This Michigan bucket list item is brought to you by Ronora Lodge & Retreat Center.
Founded in 1934 as the historic Camp Watervliet for Girls, the now Ronora Lodge & Retreat Center is the ultimate haven for couples, families, and groups in Southwest Michigan. The restored historic buildings and surrounding nature make it a beautiful place for events of all kinds — conferences, family reunions, weddings, and more.
Located on 400 acres of land near South Haven and St. Joseph, Ronora Lodge is encircled by woodlands and wetlands and features a private lake for guests to enjoy. There’s only one other house on the lake, so it’s very quiet and isolated from the outside world. Because of that, this eco-resort really gives you a chance to reconnect with not only nature but also each other.
Swimming and Paddleboating on Sherwood Lake
Sherwood Lake on the Ronora Lodge property is fed by a spring and has a sandy bottom, so it’s awesome for swimming. The camp provides floating toys, inner tubes, life preservers, pedal boats, a rowboat, and stand-up paddleboards for guests to use. Herons, egrets, swans, geese, and turtles share the water, making boating even more memorable.
There’s an intimate beach with a sun shade, and the lodge keeps the sand clean and raked. Picnic tables, chairs, and a fire pit are located right next to the lake, and firewood is provided. Connected to the beach is a dock with a bench where you can sit and enjoy the scenery and sunsets. A short swim from the dock is a floating platform that you can jump off.
Ronora Lodge allows guests to fish on private Sherwood Lake. You just need to bring your own fishing gear, have a Michigan fishing license, and properly dispose of fish cleaning waste.
Hiking and Wildlife Viewing Around the Lake
About half of the 400-acre Ronora Lodge property is designated the Redtail Nature Preserve. It’s part of an easement with the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, which ensures that the land remains preserved. You can hike 1.5 miles of woodland trails — all of which are groomed, making it easy for cycling.
Also, you can bike or hike about 2 miles of wetland trails at the camp. The path is split into two sections — Crazy Horse Ridge and Geronimo Hill.
During the summer, you can find a lot of wild berries along the trails, as well as pawpaw plants and wildflowers. The most interesting part about the area, though, is that it’s a habitat for the Mitchell’s satyr butterfly, which can only be found in Michigan. The area is home to plenty of other wildlife too, especially birds.
Spending Time With the Horses
Ronora Lodge has taken in several rescue horses and a pony. All guests have the opportunity to feed them hay or grass while they’re out to pasture. Although you can’t enter the pasture, the horses will approach the fence for attention. This area of the camp is particularly great for watching sunrises.
If you’re with a group of 10 to 14 people, make a reservation for guided horse play with trained specialists. This group team-building activity is the only way to enter the pasture with the horses. It’s available for ages 7 and older and lasts for about one hour.
The play time involves leading the horses through an obstacle course, which allows you to connect with these four-legged friends and your group in a deeper way. The horses even love being painted because it gives them the touch and attention that they crave.
Unfortunately, horseback riding isn’t allowed during guided play. It’s prohibited out of concern for the physical condition and safety of the animals.
Meditating and Relaxing at Grace in the Woods
For further relaxation and to meditate, guests can go to Grace in the Woods. It’s a small chapel for all faiths located in the woods at Ronora Lodge. Cars aren’t allowed to drive in that direction, so you can only get to it by biking or walking.
The west side of the chapel is screened in so that you can see Sherwood Lake. Actually, you can walk down a set of 54 steps next to the chapel to reach the lake. Everyone is welcome to experience the peaceful setting and use it for meditation, yoga, or just some quiet time.
If you want, you can reserve the chapel for a group gathering. Ronora Lodge just asks that no more than 20 people enter at a time.
Enjoying Other Ronora Lodge Amenities and Activities
Whether you’re staying at Ronora Lodge for a family reunion or special occasion, your group will love the bonfire area. It’s bigger than the fire pits that are available at each cabin and lodge.
There’s a generous supply of firewood for you to keep the fun going well into the evening. You can build the bonfire on your own, or request the staff to build it for a fee.
In addition, the camp features equipment for many recreational activities. It has a bean bag toss, basketball court, playground, and more.
Canoeing the River & Taking a Day Trip
A popular group activity off the Ronora Lodge property is canoeing the Paw Paw River. You can see more nature that you can’t see from land, feel the adrenaline rush of the rapids, and observe a range of wildlife. In Watervliet, Coloma Watervliet Kayak Rentals rents single kayaks and tandem kayaks, offering fun for the whole family.
Because of Ronora Lodge’s location in Watervliet, it’s about 20 minutes from South Haven, Benton Harbor, and St. Joseph. Visiting any of these makes for an exciting day trip. All of these cities have some excellent restaurants and shops.
Eating During Your Stay at Ronora Lodge
Located in a 1930s building with exposed beams, the Chadwicke Dining Hall at Ronora Lodge is a fantastic space to entertain groups of 30 or more. The lodge has developed classic recipes over the years, and serves delicious meals. The professional kitchen can even cater to wellness groups and those who follow restrictive diets. Along with eating, the dining hall is ideal for dancing when the foldable tables and stackable chairs are put away.
Every Ronora Lodge cabin has a fully equipped kitchen with all the amenities that you’ll need to cook your own meals. However, you might want to treat yourself to dining out.
La Chula Mexican Market is about a 5-minute drive away in downtown Watervliet. This surprising location is a cafe and market with a huge menu — tacos, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, fajitas — and it serves breakfast all day. Perfect for the summer, you can order homemade ice cream treats too. About 10 minutes away in Coloma, El Asadero offers a full dining experience with authentic Mexican cuisine. It’s known for always having quality food.
Breweries & Wineries
Southwest Michigan has numerous breweries and wineries, and there are five within a 15-minute drive of Ronora Lodge. Arclight Brewing Company has a taproom in Watervliet where you can get a taste of its brews. Food is available from various food trucks, which change often.
Offering tastings of five wines for $10, Karma Vista Vineyards & Winery in Coloma has a beautiful setting while you sip and learn about the wines that you try. Also in Coloma, the Round Barn Filling Station is an outstanding stop located in a vintage service station. You can order a variety of beer, sangria, spirits, and wine. For lunch and dinner, the pit stop has yummy sandwiches.
In Benton Harbor, Vineyard 2121 offers tasting flights of its beers, ciders, slushies, and wines for $15. Along with four samples, you get a souvenir glass and a discounted purchase during your visit. On top of that, the food menu includes snacks, sandwiches, mac and cheese, wood-fired pizza, and desserts. If you make reservations, the vineyard is happy to accommodate groups of 10 or more. Sometimes, the venue also has live music.
Just 4 miles from the Lake Michigan shoreline, 12 Corners Vineyards & Winery in Benton Harbor is a 115-acre estate that grows hybrid and vinifera grapes to make an array of wines. You can get five samples for just $10.
Staying in a Unique Ronora Lodge Cabin
At Ronora Lodge & Retreat Center, you can choose from seven very different cabins and cottages. Each one has its own decor and floor plan with a mix of bedding arrangements to suit all types of guests and groups.
Lonnie’s Eco Cottage is a cedar wood cabin with a unique atmosphere and six sides that meet in a peak in the middle, which is believed to center the energy inside. Its location in a clearing away from the other facilities provides a personal experience that’s perfect for a romantic getaway. You can walk through the woods to the cottage, or rent a golf cart to get around. Additionally, the cottage has some ecologically minded aspects — a composting toilet and a rainwater cistern-fed water system.
A popular choice for small retreats and family reunions, Trilogy Lodge is one of the most interesting buildings at Ronora Lodge. It was built for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and transported to the property on a barge via Lake Michigan. Since then, a stone fireplace has been added, and there’s a beautiful deck that overlooks the woods. This lodge has a large gathering area, 10 bedrooms, and six bathrooms that can comfortably accommodate up to 20 people.
One of the cutest lodging options at Ronora Lodge is Grandma’s House, which has a spacious but cozy interior. It features a fully enclosed veranda that overlooks the woods and 60-feet of windows that stretch across the back with seats for gatherings. There’s a sun deck in the front with group seating as well. With three bedrooms, a loft, and two bathrooms, the house is suitable for up to 12 people.