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Experience Nature and Nurturing at these Southern Retreat Centers

Retreats can be a time for quiet, introspective reflection or a special opportunity for adventurous team building — or, even better yet, both.

Many of the South’s top retreat centers feature not just state-of-the-art dining, lodging and meeting facilities, but also an array of team-building and entertainment options, including hiking trails, water sports, paintball, ropes courses, yoga classes and more.

If your church group could benefit from some time away from home in a beautiful setting, consider taking them to one of these great Southern retreats.

Camp Gravatt

Aiken, South Carolina

The first thing most visitors to South Carolina’s Camp Gravatt notice as they arrive is its towering pine trees.

“It’s very peaceful,” said Kara Dye, the camp’s director of marketing. “People often refer to coming out to camp as coming under the pines. We’ve got 270 acres of land, tons of pines and two big lakes where people love to fish and canoe.”

In Aiken, South Carolina, just off Interstate 20, Camp Gravatt offers a year-round retreat center and a summer youth camp. The camp offers both indoor and outdoor meeting spaces that accommodate groups of any size for day retreats.

The Chapel of the Transfiguration, overlooking Lake Henry, offers a space for worship and meditation for up to 180; Stewart Hall, the main dining hall, offers a fireplace and couches and can double as a meeting space.

Gravatt’s on-site accommodations — 12 lodge rooms and 16 cottage rooms — can accommodate between 70 and 80 overnight guests when beds are shared. And, in mild-weather months when summer camp is not in session, retreat groups of up to 200 can use the property’s nonwinterized, screened-in cabins and platform tents for additional lodging.

In addition to fishing and canoeing, groups can also use the on-site pool, the archery range, the open field space and high- and low-ropes courses.

“The low courses are used for team-building elements, while the high ropes are more of an independent dynamic that emphasizes problem-solving,” Dye said.

To keep everyone refueled, the camp’s dining hall serves freshly prepared, locally produced South Carolina foods whenever possible. Some of the produce is even grown on-site. It’s part of the camp’s integrated food philosophy, which emphasizes meals as community-building activities that foster sustainability and connection to the earth.

Nights often end with a campfire round-up, and guests turn in warmed not only by the flames but also by the lasting memories created there.

Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center

Lake Junaluska, North Carolina

On a scenic, 200-acre lake in western North Carolina, roughly 30 minutes from Asheville, the historic Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center has been hosting visitors since 1913.

“Our mission is to be a place of Christian hospitality, where lives are transformed through renewal of soul, mind and body,” said Ken Howle, Lake Junaluska’s executive director.

Nestled near the picturesque Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, the conference and retreat center can accommodate groups of up to 2,000. With more than 50 separate meeting venues — from traditional meeting rooms and auditoriums to an outdoor amphitheater, chapel, and gym — the facility offers customizable options to meet the meeting and retreat needs of any size group. On-site staff are available to provide audiovisual and information technology assistance when needed.

The center’s expansive lodging includes the 105-room Terrace Hotel, updated in 2015, and the 131-room, historic Lambuth Inn, built in 1921 and renovated in 2018. Apartments, a lodge, dormitory-style rooms and a campground are also available.

While there, guests can enjoy a 2.3-mile lakeside walking trail loop that boasts ample gardens, gazebos and even a prayer labyrinth for meditative reflection.

“The beauty of the grounds is incredible,” Howle said. “The one thing that you hear consistently from our guests is that they feel closer to God here.”

For those looking for more active leisure activities, there’s plenty to do as well: paddleboarding, canoeing, fishing, swimming and pontoon rides on the lake, plus tennis, golf, sand volleyball and more.

In addition to hosting retreat space for groups, Lake Junaluska offers both guided and self-guided personal retreats, as well as special events throughout the year, including Music and Worship Arts Week, Choir Music Weekend, the Festival of Wisdom and Grace and the Interfaith Peace Conference.

Orange Springs Retreat Center

Orange Springs, Florida

The Orange Springs Retreat Center started years ago as a children’s summer camp, but these days it’s all about proving that camp isn’t just for kids. Groups of all ages come to the retreat for fun, team building and renewal.

“We’re very secluded in Orange Springs [Florida], which is between Gainesville and Ocala,” said Mike Sokol, Orange Springs’ owner. “When you come here, it feels like you’re going away to a secluded resort.”

The camp is rustic and serene, while offering meeting rooms that can accommodate groups both large and small for lectures, break-out sessions, movie screenings and more.

Groups plan their own retreat schedule and activities.

During downtime, the retreat center boasts ample activity space, including softball fields, tennis courts, indoor and outdoor basketball courts and a private lake for canoeing, fishing and swimming.

Groups can also use the retreat center’s high- and low-ropes courses, as well as its climbing tower, with the help of facilitators.

Lodging is in the form of dormitory-style bunk beds in 13 buildings on-site and can sleep up to 210 overnight guests.

Sokol rents to only one group at a time, so guests have complete use of the entire property during their stay.

One of the biggest draws for repeat visitors is the food.

“Our chef is a very talented culinary school graduate who has been with us for over 35 years,” Sokol said. “He creates everything from scratch. We really take pride in the quality of food that we’re able to offer our guests.”

Shocco Springs

Talladega, Alabama

Set on roughly 800 acres in Talladega, Alabama, about halfway between Birmingham, Alabama, and Atlanta, the staff at Shocco Springs understand that getting closer to God can include both prayerful reflection and old-fashioned fun.

Here, guests can enjoy an elaborate aqua park, which features the giant 150-foot Wet Willie Water Slide that drops straight into the lake. There’s also flag football, fishing, disc golf, basketball, hiking, paintball, paddleboards, pedal boats, a playground, putt-putt golf, tennis courts, adventure races and drift trike. And many groups enjoy Bazooka Ball, an adult-friendly game that’s a cross between paintball and Capture the Flag, with large foam balls for ammunition.

“At Shocco, we utilize the gifts God has given us as an organization to serve God’s people,” said Russell Klinner, Shocco Springs’ executive director. “From our hotel rooms to our spacious acreage, our prayer is that everything we provide leads our guests to experience an environment that is separate from the normal turmoil of the world in order to experience God in a new way.”

Shocco Springs features multiple hotel-like lodging options, among them the Springview Inn, which features rooms for up to 318, and the Oakridge Inn, which can accommodate 252. In all, the property can host up to 1,500 guests at one time.

Group meeting facilities include the Ricker Activities Center, the Stephens Activities Center and the Bagley Center — which holds 12 conference rooms — as well as a chapel and multiple classrooms.

“We hear stories every day of the spiritual impact during events on campus,” said Wendy Westerhouse, Shocco Springs’ public relations/development director. “God doesn’t speak differently here, but our guests say they listen differently with time away in a natural setting.”

Alpine Ministries

Mount Hope, West Virginia

Operated as a ministry of Appalachian Bible College and housed on its campus, near Beckley, West Virginia, Alpine Ministries offers camps, whitewater adventure getaways and retreats for guests of all ages.

Alpine often hosts its own individual and couples retreats, as well as a popular youth summer camp. But outside groups can rent the lodging and facilities on the property to host their own retreats on-site.

During summer months, guests can stay overnight in Appalachian Bible College’s dormitories, and the property’s Alpine Lodge offers year-round access to conference rooms and 20 motel-style rooms. Multiple bunkhouse cabins can accommodate 12 to 14 guests each and are available for rent, as are permanent platform-bottomed tents.

“We can certainly host several hundred guests at a time, depending on the month of the year, and the other activities that may be going on at the time,” said John Lorch, an adventure assistant at Alpine Ministries.

Alpine offers guided full-day or half-day team-building activities, as well as canoe excursions, paintball challenges, kayaking, rappelling, caving, hiking and more.

The most popular adventure pastime, though, involves trips on the nearby New and Gauley rivers, where Alpine staff lead whitewater rafting excursions that range from calm Class I-III rapids to some of the world’s most challenging Class IV-V rapids.

“In the fall, we offer trips on the Gauley, which is ranked top 10 in the entire world,” Lorch said. “It’s intense. People come from all across the world just to raft that river.”

Alpine provides staff that not only are certified whitewater guides but also lead guests in drawing spiritual applications from the adventure.

“What draws people back here year after year is our emphasis on spiritual refreshment and our desire to use the outdoor environment, God’s creation, to point people to the Creator,” Lorch said.