It was the sound of children’s laughter echoing throughout the surrounding woods that struck me when I first stepped outside onto the balcony of my suite. It was a beautiful musical sound, a pure happiness of children exploring the outdoors—and I imagine it also carried with it echoes of the ghosts of centuries past who had enjoyed these rambling paths and protected forest land.
There are very few places like Mohonk Mountain House, and I had returned to this venerable destination for a Wellness in the Wild retreat and to experience its newly renovated spa. This time, I had the good fortune to spend my stay in the stately Lake View Suite. If you take your tubs as seriously as I do, this is the suite for you. It comes complete with a big gorgeous Kohler clawfoot tub ideally situated in front of a large window overlooking Lake Mohonk. This is the perfect suite to wile away an entire stay—but why would you, when there is so much to see and do.
A Stunning Natural Setting
Nature has always guided Mohonk Mountain House. Founded in 1869 by Albert K. Smiley, a devout Quaker with an immense appreciation and respect for nature and an unparalleled conscience for social justice, the resort has been offering guests guided nature walks for the last 154 years. The property is still run and owned by the fifth generation and has managed to stay true to Albert’s original mission: “To provide opportunities for recreation and renewal of body, mind, and spirit in a beautiful natural setting.”
Less than three percent of family businesses in the United States succeed to fourth generation of family involvement, so having a natural paradise is a good place to start.
Mohonk Mountain House is surrounded by 40,000 acres of protected forest with stunning views of the Shawangunk cliffs. There are 85 miles of gloriously well-maintained trails for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and of course, forest bathing—and as of this April, the first and only Via Ferrata in the Northeast.
The property sits on a dramatic cliffside that overlooks the afore-mentioned Lake Mohonk, a mystical glacial lake that is often dotted with rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards. A refreshing new way to enjoy the lake is with the seasonal Lakeside Immersion Cold Plunge, which I experienced, without reservation, during my stay. Before the plunge, our small group practiced a guided breathing meditation, and afterward we were treated to a soothing singing bowl session beachside.
Inside the New Spa
In 2005, this National Historic Landmark resort and Historic Hotel of America debuted its 30,000 square-foot, three-level Spa Wing at a cost of $14 million. “The Spa at Mohonk Mountain House was created to complement and extend opportunities for guests to enjoy nature,” Nina Smiley, Ph.D., director of mindfulness programming, shared with me at that time. “The entire thirty-thousand-square-foot spa wing was designed to ‘bring the outside in.’”
And it did just that in spades. Integrating more than 200 windows that allow tranquil views of the surrounding woodland and mountain vistas, the spa was constructed with local timber beams, cedar shingles, and native foliage. Approximately 17 thousand tons of Shawangunk conglomerate was excavated from the surrounding mountain ridge, with 600 hundred tons of the excavated rock put back into the interior and the exterior of the building. Some of the rock was even ground up and used in a spa service called the Shawangunk Grit Body Treatment. No longer on the spa menu, I was able to experience and enjoy this gentle exfoliating treatment a few years after the spa first opened. “By using some of that very rock in a treatment, our guests are truly touched by nature,” Smiley told me when I visited in 2007.
The spa revamp, which broke ground in March of 2022, was completed in July, a mere four months later. The secret sauce? A phenomenal team. Architect Robert Henry, who had been visiting Mohonk periodically as a guest since moving to New York 30 years ago, worked in collaboration with Mohonk’s Rustic Crew to craft the spa pavilion in the same rustic tradition as the property’s other 120 historic summerhouses. Henry worked closely with former spa director Margaret Lora and Cody Claussen, Mohonk’s senior rustic carpenter, who sketched the original design for the Lakeview Summerhouse.
The summerhouses have long served as small sanctuaries, providing a mindful respite for hikers since the first one was built in 1876.
“You have the perfect person to respect and honor nature,” Barbara Stirewalt, vice president and general manager, shared with me. “Robert works so well with others and has a mutual respect for nature. He gave us some really good insights. Combine that with our Rustic Crew’s awareness of what nature was going to do to the structure over time and you have a wonderful conglomeration.”
The refresh to the spa was just right and included updating furniture, fixtures, and textiles. “From a business standpoint, it was important to find textiles we could clean and sanitize on a regular basis without compromising the integrity of the fabric,” Lora explained to me, adding that Henry was “so key in helping us.” He chose a lovely organic earth-tone palette and materials that included lots of natural wood and stone. I loved the Calacatta Green porcelain tile that adorned the walls of the showers and steam rooms, the green marble counter tops, and the flooring—a green Vermont slate tile. And I was particularly pleased to find that the spa’s custom lily pond carpeting that I fondly remembered from my past visits had not been done away with.
Additionally, the salon was completely redone. Of special note are the three pedicure stations that overlook the lake and that were “lifted almost like stadium-seating style to get a clear view of the beautiful lake.” Men and women’s changing rooms were redone with showers and steam rooms completely gutted and redone. The verandas and the solarium underwent a complete overhaul of fabrics on the iconic rocking chairs that feature a lush green velvet, while lounge chairs were outfitted in a forest-green faux leather that is easy to keep clean. All of the beverage and tea bars were redone with stone and new woodwork. There’s a new treatment room that showcases a personal steam shower and a cold rain shower where guests may now experience programming built around contrast therapies.
I was glad to learn that the spa is now offering Pietro Simone facials, and I experienced the Repair and Restore Facial that included Simone’s unique cotton thread exfoliation and dry facial massage. Spa product lines used and retailed include Eminence, Naturopathica, Swissline by Derma Lab, Om 4 Men, Seed to Spa, Dazzle Dry, and Innersense. There is also a Tara Well Bar that is quite popular with guests.
The New Lakeview Summerhouse
The 240-square-foot Lakeview Summerhouse, set upon a cliff overlooking the majestic glacial lake, is constructed from wood, logs, and timbers near the site and serves as an outdoor sanctuary where guests can connect with the healing power of nature as they enjoy their spa treatment. It joins more than 120 other rustic wooden summerhouses situated along the hiking trails. They’ve long served as small sanctuaries, providing a mindful respite for hikers since the first summerhouses were built in 1876. My signature Lakeview Summerhouse Massage experience began with a mini forest bathing session as my therapist quietly guided me out of the spa and up and over a rustic hand-crafted boardwalk through the woods and up to the Lakeview Summerhouse. The views of the pristine lake and surrounding mountains were heavenly.
Before I entered the summerhouse, I sat outside of it on a rustic bench, while my therapist gave me a hydrating hand treatment. That extra time to sit outside and take in the breathtaking views helped me get into the rhythm of nature. Inside the open-air summerhouse, sheer billowing drapes added a touch of magic to the space. I loved the private label Lakeview Body and Massage Oil used in this treatment. Created by Tara, the oil is a luscious combination of cedarwood, fir, and bergamot notes. The massage left me feeling both relaxed and reinvigorated by the skilled hands of the therapist and the fresh mountain air that circulated throughout. The summerhouse is also used for private mindfulness sessions with Nina Smiley, private or small group meditations, and small group yoga sessions. I also had a chance to join Nina Smiley on a serene Forest Bathing meander. “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished,” she reminded me, quoting Lao Tzu.
Wellness in the Wild
I was touched by nature in many other marvelous ways. My “Wellness in the Wild,” experience also included a handful of other wonderful new offerings: the afore-mentioned forest bathing session with Nina Smiley; a guided Moonlight Hike that ended with Stargazing Yin Yoga; and a pleasant three-mile guided hike that included a fun and challenging-in-a-good-way rock scramble and a tour of the lovely summerhouses. What I really like about the programming here is that most of the retreat options are essentially streaming–whenever you show up, your program starts and you can change channels as often as you wish. You can create your own retreat on your own time. While there are some themed weekends, the majority of the offerings are available as soon as you arrive.
A few other things I enjoyed this visit included archery lessons (I also opted for the tomahawk throwing lessons, but was wisely turned away because I was wearing sandals); the virtually guided mindfulness hike, in which I scanned QR codes along the road that were found at summerhouses and look-outs, and listened to the gentle voice of of Nina Smiley, virtually guiding me through mindful exercises; and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the food was even better than I remembered. Executive Chef Jim Palmeri. Executive Sous Chef Steve Anson, and Executive Pastry Chef Audrey Billups are creating really good and noteworthy cuisine, and they can accommodate pretty much any dietary restriction—and Sommelier Jack Acker is perfectly pairing the wine.
A highlight of my visit was a slow and thoughtful solo hike to Mohonk Spring, once used as the property’s source of drinking water. From 1904 through 1926, the Mohonk Spring provided drinking water to the Mountain House. At the dedication of the Spring in 1904, founder Albert K. Smiley shared that the Mountain Spring was a tremendous amount of work—workers had to cut through 10 feet of rock, and to landscape the area.
“Wellness has been a crucial aspect of the Mohonk Mountain House experience since its founding in 1869,” says Nina Smiley. “With the addition of the Lakeview Summerhouse and the new treatments and programs that come with it, guests will be given fresh opportunities to celebrate our natural environment and create mindful moments on property, just as our founders intended.”