The distinct smell of the air after a thunderstorm is unmistakably gratifying. It becomes even more pleasant when sipping a freshly brewed cup of tea, wrapped in a blanket on a screened-in porch as the world wakes up. The only sounds are of birds chirping and water churning in the koi pond nearby.
Such is the experience at Hidden Valley Wilderness Retreat, tucked among old growth trees, hills and streams just an hour away from Kansas City. This remote and peaceful sanctuary was the vision of a local monk who, as the listing puts it, “found in the rugged valley the inspiration for personal and spiritual growth, writing books, reconnecting with nature, and entertaining guests.”
Available to rent directly, as well as to book through AirBnB and Facebook, the retreat is situated on 32 acres with access to more than two miles of hiking trails that are well-maintained and well-marked. It’s the perfect escape for couples such as my husband and me, looking for a kid-free weekend to relax and unwind.
We drove down the unassuming gravel road on a Friday evening and were the only guests who had arrived. Stan, our host, greeted us in the driveway and directed us to our entrance at the Hidden Valley Retreat Suite. There are a few other structures on the property, including two treehouses and a tiny house, as well as a tree castle — turret and all — that is currently being built a little deeper in the woods. Stan told us the retreat would be full that weekend, but we didn’t see another soul the whole time we were there.
Inside, the home was rustic and cozy, with two separate living areas, a stocked kitchen (including two surprise cupcakes in the fridge), a king-sized bed, an electric fireplace, the screened-in porch, of course, and lots of windows. It was originally designed with inspiration from architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who sought to bring the surrounding beauty of nature inside. Mission accomplished.
We put our stuff down, and immediately took a short walk around the grounds. Past the koi pond was a fire pit ringed with chairs, a footbridge just off the trailhead and a small circular hut with a hot tub. On the dry erase board outside we put our names down for the 8 p.m. time slot and went back to change into our bathing suits.
I can’t resist a good soak in a hot tub. Inside the hut, small stained-glass windows cast a colorful glow across the water as the sun filtered through, revealing a steamy, sacred space to bask in.
Back at our suite we grilled up some steaks, opened a bottle of Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc (my favorite white), and had a delicious dinner at the kitchen table. Settling into the evening, we considered using the outdoor fire pit but instead decided to cozy up on the couch beside the fireplace.
Resting on our counter when we checked in was a laminated trail map featuring the two-plus miles of trails rolling over small hills and valleys. “Nobody has been lost,” the map promised, along with a recommendation that it takes about one-and-a-half to two hours to see everything. I’d say this accounts for some prolonged time lounging in the Adirondack chairs at the pond, and sitting quietly at Reflection Point.
It was an easy hike that was mostly flat with only a few short, steep parts. This allowed us to go at a leisurely pace and take everything in. We set off around 9 a.m. and it was the perfect temperature as the sun started to peek out about halfway through. There was some rougher terrain, muddy from the rain the night before but by no means hazardous, as well as more open paths that were grassy and mowed.
We ambled across the footbridge, along a flowing creek and under tree tunnels, all the while surrounded by gentle breezes and the soft buzzing of insects — the non-biting kind. It was a wonderful way to stretch out our legs and start the morning.
The Surrounding Area
Hidden Valley is about a 20-minute drive to Leavenworth, Kan., which we planned to stop at first, and another 20 minutes to Weston, Mo., where we had dinner reservations.
Denise, Stan’s other half, guided us to The Depot in Leavenworth for our first meal of the day.
By the time we got there I was feeling lunch, but my husband was craving a hearty breakfast, which they serv all day. I ordered the Reubano: House smoked pastrami, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, slaw, 1000 island, mojo sauce on grilled marble rye. It was greasy and delicious, and scratched an itch I didn’t know I had.
My husband couldn’t decide between the Huevos Rancheros or Biscuits and Gravy. Our waitress insisted on the Huevos Rancheros, but graciously brought over a side order of the Biscuits and Gravy so we could try both. The Huevos were the clear winner, but we’re not ones to turn down free food and gave a big thank-you.
The dining experience itself was friendly and casual, laced with history. The Depot earned its name as a former train station that began service in 1887, and ran for nearly 100 years up until the 1980s. It opened as a restaurant in 2015, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
With full stomaches we headed to Weston and were immediately greeted by The Old River Landing, which was like traveling back in time. This unique gem is home to a cabin-style bed and breakfast, a family-friendly saloon that was bustling around 3 in the afternoon, a general store, a chapel, a vintage bike rental shop and a salvage shop.
Downtown, we stopped at McCormick on Main to sample some spirits. I’m a whisky girl and went for the Triple Crown — by far the smoothest option I tried. Next up was Pirtle Winery, where we did a tasting and found ourselves sipping a glass of their Citrine in the outdoor garden.
Dinner was at O'Malley's, a pub hidden inside a cave, featuring multiple floors that descend more than 50 feet underground within a limestone brewery cellar. The food, and the Irish music, did not disappoint.
After a fun day exploring and a lively evening out, it was a treat to make our way back to Hidden Valley and enjoy the calm, quiet leisure of nature.