V-Day getaway

Chico Canyon Retreat offers top-notch pampering and relaxation in a pristine natural environment

Daffodils bloom near the entrance to Chico Canyon Retreat.

Daffodils bloom near the entrance to Chico Canyon Retreat.

photo courtesy of dulcy schroeder

Beauty and serenity in the canyon:
Chico Canyon Retreat is located 30 minutes northeast of Chico, off Highway 32, on the banks of Big Chico Creek; a guest shuttle from Chico is available. Call 892-8796 or go to www.chicocanyon.com for more information; see "Valentine's Day Specials" (under "Spa Services") for info on the Couples Rose Therapy Package and more.
Other eco-friendly area getaways:
Gaia Shasta Hotel and Spa: 4125 Riverside Place, Anderson. LEED Silver-certified, eco-friendly hotel with 111 rooms and nine suites featuring low-flush toilets, low-flow showerheads, tubular skylights, native-plant and drought-resistant landscaping and more. Call 365-7077 or go to www.gaiashasta.com for more information.
Harbin Hot Springs: 18424 Harbin Hot Springs Road, Middletown. This popular Lake County resort on more than 5,000 acres provides accommodation in the form of rooms, cottages and unique domes, and offers cold, warm and hot spring-water soaking pools, sun decks, a steam room and dry sauna, as well as massages, acupuncture and other bodywork. For more info, call (707) 987-2477 or visit www.harbin.org for more info.
Wilbur Hot Springs: 3375 Wilbur Springs Road, Wilbur Springs. Widely known natural mineral-springs resort and hotel in nearby Colusa County. The healing waters at Wilbur are channeled into three covered flumes and one outdoor flume. Massage and chiropractic treatments available, as well as fully equipped kitchen in which guests can prepare meals. Call 473-2306 or go to www.wilburhotsprings.com to learn more.

Just a 30-minute drive from Chico—the last three miles of it down scenic, unpaved Harris Wagon Road to the bottom of Big Chico Creek Canyon—lies Chico Canyon Retreat, a peaceful treat of a resort on 287 bucolic acres alongside the rushing waters of Big Chico Creek.

“We built it from scratch,” offered Dulcy Schroeder, as she entered the spacious, wood-dominated Forest Ranch resort. “We just used all natural materials and made it ‘lodgy.’”

In addition to owning and operating Chico Canyon Retreat for the past year (and living on the property for the past 15), Schroeder is also founder and active member of Forest Ranch’s Broom Education and Eradication Program (BEEP), now in its sixth year of removing invasive French, Scotch and Spanish broom plants.

Schroeder led a tour of the 3,600-square-foot building and its serene, green environs, stopping first to take a peek inside the impressive 1,000-square-foot “movie room” for overnight guests.

The atrium room.

photo courtesy of dulcy schroeder

“We use passive solar,” said Schroeder, as she next headed toward two cozy bedrooms at the rear of the building, built into the hillside to reduce heat loss and help maintain a constant, comfortable indoor temperature. Each rustic room features a window looking onto rocks and plants directly outside, a sleeping loft in addition to a double bed at ground level and a skylight. A black-and-white Ansel Adams photograph of Yosemite’s Half Dome in one room and a quilt featuring a series of black bears in the other help to reinforce the pleasant, national-park-lodging feel of the place.

“I am designing portable cabins that leave no footprint,” offered the warm 67-year-old as she continued down a long hallway featuring Mexican-made metal wall-hangings of hummingbirds and a real bird’s nest on a branch, toward the facility’s many-windowed, plant-filled kitchen/dining area, also known as the “atrium room.” The cabins, she said, will have composting toilets and solar-heated water.

Currently, overnight guests—including people attending conferences, retreats and special events, as well as those looking for an intimate bed-and-breakfast-type experience—stay in one of the two inviting rooms or pitch tents outside on the scenic property, which also offers picnic areas and groomed hiking trails. In addition to overnight guests, Chico Canyon Retreat also hosts day-long events such as weddings and meetings, as well as provides spa treatments, including aromatherapy and massage services in a special room designed specifically for that purpose. Three professional bodyworkers are part of Schroeder’s small staff.

Ever the invasive-plant remover, Schroeder noted that she has so far cleared 10 acres of starthistle, and added native and other drought-resistant plants to the stunning, relaxing landscape. “Once the starthistle is gone, wildflowers spring up everywhere,” she added happily, gesturing outside while standing before one of numerous huge dining-room windows.

Schroeder entered one of the building’s lovely cedar and slate-tiled bathrooms (she did the impressive tile work herself). Towels in the bathroom were hanging on whimsical towel racks made from “old roots I found down by the creek.”

Dulcy Schroeder prepares a meal in Chico Canyon Retreat’s spacious kitchen.

photo by christine g.k. lapado

Back in the hallway once again, Schroeder pointed out large recycled-wood supporting posts: “Some go back to the Presidio [in San Francisco], from the 1920s, and some of them go back to the Port of Portland, in the late 1800s.” All of Chico Canyon Retreat’s flooring is concrete with radiant heat coming up from beneath.

Heading toward the massage room that faces the creek, Schroeder looked through a window, up toward the rim of the canyon. “I love looking out when we have storms here,” she said. “I’ve actually seen waterfalls go straight up instead of sideways from the wind blowing through the canyon.”

A cozy library/fireplace room offers guests a secluded, warm place to sip tea and chat. An outdoor hot tub offers another kind of warmth and coziness.

Schroeder, an experienced and health-oriented cook, will whip up delightful meals for guests in the retreat’s wood-centric kitchen, which features lovely, polished-concrete countertops. Two large white-oak tables made from wood salvaged from a dead tree on the property beckon diners to sit and enjoy their made-to-order meals. Schroeder discusses meals ahead of time with guests, making whatever it is that they desire during their stay: “Breakfast, lunch and dinner are customized according to people’s needs, including special diets.”

A couple looking to spend a peaceful, pampered weekend at Chico Canyon Retreat should expect to spend from $150 per night including breakfast, to $299 per night, including breakfast, lunch and dinner and some spa services.

“It’s quiet here,” smiled Schroeder, watching a flock of finches gently twittering, looping and diving around a bird feeder hanging from a tree outside. “It’s like having a live-in shrink.”