslide treatment, a three-part modern twist on the region’s iconic mud bath rituals.

Trees and Wandering

Go to the woods and live deliberately in the mode of consummate nature lover Henry David Thoreau. At Lake Kora, a legendary Great Camp in the leafy Adirondacks, a thousand acres and an immense lake lull you to tranquility. Once the playground of aristocrats, the grounds and intimate lakeside lodges provide the ideal setting for receiving the outdoor’s own medicine. Take a forest bathing walk with guide Ed Kanze, who skillfully unveils the nuances of the curative landscape. All he asks is that you breathe deeply, savor the verdant spectacle and relax into the moment. The result? Total recalibration.

Raft and Reaffirm

It is said that the Grand Canyon casts a spell on all who enter it. Take enchantment to the next level when you float through the famous monument, propelled by the moods of the mighty Colorado River. Enjoy this bucket list adventure’s rushes under the tutelage of Western River Expeditions. You’ll raft by day and sleep under the stars at night. Complete your spa vacation two hours away in spectacular Sedona, known for its mysterious energy vortex. Channel peace at L’Auberge de Sedona, situated on the banks of Oak Creek amid the towering canyons. At the L’Apothecary spa partake of earthy, grounding rituals such as the aromatic Flower Essence Massage.

Contemplate and Cure

An ancient spiritual practice, labyrinth walking brings clarity and quiets the mind. Not a maze meant to obfuscate, but a path to a visible center, a labyrinth represents life’s own journey. Its serpentine, unicursal route allows walkers to go forward and backward (as in real life), with its heart (and your heart) as the goal. Most walkers report feelings of relief, lightened emotional loads, mental lucidity and physical release after a session. One of the best, located at The Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale, draws gravitas from its restorative desert environs, replete with otherworldly red rocks and cacti. Team guided meditation classes at the labyrinth encourage deep renewal and inner focus.

Hike and Restore

Keep calm and carry on the British way—on a trail with the promise of tea afterward. Join one of Country Walkers’ group hiking trips to the UK (Cornwall’s Coast? The Cotswolds?) to be suffused in nature’s bucolic quietude.

Bookend your weeklong walk in opulence at Dorchester Collection’s Coworth Park, a regal country estate in Ascot, surrounded by lavender and wildflower-flecked grounds and gardens. While the whole resort has been refurbished as a sustainable haven, The Spa at Coworth Park features particularly exemplary energy-saving design elements, and offers organic treatments by brands such as ishga and Aromatherapy Associates.

Cast and Meditate

Aficionados often describe fly fishing as a religion. Its repetitive movements, requirements of patience and trust in the universe, slow pace and al fresco setting invoke a meditative state like no other. Cast with the able guides from Salmon Falls Resort, located in splendorous southeastern Alaska—the ultimate spa treatment for the soul. The scenic 51-room retreat offers guided and self-guided fly fishing excursions sure to sharpen the senses and recharge the spirit. In addition, a slew of other locally intoned adventures—including Bear Watching, Eco-Kayaking and Rainforest Walking—debut in 2021.

Moonlight and Glamping

Long a refuge for Hollywood’s heyday silver screen clan, oasis-like La Quinta Resort & Club stretches across 45 acres of desert beside the Santa Rosa Mountains. A member of Hilton Worldwide’s Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, it boasts fragrant gardens, citrus orchards, romantic nooks, 41 swimming pools and the impressive Spa La Quinta, with 38 treatment rooms. Just walking the grounds yields consummate repose. But, La Quinta’s novel Camp’d Out Joshua Tree Experience ups the salubrious ante in style. Created in collaboration with Camp’d Out, the package (booked with a minimum three-night stay) facilitates a luxury, one-night camping excursion in nearby Joshua Tree National Park, complete with overnight butler service.

Cacti and Horses

The horse-human bond dates back centuries. Deep interaction between the two seems to benefit humans emotionally and physically, with many individuals applying the lessons they learn from horses to real life. So, get horsey at Tanque Verde Ranch, the oldest dude ranch in the United States, and still a working facility. Located adjacent to Saguaro National Park near Tucson, its 60,000 acres of wide open desertscape exude oodles of rustic, Western romance. Beyond its La Sonora Spa, guests can get centered with wrangler-led Harmony with Horses, which gives guests the chance to horse whisper and experience equine care from A-Z.

Water and Paddling

Just being around water promotes well- being. What better place to dive into H20’s zen vibe than on the Big Island, where you can learn to surf but also take volcano hikes, slide through rainforests and stargaze. Kona, on the west side, is ideal for beginner oceansports. Suit up for surfing lessons with Kahalu’u Bay Surf & Sea for its low student-to-teacher ratio. After you master hanging ten, check into Fairmont Orchid-Hawaii, a gem on the Kohala Coast. Its open-air Spa Without Walls features eight waterfall hales (huts), wedged between lily ponds and palm trees. Sunrise outrigger canoe experiences and Flo-Yo (floating yoga) add to watery, fitness-fueled, soul-searching fun.

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