Round Trip

No one knew quite what to expect when we signed up for an unplugged weekend in a Wisconsin yurt.

Namekagon River
Photo by Jason Neuswanger/
The banks of the Namekagon River are abundant with wildlife—look for deer, blue herons, beavers, and turtles.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Two moms, two preteen girls, two days in a yurt. What could go wrong? But as the day of departure loomed, I worried. Would the plan to force a little mother-daughter bonding backfire? As we packed up a minivan with snacks and sunscreen, duffel bags and coolers, I gave us a 50/50 chance. Our increasingly sullen oldest children would either love us or hate us for prying their iPhones out of their hands and taking them to the woods for a completely unplugged trip.

That’s right: No phones. No Facebook. No Instagram. Even if we were looking super cute while having a super great time at Namekagon Waters Retreat in western Wisconsin, no one would know it for 48 whole hours. We were rocking it old school—all the way back to 2005—with an actual standalone digital camera that doubled as our clock.

A decade after reading The Intentional Family, I was finally taking author William J. Doherty’s advice and pulling my kid out of school on a random day for something more important than MCA test scores: connecting with her, because I missed her. Sports, school, homework, and hormones were taking a toll on both of us. There had been a shoe-throwing incident. Also, I had questions: What the heck are you doing in your room all the time? Why do you text your friends when they’re sitting right next to you?

0814-RoundTrip_S02.jpg 0814-RoundTrip_S01.jpgEverything at Namekagon Waters Retreat has a personal, handmade feel.
Photo courtesy of Travel Wisconsin

But more than answers, my friend Mary and I just wanted to have fun with our girls before they slipped away into full-on teendom. We were headed to a unique retreat in Trego, Wisconsin, near Spooner. We had chosen it, in part, because our families had vacationed together in this neck of the woods before. We knew that if things got rough, we could escape to Pair O’ Lakes Lodge, where big fish dinners, free popcorn, kiddie cocktails, and the stuck-in-another-time jukebox had lifted our spirits before. We also had packed lots of food, including steaks to feed our always-starving kids. And wine for us. In a last-minute stop, I had let the guys at Solo Vino talk me into three dry rosés and three refreshing whites. Our plan was to eat well and rest well. We definitely had the eating (and drinking) part covered. Or did we?

An hour into the couple-hour drive, we were already hungry, so we stopped at The Drive In in Taylors Falls for burger baskets in the sun, setting a chillaxed, no-hurry vibe for our trip. A little further up the road in Chisago City, Sven Factory Outlet Store was calling our name (specifically Mary’s name), so we stopped again. As the moms tried on handmade $300 clogs and clog boots selling for $89 at the outlet, the girls went to the other side of the store and came back wearing ankle-high moccasins and big smiles. Playing hooky and shoe shopping! Now this was a good time. It took us about three seconds to cave to their wishes, and after trying on a few dozen pairs we all left with a box of shoes (or two . . . or three . . . shhh).

We arrived at our destination hours after we had intended to, but our hosts didn’t seem to mind. Our slowed-down pace still was a mad rush compared to theirs. Kathy and Jim Shattuck had put up a yurt on their wooded 40-acre property in 2001, the first and only people in the region to offer a single yurt for rental. They don’t advertise, they told us, but their little yurt in the big woods, located up a dirt path from their home, is consistently booked year-round.

0814-RoundTrip_S03-(1).jpg 0814-RoundTrip_S04.jpg Photos courtesy of Mary Quinn Mccallum

That’s because they give guests the kind of care you’d expect at a bed and breakfast but with none of the pressure. We were on our own for meals and whatever else we decided to do. But our easy-going hosts were always just a short walk away—a resource when we had a question about the best hikes to the Namekagon River or needed a utensil that wasn’t in the kitchenette, as well as welcome company when we joined them for a campfire. They won us over the moment we arrived by introducing us to some other new arrivals—a batch of chicks that would one day join the hens in the nearby coop. We held the fuzzy babies, and Kathy invited us to check in on them whenever we wanted. Then she gave us the tour.

As she showed us the ins and outs of the yurt, took us into the chicken coop where we would gather fresh eggs in the morning, pointed out the work-in-progress labyrinth in the Zen garden, gave us the rundown on the sauna, and trained us in on the quirks of the gas grill where we would sear our steaks by flashlight, I felt my body clock resetting. Or at least trying to. Out of all of us, I was the one who kept reaching for my phone—for directions, for the time, to look up information about the predicted Camelopardalids meteor shower. The girls, on the other hand, were surprisingly content to be technology-free in the big round tent that would be our home base for the next couple of days.

I had seen yurts from the outside, but I had never been inside one, and I was surprised at how roomy and light this single-room dwelling was. There were no closets, but we had plenty of space for our stuff, for lounging and sleeping, for cooking and eating, plus a deck. We were roughing it—but the latticework frame of the canvas structure and the comfy furnishings made our accommodations feel more artsy rustic cabin than tent. There was no refrigeration and no plumbing, but we had plenty of fresh water for dishes and drinking. And the outhouse, built on the same deck platform as the yurt and adorned with handmade soaps and art, was downright pretty.


Namekagon Waters Retreat on Facebook

Bonus: Co-owner Jim Shattuck is a certified massage therapist who makes appointments available to yurt guests.

Once we had our bearings and our coolers stashed in the shade, we chose our beds—the girls shared one of the futons and I took the CordaRoy’s beanbag chair that converted easily into a surprisingly comfy full-size bed. Then we did a lot of nothing. We walked in the woods, we read, we played our made-up mother-daughter version of The Newlywed Game, we wrote each other notes, we ate eggs we had gathered ourselves, we lay on the picnic table looking up at the stars, and we sat on the deck sipping bubbly water in the breeze.

At one point, Kathy came up to find out what time we wanted her to light the sauna. She began talking about how the wind sounds different when it blows through different kinds of trees. We listened for the whistle of the pines and the whooshes and rattles of trees I no longer remember. That night, we made our only outing—to dinner at Pair O’ Lakes. Afterward, we made s’mores by a campfire and bathed in the sauna, where we scratched our names into the walls with pencils left out for that purpose. Then, as the wind sang through the trees, two not-so-big girls crawled into bed with their moms and fell asleep.