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Retreat to the Heartland

Sometimes the best spiritual experience happen in the wilderness.

America’s Heartland has plenty of retreat centers for religious groups wanting to get out of the city for conferences or meetings. The following five centers provide food, lodging and fun activities, from yoga, axe throwing and meditation to ziplining, climbing walls and ropes courses.

Country Lake Christian Retreat

Underwood, Indiana

Country Lake Christian Retreat is 25 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, in southern Indiana. It sits on the edge of a 16-acre lake on 200 acres of rural property about three minutes off the interstate. Originally built as a summer camp for a church in Louisville, the property has expanded from a few primitive cabins to a 52-room hotel and conference center overlooking the lake.

The center hosts everything from quilting retreats to mission organization conferences. The center’s food service staff can feed up to 200 guests. On the other side of the lake, Country Lake has five dorms that sleep 500 and dining facilities for 600. It also is open year-round. The worship facility can seat 1,000 people.

Groups do not have to be religious to host events there, but “we offer an environment conducive to spiritual renewal, personal reflection and inspiring relationships,” said Ross Knecht, executive director of the retreat center.

For fun, groups can ride four ziplines that run almost 1,000 feet, challenge each other on two paintball fields or participate in interactive team building activities, such as a low ropes course and individual challenges geared to engage groups. There are hiking trails, axe throwing, archery, and canoes and kayaks on the lake. In the summer, guests can enjoy swimming, a waterslide, inflatable toys, rock walls, water ziplines and more. 

Mount Olivet Conference  and Retreat Center 

Farmington, Minnesota

Situated on 150 acres of woods and prairie in Farmington, Minnesota, near a small lake surrounded by marsh, Mount Olivet Conference and Retreat Center has plenty of quiet spots for reflection and meditation. 

Group leaders wanting to host retreats or overnight events at the facility can pick between two choices of lodging in the same building, both of which can accommodate up to 100 people. Eighteen hotel-style rooms have two beds and a private bathroom. Four dorm-style rooms contain a combination of bunk beds and twin beds that can sleep up to 10 people in each room and are popular with groups with tighter budgets. 

In addition to the accommodations, the facility has two other main buildings. The lodge houses a dining room, which can seat up to 140 guests, and has four meeting rooms. The third building has a chapel that can seat almost 200 people. When the space is not being used for meetings, visitors can use it for prayer or worship services. 

There are five miles of hiking trails that wind through the woods and include a marsh walk that takes visitors to a small island. The paths have benches and swings where people can sit and rest and take in the gorgeous views and quiet surroundings. 

The property has a fireplace patio and firepit, an outdoor prayer labyrinth, outdoor games such as cornhole, Giant Connect Four, basketball, volleyball, Gaga Ball Pit, and an indoor swimming pool. 

Mount Olivet has three ordained ministers on staff who are happy to meet with groups or individuals, and staff are happy to help plan 30-minute to one-hour programs or icebreakers to kick off events, including meditation or stretching exercises.

Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center

Fremont, Ohio

A half hour south of Lake Erie, Our Lady of the Pines in Fremont, Ohio, has been an official retreat center since 1962, but the Sisters of Mercy have lived on the property since 1925. The Main House on the property was built in the 1870s and later expanded to serve as a novitiate for the Sisters of Mercy. The nuns lived in the building until 2008, when the house underwent a major renovation.

The property has 68 acres to explore and 37 bedrooms that can sleep up to 51 people. The center can accommodate groups of 100 in its largest conference space, which is available year-round. There are also hermitages on site: single-use cabins for people on self-directed private retreats.

The property has a kitchen to feed its guests, a walking labyrinth, a meditation garden dedicated to the four elements, a meditation deck, and walking trails to help guests get out and explore nature. There are some guided prayer walks available for groups to follow on their own, a massage studio and a library. 

Sponsored programming is available, including spiritual direction and Enneagram coaching. Several events are hosted at the property, including Advent Overnight, a women’s retreat. 

Sunstream Retreat Center

Ogden, Iowa 

Sunstream Retreat Center is less than an hour away from bustling Des Moines, Iowa, but sits on a remote property spanning 210 acres across the Des Moines River Valley. It originally got its start as an extension of the Iowa Ministry Network in the Assemblies of God Iowa District to fill the need for camps. It eventually branched out to hosting other groups as well. The property is now part of the Christian Retreats Network, which focuses mainly on church and ministry groups that want to host a conference or retreat on property. 

The property has five meeting spaces. The Conference Center has a meeting space for 80 guests in the middle of two wings of lodging. Each wing can accommodate 34 people. The rest of the lodging on property is separate from the meeting space. Sunstream can host 350 people on property. The Retreat Center can accommodate 400 guests, and the Garage, Cedar and Hickory rooms can each host 40 guests.

All per-person retreat packages include buffet-style meals in the dining room.

Sunstream doesn’t facilitate programming for group retreats or conferences, but it does provide premium recreation opportunities such as ziplines, a three-sided climbing tower and an aquatic center with outdoor swimming pool, slides, volleyball net and basketball hoops. For team building, Sunstream offers a group initiatives course with a series of low-to-the-ground challenges that focus on team development through planning and problem solving. 

Camp Manitoqua

Frankfort, Illinois

On the outskirts of Chicago, Camp Manitoqua got its start as a kids’ camp and retreat center for urban dwellers. Sixty-five years later, the center is in the middle of Frankfort, Illinois.

The Adult Retreat Center can accommodate 38 guests in 19 hotel-style guest rooms with private baths. There is a dining room with a fireplace upstairs. Downstairs, attendees will find three meeting rooms. The Acorn Cabin can accommodate up to 64 guests, or smaller groups can reserve half or three-quarters of it for their events. The Oaks has two sleeping rooms with 13 beds each, and there is seating for 26 people on couches. Groups that stay in one of the camp’s cabins also receive access to one complimentary meeting space. Standard cabins can accommodate 120 guests.

The large chapel on the property can fit more than 300 guests, and the dining room can hold 200. Camp Manitoqua facilitates outdoor education for its groups, including a climbing wall, paintball course and ziplines. It also offers about 25 team-building group initiatives that are chosen based on a group’s goals and objectives and led by camp facilitators. There’s even a harness tree climbing activity. The 100-acre property is very walkable and can accommodate groups of up to 250 people when there aren’t pandemic restrictions.

The camp caters all meals in from area restaurants, giving guests a broad selection of cuisine to choose from.