WILD ABOUT NATURE
By Dustin O’Regan
By Dustin O’Regan
In celebration of a high school graduation, my daughter and I headed to Northern Wisconsin for a little mother/ daughter time at the Wild Rice Retreat. We chose the quick 50-minute flight from O’Hare to Ironwood, Michigan rather than the leisurely seven-hour drive to Bayfield, Wisconsin. Post-flight, the scenic one-hour drive through dense forest delivered us to the adults-only, 114-acre Wild Rice Retreat. Perched on the rocky shores of Lake Superior and overlooking the Apostle Islands, the retreat wears a crown of pines and is purposefully curated for a tranquil experience.
The year-round resort offers 31 Scandinavian-inspired lodging units that are all intended to be “containers in nature.” When designing the seven RicePods, four Treehauses, and eight Nests, renowned architect David Salmela used cedar siding on the exteriors and locally sourced, reclaimed basswood for the interior paneling.
Each unit vaunts luxurious accommodations with 500-thread-count Egyptian linens from Parachute, sumptuous furnishings, in floor heat and air conditioning, and Wi-Fi—if you need to check into the real world (I doubt you will feel the urge).
Our darling 480-square-foot Nest felt like being cradled in the palm of Mother Nature. The neutral, clean earth tones and sleek lines melded perfectly with the forest. Breath-stealing views seen through the oversized windows served as wall art. The bathroom sported a colorful tiled wall adding a little drama to the space.
The tree-capped Retreat Center is the former James Beard award-winning Wild Rice Restaurant. Today the 8,500-square-foot, two-story, light-filled space is home to the Wild Rice Retreat’s guest reception, lobby, nourishment center, bar, and great room.
As the path to a healthy mind and body starts with nutrition, Wild Rice Retreat’s chef designs and crafts delicious, hearty meals with seasonal and sustainable ingredients. The dishes often feature an Indian flair (think delicate curries) as a nod to Wild Rice’s celebration of yoga and its teachings. The nourishment center boasts a huge, light-filled, state-of-the-art kitchen admired by many great chefs from its days as an award-winning restaurant. We found mealtimes to be social affairs, breaking bread with our new friends while toasting the day’s adventures. However, meals can also be enjoyed alone—as with most things at the retreat, guests can customize their experience as they see fit.
Also situated on the property are the Peace Pod for daily classes and the Sanctuary Sauna Haus with a cedar sauna, rain room, fire pit, and meditation circle. Following a winding path lined with immense red boulders, we visited the Peace Pod for a variety of yoga classes—each one focusing on different aspects of healing. We listened to birdsong as we breathed and stretched, watching the wind ripple the surface of Lake Superior. One little sparrow took great interest in our practice as it eagerly watched through the window. Focusing on holistic wellness, we learned the importance of fitness not only for health purposes but also for improving mindset. Our instructor guided our movements and reminded us to be grateful to our bodies.
Taking advantage of the forested acres hugging the coast, we often set out on hikes— simultaneously hoping and not hoping to see the family of black bears we had heard so much about. The tiny town of Bayfield, Wisconsin (population 500) is easily accessible via the Brownstone Trail (approximately a 1.5-mile trek). Bayfield has a darling little book shop, Apostle Islands Booksellers, that offers an inspiring array of wellness reads, boutiques with handmade jewelry, art galleries, and ferries to and from the Apostle Islands. A stroll through downtown gives you a peek into the livelihood of the many artisans who have made Bayfield home and found inspiration in the surrounding nature.
During our stay, I was happily surprised to notice that the sun sets much later in Northern Wisconsin providing more daylight to enjoy nature’s glory. When the sun did set, the darkness bought forth a nighttime chorus of spring peeper frogs beneath a canopy of stars.
Although our visit was in June, the retreat can be enjoyed during any season. The heavy lake-effect snow makes the area a mecca for winter enthusiasts who love to strap on snowshoes and skis.
Seeking to heal the mind, body, and soul? Wild Rice Retreat offers a getaway of profound serenity. Other luxury publications concur—Conde Nast lists Wild Rice Retreat as one of the 23 best places to visit in 2023, and Travel & Leisure selected it as one of the 13 best U.S. resorts for reconnecting with nature.
For more information, visit wildriceretreat.com.
Real estate developer and Wild Rice Retreat founder Heidi Zimmer purchased the property from Mary Rice (its original namesake) with a vision to create a restorative escape from life’s stressors. She notes, “Wild Rice Retreat is a garden of all things that bring you joy.” The retreat provides an environment for grounding the mind, body, and spirit through three foundational pillars—nourishment, movement, and expression. Gourmet, locally sourced meals feed the body, daily activities ranging from Tai Chi to yoga aid movement, and workshops focusing on moon cycles and chakras offer spaces for guests to work on expression.
Zimmer is very proud that, in addition to being a female-founded project, 100 percent of the invested funds are from women.
Another fact she was quick to mention is a land acknowledgement that the retreat rests on indigenous land. Zimmer invited an Anishinaabe tribal elder to bless the terra firma and to consult on the property’s layout as she wanted to be respectful of their heritage. As the Anishinaabe culture teaches that the four cardinal directions are very important, strong north/south and east/west lines were guides to position the property’s units.