Nestled in the picturesque hills of western Maryland, Mount Aetna Camp and Retreat Center in Hagerstown offers faith-based groups a great setting for a restful retreat getaway.
Owned and operated by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the facility can comfortably accommodate groups of up to 175 for overnight stays.
Designed originally in the 1940s as a summer camp, Mount Aetna completely rebuilt its facilities in the 1990s and still hosts popular annual summer camps for youth from mid-June through early August.
But for the other weeks of the year, the retreat center is an in-demand spot for adult groups drawn to its idyllic and convenient setting roughly an hour northwest of Washington, D.C., an hour west of Baltimore, and easy to reach, just three miles off Interstate 70 at Exit 35.
“In spring and fall, we tend to book about a year in advance,” said Glen Milam, Mount Aetna’s director. “We pride ourselves on providing good service, and our best — and most frequent — advertising is word-of-mouth referrals from groups that have stayed with us and enjoyed their time here.”
The retreat center offers a variety of guest room styles, from hotel-like rooms with a single queen bed and private bathroom to more rustic bunk-style cabins with shared bathrooms that feature private toilet and shower stalls.
In all, Mount Aetna has 20 heated cabins; 16 sleep nine guests in bunks, and four sleep six guests in bunks. Guests in cabins bring their own linens or sleeping bags. The six-person cabins are handicapped-accessible thanks to ramps and extra-large bathrooms.
Its Maple Lodge and Oak Lodge offer family-style guest rooms with full linen service. The lodges include a range of sleeping setups, including a mix of multiple double and twin-bed configurations with shared bathrooms. A dedicated housekeeping staff keeps all rooms spick-and-span. “One of the most frequent compliments we get is how clean everything is,” said Milam.
Groups can enjoy full meal service from the on-site dining hall, which seats 176. Meals are all meat-free, with a range of lacto-ovo-vegetarian dishes — “which means we do use eggs, milk, cheese and dairy products, but we do not serve any meat or chicken,” said Milam.
The retreat center’s largest meeting room, the Cumberland Room, seats 200 in theater-style seating or 96 in round-table seating. It features a wood-burning fireplace, a sound system with microphone and a pull-down screen for presentations.
Four smaller, equally well outfitted meeting rooms include a space in Cedar Hall, which seats 75, and the popular Chesapeake Room, located inside Mount Aetna’s on-site Nature Center, which seats 50.
Open to the public on Saturday afternoons from 2 to 5 p.m. and, therefore, off-limits for retreat meetings during this window, the Mount Aetna Nature Center is home to an impressive array of mounted taxidermy animals, part of a private collection bequeathed to the center decades ago. It also features live ferrets, snakes and reptiles that visitors can hold, as well as a one-way glass observatory window where attendees can watch several varieties of birds feeding on outdoor feeders.
“The Nature Center is our showpiece,” said Milam. In addition to the wonderful nature displays, it also features seven beautiful stained-glass windows, one for each day of Creation.”
There is no shortage of outdoor activities to keep guests busy during a stay at Mount Aetna. Groups can enjoy basketball, beach volleyball, canoeing and catch-and-release fishing, plus soccer or football in a wide-open outdoor playing field.
With notice and for an additional fee, groups can also book a bonfire, seasonal horseback riding, use of the outdoor pool in May through September and guided mountain hikes to the trailhead of the nearby Appalachian Trail.
“The Appalachian Trail is just right above our camp,” said Milam. “There is an access trail from the foot of the mountain about a mile and a half from our retreat center where you can park your car and hike up to access some amazing scenic overlooks of the Cumberland Valley. A lot of groups will do that as a Saturday afternoon activity.”
Groups can also book access to Mount Aetna’s on-site challenge course, a popular fellowship and trust-building activity for retreats. It includes three segments: a team challenge course, a high-ropes challenge course set 20 feet off the ground and a climbing wall/zip line.
Things To See and Do
Unlike some retreat centers with locations so remote as to be inconvenient, Mount Aetna is just “three minutes away from the interstate and just 10 minutes away from Walmart,” said Milam, making it easy to replace a toothbrush or other necessity that retreat guests forget to pack.
Visitors can make the most of the camp’s location in Hagerstown to enjoy a wide range of nearby historic sites, including Gettysburg National Military Park, just 30 minutes away, and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, roughly 40 minutes away. Closer yet, the Antietam National Battlefield is less than a 15-minute drive from Mount Aetna’s property.
Hagerstown itself offers plenty to see and do as well, from premier outlet shops near the interstate to a charming downtown full of quaint specialty shops and restaurants. Route 40, which runs through the area, is home to a range of popular antique shops.
The city also offers access to the nearby Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park — a wonderful place to hike and explore the region’s canal history — and the Hagerstown Aviation Museum, which has several historic planes in its collection.
Mount Aetna Camp and Retreat Center
Location: Hagerstown, Maryland
Size:20 heated, multiperson cabins, plus multiple hotel-style lodge rooms
Capacity: 175 overnight guests