I saw the first deer on the property before I had even checked in to the Savage River Lodge. Caramel colored with snowy white speckles, it looked at me lazily, as if to say, “What took you so long to get here?”
The second one was in the woods behind the yurt where I stayed. The third greeted me on my morning hike. There are 14 miles of trails on Savage River Lodge’s property, which backs up to the Savage River State Forest, and I followed three miles that took me over a creek, up and down hills, in and out of the woods and into the path of another placid deer.
The hummingbirds were less tranquil. Frenetic and playful, they buzzed the lodge’s porch and each other as they dove in squadrons of three or four in and out of the evergreens that flank the lodge. Buzzing, they cut corners with a swerving sound that was almost mechanical and made me laugh.
Then there was the owl that screeched through the woods on its nighttime prowl. I could hear it so clearly. It was only 60 degrees on that August night and I had left all the windows open in the yurt so I could burrow beneath the blankets and sleep a peaceful night in the woods. I had long wondered what glamping in a yurt would be like. The Frostburg lodge’s yurts are reportedly the most luxurious ones east of the Mississippi, and I certainly wouldn’t argue that. Unplugged, but comfortable and spacious, they made for a peaceful and nature-filled escape from the city.
Savage River Lodge, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, installed its eight yurts five years ago, in part to try something new and in part because its 18 cabins were often full. The yurts, made by Pacific Yurts in Cottage City, Oregon, are 30 feet in diameter and big enough to fit a king-sized bed, two plush chairs (by a wood-burning stove), a full-sized sofa and coffee table, a small breakfast nook with a table, refrigerator, French press, wine glasses and a few other necessities and a bathroom that is easily 50 percent bigger than the one in my 1940s-era rowhouse.
This bathroom has a full-sized shower and a sink with two faucets on a vanity made from the pallets in which the yurts arrived at Savage River Lodge. Oh, also, the yurt has radiant floor heating.
In other words, I could easily live there. Rowhouse living and the small-house movement have prepared me for this, perhaps. But these yurts take “cozy woods” to a new level of personal retreat. Like all the best hotels, the yurt’s beds are easy to sink into and hard to pull oneself out of. Like all the best hotels, the beds have the softest of sheets and four dumplings of pillow. In addition to this, there is something soothing about the yurt’s round shape that makes it perfect for slumber. Falling asleep to the forest sounds and drifting off beneath the even, pleasing pattern of the wooden supports in the tent’s circular ceiling make it a unique vacation experience.
And yes, I wrote “tent.” For all its amenities, a yurt is a tent made of canvas, a layer of gel insulation and a second layer of canvas. The best tent I’ve ever slept in during my life, to be sure. But a tent that put me in the forest to hear the owls.
Peace and quiet
There is no TV in the yurt. Nor is there WiFi. There are puzzles, two porches for wildlife watching and a long sofa to stretch out on and read.
Two decades ago, the lodge was founded as a retreat center for business travelers but quickly expanded its services to leisure travelers when owners Mike Dreisbach and Jan Russell realized how many people living within a few hours of Savage River — the inhabitants of Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Pittsburgh, to be exact — needed an escape, too.
“You gotta get away from your stuff sometimes,” says Elizabeth Williams, the lodge’s marketing manager.
They aren’t wrong. But I have to admit I was a little uncertain about all this tranquility in the days before I stayed there. I had been hoping to visit the lodge for a while, but with my hectic schedule, the trip fell just three weeks after a very refreshing beach vacation with my family. I wasn’t sure I needed another dose of R and R so shortly after that trip. And because this was a work trip, I was not bringing anyone.
Usually on travel trips, the pace is steady, if not hectic, as I interview everyone from chefs to shopkeepers, snap photos for social media or to show to our art director and take bountiful notes
But usually I am traveling to cities with days’ worth of an itinerary. Three days before I left for the lodge, I had a moment of reckoning when I realized I was going alone to the woods to sleep in a glamorous tent. What would I do the whole time? Unsure but unwilling to back out, I packed a book and headed west.
Once I was checked in to my yurt, I checked out a trail nearest the lodge, hiking for about an hour before settling in to the lodge’s side porch, which overlooks a bonfire pit and the forest. I could go back to the yurt and get my book, I thought. Or I could just sit and rock, which was what I did. The weather was perfect, the hummingbirds entertaining, and the happy inertia of rest was starting to set in.
I dined that night in the lodge — the meatloaf, a recipe they are known for, and peanut butter pie — and then slept a long slumber. The next morning, a breakfast consisting of a muffin, a banana and a hard-boiled egg, along with orange juice, was delivered to my door and I went on a hike.
On my way out of town, I visited The Cornucopia Café in Grantsville, which is also owned by Russell and Dreisbach, and bought some appropriately woodsy-scented soap at Grant’s Mercantile. Both are behind the Spruce Forest Artisan Village, a cluster of reconstructed log cabins, where a potter, bird carver, welder and other artisans make and sell their wares.
If I had stayed another day, I would have taken the 45-minute trip to see Firefly Farms in Accident, where the lodge often sends guests for wine-and-cheese-tasting tours. Or I would have taken a trek up to
Falling Waters and another Frank Lloyd Wright home, Kentuck Knob, both of which are about an hour away from the lodge in Pennsylvania. If I had stayed one more night, I would have grabbed a drink in the bar at The Cornucopia Café, which has sanded and stained logs for tables and just seemed like a great place to grab a beer.
Savage River Lodge is a four-season retreat. In fact, if you come once in each of the four seasons, you get a two-night stay for free. In the winter, there is cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. In the fall, there is all the leaf gazing an autumn lover could ever hope for.
It also should be said that while this proved to be a great place for a solitary retreat, it’s ideal for couples as well. The fresh air, the plush yurts and the quick travel time from Baltimore make it a great weekend or anniversary getaway. What I discovered on this trip is that you can never have too much down time.
And now I can cross “sleeping in a yurt” off my bucket list.
Video editing by Adranisha Stephens