Unplug & Reconnect

Rustic retreats offer business without the ‘as usual’

Attendees can go canoeing at MMW Retreat in Cassapolis. || Courtesy of MMW Retreat

Sometimes you just need to unplug. Sure, traditional meetings and conferences that primarily take place in conventional event and hotel spaces with structured schedules that include main events, breakouts, and some extracurricular offerings and outings are productive, but gathering with colleagues in a rustic setting for a more casual, laid-back retreat can also be just what the office doctor ordered, especially when decompression and team building are part of the agenda. Meeting at a spot where participants can stay together on property or nearby and follow a routine that combines business with pleasure in a calming atmosphere also can boost the flow of creative juices that industry professionals need every now and then.

In Michigan, there is no lack of possibility for properties that are suitable for rustic retreats. Those seeking to set up such an event will find interesting sites like former camps that previously served organizations or groups. Renovated historic compounds offer relaxation in settings that range from wooded isolation to lakeside luxury. With 11,000 inland lakes and 19.3 million acres of forest covering 53% of the state, finding a venue where night noise is almost nonexistent and the only light after dark comes from the stars above isn’t difficult. We have combed the state for venues that lend themselves to just this sort of getaway. Work a little, play a little, rest a little, and reconnect—it’s a package deal when you opt for destinations like these.

Barothy Lodge in Walhalla offers log-cabin stays. || Courtesy of Barothy Lodge

Scenic Refuges

Some 17 miles east of Ludington, Barothy Lodge in Walhalla is a year-round historic wilderness retreat, with 15 smaller lodge buildings for overnight stays that range from a one-bedroom log cabin to a nine-room lodge that sleeps 21, all but one fronting the Pere Marquette River. Nestled among 300 acres of the Manistee National Forest, it also includes a main lodge that serves as a meeting space with a 1,500-square-foot event hall. Groups can bring in their own food or hire caterers.

Owner Carla Hall says Barothy Lodge has been in demand from organizations including law offices whose teams come and rent multiple lodges, a health care company, sports groups, chambers of commerce, and others who want to be able to get out and enjoy the outdoors as a group between meetings. “It is unplugged and wild,” she says. “It’s a wilderness retreat.”

Long functioning as a camp, MMW Retreat in Cassapolis provides space for gatherings on its 51 acres of land with 2,400 feet of frontage on Little Fish Lake. Facilities include a 10,000-square-foot lodge, a dozen new bungalows, and 17 new single-wide trailers that have capacity for 88 overnight guests. There is also a dorm-like space for 50 people.

“We have a large gathering space, which is a very nice deck overlooking Little Fish Lake,” says Mordy Chaimovitz of MMW Retreat. “There’s an event space there in the lodge that holds approximately 250 people—actually more, it depends on how you set it up.” The kosher kitchen is available for use by outside caterers, but Chaimovitz says it’s more typical for caterers to cook off-site and bring the food in. A gym-style pole barn can be used for stage and concert events and is equipped with state-of-the-art lighting and sound. The venue also has a pool, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, volleyball courts, baseball fields, kayaks, canoes, and a miniature arcade.

Outdoor tented space at Michillinda Lodge in Muskegon County || Courtesy of Michillinda Lodge

At the Ranch

The 2,000-acre Western-themed Double JJ Resort set on a private lake in Rothbury offers a variety of lodging options—from rustic cabins and log homes nestled in an area it calls the Back Forty to suites, condos, and a loft hotel that together represent 205 different lodging rooms. There are four private meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 150 off the main entrance. Additional indoor spaces for groups of up to 200 are available. Outdoor events can easily fit up to 400; catering is offered on-site. Those holding meetings at Double JJ can choose from a variety of recreational and team-building activities.

“A lot of people will do trail rides because we have horses,” says Sales Representative Marian Trevino. “We do steak dinner rides where you can ride the horse to a steak dinner site; we cook a steak dinner over an open fire; we have music out there. They can play cornhole or go fishing.”

The 195-acre Ranch Rudolf resort near Traverse City is also a haven for horse lovers and others who want the experience of staying at a Western-themed ranch. Co-owner Melody Hamill says Ranch Rudolf is focusing on hosting groups these days. Besides 14 motel rooms and a bunkhouse that can sleep up to nine people, the ranch boasts a main lodge that can accommodate around 100 for an event. Staff handles food for groups of up to 50; beyond that, Hamill recommends hiring an outside caterer. Besides the rustic interior spaces, a big attraction is right out the window for those wanting team-building activities.

“With the Boardman River, we offer canoeing, kayaking, or inner tubing,” Hamill says. “I have seen tugs of war across the ponds and building cardboard boats and getting them to float.” Ranch Rudolf is also surrounded by miles of trail systems. “It’s like a totally different world,” she says.

Ranch Rudolf in traverse city
Ranch Rudolf in Traverse City || Courtesy of Ranch Rudolf

Remote Retreats

“Business without the ‘as usual.’” That’s how Drummond Island Resort & Conference Center describes the experience business groups have when they convene for a gathering there. Visitors typically arrive via ferry from DeTour Village. From there, it’s about 12 miles to the resort. Assistant General Manager Jason Smith says the 2,000-acre spread offers 40 lodge rooms, including some that have lofts. Fifteen rental cabins vary in size.

A range of meeting spaces is available, from the Mackinac Room that can accommodate up to 14 boardroom style, to the Annex, which holds 75; Bayside Lodge with room for 100; and The Brooder House that can handle up to 150. Its Pins Bar & Grill boasts the largest bar on the island.

Being open year-round, the venue offers things to do in every season. That would include golf on The Rock, its 400-acre championship course. “It’s one of the prettiest golf courses in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,” Smith says.

Event tablescape at Drummond Island Resort & Conference Center in Drummond || Courtesy of Drummond Island Resort & Conference Center

Operating as a field station supporting research and natural resource education in what was originally a lumbering settlement Henry Ford built in the 1930s, Michigan Technological University’s Ford Center offers full-service conference facilities seasonally. On 3,700 acres across from Lake Plumbago, Ford Center in historic Alberta Village near L’Anse can sleep up to 62 in two-person dorm rooms. Students live there most of the year, with availability for conferences and meetings generally from November to March. There’s also additional lodging with three short-term rental homes. Kitchen staff provides meals in the cafeteria, and a dedicated meeting room is currently being expanded. “There’s no hustle and bustle; there’s no traffic noise,” says Jim Tolan, manager of operations. “It’s just this quiet space in the valley.”

Originating in the 1800s as a rustic cabin centered on the attraction of the area’s wild elk herd, Thunder Bay Resort in Hillman remains true to its roots. “We still do most of the food prep in front of everybody on the wood cookstove,” says owner Jack Matthias. The lodge has 34 units that are either large suites or two-bedroom/two-bath. There’s an 18-hole golf course, and big attractions include elk-viewing carriage rides, gourmet dinners, and wine tastings, along with specially scheduled Murder Mystery weekends that can also be staged specifically for visiting groups.

A horse-pulled carriage ride at Thunder Bay Resort in Hillman
A horse-pulled carriage ride at Thunder Bay Resort in Hillman || Courtesy of Thunder Bay Resort

Not Far Off the Beaten Path

Suitable for smaller corporate retreats of up to 24, Hop & Vine Inn is just 10 minutes from Saugatuck. Its dining room doubles as the main meeting area. Food is available through caterers and food trucks, or groups can prepare their own. “We do get groups that want to do their own cooking as kind of a team-building activity—the kitchen winds up being a memorable hangout spot,” says co-owner Amber Eenzink.

There are 15 individual guest rooms, some with multiple bedrooms and each with their own bath. Visitors like to gather around campfire pits and watch for white-tailed deer, and there’s also a pool. “We hear a lot that they want something different than the traditional hotel atmosphere,” Eenzink says.

Drummond Island Resort & Conference Center off the coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Drummond Island Resort & Conference Center off the coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula || Courtesy of Drummond Island Resort & Conference Center

Surrounded by nature, Michillinda Lodge in Whitehall provides meeting space for about 75 people with a full kitchen and a bar setup, although groups can handle food on their own or bring in a caterer. Tents go up outside, where there are also picnic areas along the shores of Lake Michigan and bonfires for evening gatherings. Michillinda can accommodate up to 115 people overnight, doubled up. Besides on-site activities like volleyball, pickleball, tennis, basketball, horseshoes, disk golf, and shuffleboard, there’s also an outdoor heated pool, and the Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park is minutes away. Bottom line, Shampo says, is that Michillinda offers a departure from the typical, noting, “It’s a place they can come and unplug.”

Sunset Place is a former Boy Scouts camp between Mason and Dansville, creating the genuine rustic experience with its bunkhouses that accommodate 42 combined with “glamping” (upscale camping) units. The dining hall can accommodate up to 100, with groups bringing in their own catering. “There’s a lot to do, and it’s private,” says Bridget Miller, Sunset Place events coordinator. “You don’t have to share the space with other people.”