Here’s a weekend tradition I encourage you to adopt: Hike and Sauna Saturday.
It’s a two-part adventure that starts with (you probably guessed this already) a scenic mountain ascent and ends with you contentedly sweating your brains out in a sauna in the Maine woods.
Sounds nice, right? Here’s how it works:
Step 1: The hike/snowshoe
You’re certainly welcome to hike whatever you’d like, but for proximity’s sake, I recommend Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton/Denmark. The Ledges Trail is 1.8 miles long, with scenic overlooks along the way (trailhead is on Mountain Road). The 1,600-foot elevation gain will give your quads and lungs a run for their money, but it’s also a manageable hike even for folks who don’t hike often. (And there’s also those scenic overlooks where you can stop, catch your breath, or sit and eat a sandwich.)
The view from the summit is stupendous – a whole horizon of mountain tops, including Mount Washington. Have a seat and take in the sights.
Here’s what that hike looks like in the fall:
Step 2: The sauna
A sauna in the woods awaits at Nurture Though Nature, a retreat center located in Denmark (77 Warren Road, Denmark). From the Ledges Trail parking lot, it’s only a 15-minute drive. The center offers group retreats and workshops, yoga, and eco-cabin and yurt rentals. They also have a Finnish-style wood-fired sauna. (SAUNA!) That sauna is open to the public every Saturday from 4-6 p.m. October through March. They call it Super Sauna Saturday.
When my friend Wendy and I went there for the first time, we arrived at Nurture Through Nature and followed the wooden signs directing us along a trail on the property to the sauna. Aside from the smoke wafting from the chimney, there was no sign of anyone else. But once we opened the main door, we heard voices coming from the sauna. Some chanting, too.
Once we got our swimsuits on (suits are required during Super Sauna Saturday, but if you rent it privately you’re welcome to go nude), we opened the door to find 10 or so fellow sauna-goers relaxed as all get-out. Some sat quietly, breathing deep. Others chatted together and laughed. There was a tub of cool water and people occasionally dipped into it with small bowls to pour on their heads or chests or arms to cool down. Wendy and I found places to sit and I leaned back against the wall and closed my eyes and just…sweat.
I don’t often do well in hot situations (heat sometimes makes me hostile), so I wasn’t confident I’d last more than three minutes in the sauna. But oh did I! And it felt absolutely glorious. When it got too hot, I stepped out to cool down, drink water, or eat a few salty almonds. There’s event a creek nearby you can jump in, too, if you’d like. When there’s snow on the ground, you can lie back in that.
Everyone was friendly and welcoming and talkative. And while it felt slightly weird at first to walk into a sauna full of strangers in the woods – I got over it immediately. And all I kept saying was, “This feels so niiiiiiice.”
It’s only $15 a person to enjoy the sauna (bring cash to put into the fee box just outside the sauna door). Bathing suits are required for Super Sauna Saturday. I came back in the winter with the Fit Maine Social Club and it was just as excellent as I remembered.
The hike and sauna is a splendid combination. Then again, you could skip the hike altogether and go straight to sauna.
Super Sauna Saturday
Every Saturday from 4-6 p.m., from October through March
Sauna is open to the public as shared space for deep relaxation and community connection.
No appointment is necessary, but do check the sauna calendar in case of last-minute changes or bad weather to make sure they’re open.
Cost is $15 and $10 for students.
Bring swimsuit, water, and towel.
For more info about Super Sauna Saturday and what to bring/expect: www.ntnretreats.com/sauna
For more about the hiking trails at Pleasant Mountain and directions to the trailhead:
Note: This post was originally published on Nov. 20, 2016.