Soak your way to serenity at this natural retreat center
There’s a getaway, and then there’s a getaway. The kind where you find yourself totally unplugged, cell phoneless, surrounded by beauteous nature, and getting a little closer to a place of pure calm. This is the type of getaway you can expect with a visit to Harbin Hot Springs.
Located way up in the middle of nowhere (also known as Lake County, Calif.), Harbin was, once upon a time, a gathering place for Native Americans, and then became Lake County’s first resort when it opened as a developed destination in the 1860s. Harbin as it is today—a nonprofit retreat center run by the Heart Consciousness Church—was founded in 1975.
Although Harbin now owns nearly 10,000 acres, most of it is undeveloped land that serves as a buffer from the outside world. About 1,700 of those acres are usable by guests, and include mapped hiking trails and the retreat center—the heart of it all, where guest accommodations cozy up with community spaces and the hot spring pools.
Lodging options are plentiful, ranging from private cottages ($170 weeknight, $230 weekend), to a basic room (think no frills hotel room with a shared bathroom, starting at $60 a night), to camping ($25 to $35 per night) in the peaceful nearby campsites, as well as many other options.
Tucked above the lodging are the famed pools—including three silent “meditation pools” (cold, warm and hot), a cold dunk pool, a kids warm pool (heart-shaped and conversation-friendly), and a regular swimming pool. Also available are a dry sauna and a steam room. The meditation pools are the essence of Harbin Hot Springs, where visitors turn inward while suspended in natural mineral water. Fellow visitors are mere skin-colored blurs across the thick steam that tops the warm (97 degree) and hot (112 degree) pools. The hot pool is decorated with fantastic metalwork by Master Welder Mark Nichols, including a beautiful whale that spouts the scalding hot spring water out beneath an altar with candles. (Nichols’ work and other artistic touches are sprinkled throughout the property, making for an atmosphere of positive creative energy.)
The pool area is “clothing optional,” and folks in bathing suits are definitely the odd-ones-out at this free spirited retreat center. Might as well go big or go home, no? Rest assured, just as there is little-to-no conversation in the pools, there is also no funny business. People here take their soaking seriously, and etiquette and safety rules are strictly enforced. Where else can you sunbathe on beautiful redwood decks without worrying about tan lines or about creepers (no photography is allowed anywhere, anytime at Harbin)?
Although a weekend at Harbin could easily be spent going to and from the pools and sauna (with plenty of re-hydrating in between), the center has a slew of other activities and offerings that aren’t to be missed out on, either. To get the full Harbin experience, be sure to attempt to fit all (or at least some) of the following into your stay:
-Hiking: Whether you’re in the mood for a casual nature stroll or a more serious day hike, there are plenty of trails to choose from.
-Massage: You simply cannot come to Harbin without partaking in their trademark WATSU massage—a water shiatsu that was created in their renowned School of Shiatsu and Massage. But any type of massage from their certified practioners is a guaranteed out-of-body experience.
-Eat: Just as varied as the lodging options are the eating choices. Bring your own food and make use of the Fern Kitchen (no meat allowed). Or, enjoy a delicious meal at the Harbin Restaurant, where the menu includes everything from Jamacian Red Bean Curry to Grilled Salmon to Vegan Lentil Coconut Soup. There is also the Blue Door Café, where you can get your java fix, and the Harbin Market, a natural foods store full of goodies. Tip: Indulge in a raw, homemade chocolate at the Market and thank me later. Yum.
-Play and Learn: Take advantage of the free-for-guests daily yoga classes in the awesomely funky Temple building, or join in one of the many other events, like the sacred kirtan, reiki healing circle, hula-hoop jam, tantra for couples, and much more.
When you need some downtime, pluck a book from the giant Harbin library and curl up by the fireplace to read, or burrow into giant, plush sitting pillows in the movie theater for one of the many free movie screenings.
Whatever you decide to do with your stay at Harbin, you’ll leave renewed, detoxed, glowing and hoping to come back again, soon.
Visit harbin.org for more information.