Rock Springs Retreat Center

Rock Springs Retreat Center Entrance

There is something so pure, so intrinsic and visceral about immersing oneself into an environment’s natural offerings. And there is something so curative about diving into a climate and a challenge and a culture that calls on our most courageous selves to try something new, somewhere new, with so many new. And this is how, with premeditated abandon, I sought out the Hiking Retreat at the Rock Springs Retreat Center in Castalian Springs, Tennessee.

Pretty much every element of this endeavor was a step or several outside my comfort zone. The Tennessee part. The tailored for “seasoned hikers” part (more of an occasional slash recreational hiker, if I had to name it). The introvert (I so am) traveling to spend a week with nobody I knew in a place I wasn’t familiar. I was stretching. And a little ambivalent about my presumed flexibility.

When I ran into an old friend a few weeks prior to leaving, she asked what I was reviewing next. I told her.

“Why?” she bluntly inquired. About 99% of me was wondering the same.

The experience advertises as reimagined for hiking enthusiasts of all ages, I feel compelled to repeat, enthusiast is a bit of a leap. Days before leaving it occurred to me that I only owned my gym sneakers, no actual hiking boots. I borrowed one pair from my sister and one from my friend’s daughter (thanks, by the way), and that’s the level of preparation I arrived with.

Through the welcoming tunnel of trees, the half mile paved road to the lodge, alas, arrival at Rock Springs Retreat Center, to a room to myself, private bathroom, and Tennessee powerful air conditioning. And as the flamingo sun set over the southern sky, I skimmed an itinerary that had me in a mild but significant state of panic.

Rock Springs Retreat Center steps

We met over orientation. Terri, 74, looked better than most of us ever have – she was a regular around here (a third time alumnae – this was her fourth visit) and so was Billy, a 10th grade Biology teacher slash former footballer from Kentucky. Rob and Yafah were a lean mean (actually so nice, so impossibly nice) married machine, and Ladena had scaled Kilamanjaro, amongst other highly intimidating fitness accolades. Jeri was new like me, with at least two other fitness retreats under her belt. These people were the real deal. And while I like exercise, I do, you all know how I like to spend my time, and you know how I like to vacation. Eleanor Roosevelt (do one thing everyday that scares you), this week must count for at least a year.

Now while my trepidation was questionably warranted, the fantastic news is, it was accompanied by a strain of magic I believe is unique to the Fit Farm (the program at large, the Hiking Retreat being a theme week) and the Rock Springs Retreat Center. You can’t feel it immediately, it doesn’t work like that. It comes in doses.

When you’re climbing a mountain, and the last mile (of TEN) is threatening to take you down, and you get into a deeply meaningful conversation with a woman who was a stranger as of yesterday.

When Laura (of the spiritual stretching noted below) took me on a forest bathing sensory adventure to get us out of our heads and into the finish.

When you forget your sneakers (the one thing I actually had) and are immediately offered a pair by everyone including Kris, the owner (we’ll get to her). And socks.

There is a kindness and a camaraderie that is generated here that is reserved, I feel, for those surmounting something deep and important together. A group each ascending their individual journey, but knowing without words, lifting each other up is the secret sauce. And it is.


And a trail, it must be Mother Nature’s universal equalizer. There’s no pretence. I wish I could write a book on each of these people. Oxymoronic Billy: his bold independence and bashfully sweet disposition. The unthinkable tragedies Jeri has survived, and the sparkly, sardonic wit she managed to emerge with. Terri trekking the mountain ranges of the world, solo, in her seventies. Rob and Yafah, impossibly dear in their dynamic, meeting on a Jewish Singles Cruise. Or how Ladena biked across an entire state, or perhaps how her arm dislocated from her shoulder as she skydived out of a plane.

It moved me. All the extraordinary hiding behind all the humble.

Another thing I was ill-prepared for was the replenishing refresh of giving yourself nothing but nature and a focus on fitness for a stretch of days. It’s illuminating, the undoing of all else, just to be there, one foot in front of the other, permission to put your head in the clouds, and concentrate (or not) on nothing more than the exhale after the inhale. It’s a two-dimensional detox in a three-dimensional landscape. You genuinely feel the detangle. Body and mind.

And each day is designed to balance wellness from the outdoors in, blending adventures in snacking (specifically hiking treats that replenish and restore), strength circuits, Tabata training, cardio, yoga, water aerobics, pickle ball, total body pyramid classes, static stretching, dynamic stretching, and a day’s end stretching class that feels downright spiritual (looking at you, Laura).

Those who crave a concentrated schedule, they will delight in the absence of downtime and the ability to stay active all day. Those who came for the hiking are welcome to à la carte the rest of the offerings. Massage chairs and a sauna and swimming and a path around the 80,000 sq. ft property are always available. A little movie theatre too (we watched a hiking one on Wednesday night – blankets and reclining lounges – so good!)

And being from California, I am no stranger to the sensory bliss brought on by the sunshine, but. Those Tennessee trails, with their sky-scraping trees, striking elevations, making your way through meadows, magnificently canopied, ravishing, raging waterfalls, they make you fall in love with whatever story a landscape is offering to tell.

Tennessee sunset

The Hiking Retreat is a week-long (Sunday to Sunday) adventure and included in it is shuttle service to and from the airport, a daily hiking excursion (and transport to all trailheads), hiking, meal prep classes, daily fitness and wellness workshops, three meals and two snacks per day, lodging, access to all resort amenities, and a 20% discount on all massages and foot detox treatments.

I cannot remember the last time I challenged myself physically to the degree that I did that week. The nerves, the anticipation, the questioning of strength and self. The camaraderie, the coming together, the genuine unity and care you feel for people you didn’t know last week, and somehow know, in some way, you will take with you when you leave. That’s what happens when you share something this brave. It imprints.

On the Friday prior to leaving, just two days before the end (so close!), I decided to test the old adage about riding a bike.  Sadly, for me it did not hold up. The bike won and my consolation prize, a badly sprained ankle. Down for the count I went.

But oh.

As I planted in my corner of the lodge, with the foot elevated and the Vitamin D pouring in from the window, the care and support that came, it is a kindness that will stay with me much longer than this bum foot. I wish. I wish I had the space here to elaborate. By the time in-house masseuse Linda Nunn (a goddess from another dimension, I am certain) finished putting her healing hands on me, I was reduced to uncontrollable tears. The beautiful kind.

What happens here at Rock Springs Retreat is not just exercise and wellness. There’s something so much sweeter, so much stronger, woven into the fabric of their culture. Kris, the owner and creator, has a knowledge bank and a heart so generous it infuses all who stay here, all who work here. There is a purity of intention, a natural unity of raising one another up. It is a magic. It echoes in every staff member; this is not their job. This is a how their blood flows. You feel it.

I believe it was the Special Olympics CEO Mary Davis who famously said a walk in nature walks the soul back home. She was onto something. There is something so centering about this experience. Once a horse farm, owners Kris Intress and Pat Stefan called on their Wisconsin farming roots to transform this sprawling property, forty miles north of Nashville, into an enclave of welcome and wellbeing. Intended to invigorate and awaken, these weeklong adventures are a journey of self and sole; integrating, educating, and illuminating what’s possible when take on the thing we’re 99% sure we can’t do, but hedge our bets, like the wild hearted warriors that we are, on the 1% instead.

The Details

Rock Springs Retreat Center, 732B Rock Springs Road, Castalian Springs, TN 37031, United States.

Tel: +1(629) 209-6777



There is an Airport Shuttle service to and from Nashville BNA which takes just under an hour. Please check their website for more details and times.

Type of Hotel: Sprawling Retreat and Wellness Center

Number of Rooms: 24 rooms located in cabins

Price Band: Low/Medium for a full-service wellness retreat

Insider Tip: Prepare for a concentrated week of activity, community and possibly transformation. Each week will have a prescribed packing list. Bring it all including amenities as shampoo, conditioner and body wash is not provided.

There’s a whole gamut of fitness and wellness retreats at Rock Springs. Pop-ups and theme weeks. Find what suits you.

Reviewer’s Rating: 8.5/10

Author Bio:

Jolie Loeb is a Luxury Lifestyle columnist based in Los Angeles.

Photographs by Jolie Loeb


  1. After reading this, we have added this to our top five places to visit this year! Thank you!

  2. What a special experience. I know so many people who travel the world one trail at a time – they would love this. Will pass on. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. I have been to Tennessee so many times but never seen anything like this. Mabye it’s time to return.

  4. Those waterfalls!!! We have to hike to Yosemite to see anything like that in California!! Sign me UP!

  5. I can feel my breath deepening even with the thought of moving my body through those mountains. And Nashville is a place I go! I must check this place out. What a special atmosphere for a transformative experience. So glad you brought your courage along. Sounds like it was even worth a sprained ankle.

  6. It was absolutely worth a sprained ankle! For those people and that experience, one million times over. So glad that translated.

  7. Any place where someone can “genuinely feel the detangle” is worth the adventure, every time. The experience sounds like the right experience at the right time — I’d love to go! And the ankle — just a bump in the road and something that brought you and the amazing people you spent the week with a little closer together.

  8. Sounds amazing. I will put this my adventure list. Hope your ankle feels better!

  9. So much to take in! The beauty. The bonding. The kindness. The adventure. I am intrigued and inspired to experience more in my travels. Do they have a beginner’s week? I
    Thanks for sharing such a cool find!

  10. Sounds amazing! Next time, I’m with you. When people step up and show unexpected, unprompted kindness (especially coming from a city where this is rare), your reaction was probably far more gratifying than anything they experienced on the trail. Glad you’re healing.

  11. Never been to TN but now I’m intrigued! This retreat center sounds like a gem. Thanks for sharing.

  12. What an amazing and inspiring experience!!! Wonderful things can happen when we step outside our comfort zone. Beautiful review!

  13. I have spent a lifetime stepping outside my comfort zone. Sounds right up my alley!!! Thank you so much, as always, for sharing your joy of discovery!

  14. I have spent time at this special place and I thank you Jolie for putting into elegant words what so many of us feel. It is an experience that is so very worth the time and effort for all you will receive.

  15. Wow. This sounds like my kind of place. What a gift just to know it exists. Jolie, your telling of it makes it even more enticing. Thanks for sharing. I hope I’m lucky enough to push myself into a very comfortable discomfort zone.

  16. There is something so serene about nature. Those waterfalls, trails, clean air, all seem like heaven. I did hear, watch out for the bikes, though.

  17. Jolie, you have a unique way of capturing the heart and soul of every place you visit. I’m not a hardcore hiker but want to be after reading your review. This sounds like a wonderful retreat I want to visit!

  18. Yet again you inspire & intrigue me. You truly capture the feeling of the experience with such beautiful detail. Would love to get there someday…sounds amazing!! The pictures are incredible & looks like something you will remember forever…and not just because of your twisted ending! 🙁 Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  19. I’ve been to Tennessee once – but never like this. I think I’ve finally been inspired to leave my own personal comfort zone. What an experience!

  20. Jolie captured the beautiful essence of rock Springs retreat center/Fit Farm this is my fourth visit, one week of hiking and one week of Boot Camp. I’ve said to the owner here, I’d love to just live here, as long as there was someone cooking all my meals. I absolutely love it here and it was wonderful. Having a week of hiking with a great group of fellow nature and health enthusiast. I highly recommend this beautiful paradise only 45 minutes from Nashville in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

  21. Sounds like a magical adventure in a beautiful setting. Thank you for sharing your experience there.

  22. I just dragged my husband and son from New York to Massachusetts via restaurants, museums, small-town shopping, and family visits. My husband was the happiest on the days we biked and went to the gym. This would be his perfect vacation. I could pretend it’s a quid pro quo offering, when in fact, it sounds glorious for me, too.

  23. This article beautifully captures the transformative power of stepping outside one’s comfort zone and immersing oneself in nature and physical challenge. The Rock Springs Retreat Center in Tennessee seems like a haven where personal growth and camaraderie thrive. It’s clear this retreat fosters physical and emotional wellness. The author’s journey from apprehension to profound appreciation reflects the center’s ability to inspire and empower its guests. 🙂

  24. Now that I am becoming an empty nester (although I prefer the term free bird), I need to check this retreat out. Glad to hear that all exercise abilities are welcome and the people attracted to this retreat are so kind and generous.

  25. How do you find places like this? I’m not sure I’m enough of a hiker for this (yes – I did read your disclaimers). But the idea of Wellness Retreats along these lines is very intriguing. Am travelling to Nashville for a wedding, and it would be fun to add something on either side of that.

  26. I have a few friends in that area! I’ll be sure to forward them this wonderful article. Thanks so much!!!

  27. I am thrilled that you did this for yourself! (And sorry about the sprained ankle!) I have always loved Tennessee (except the politics part) and this retreat sounds like it fits there perfectly. What a special treat! Thank you for sharing!

  28. What a glorious, soul-shifting experience! To have mother earth beckoning daily, the kindness of strangers at every turn, and a sprained ankle as a rite of passage for your courage – just wow! I want to go!!

  29. I was there for 2 weeks and didn’t want to leave! Thank you Jolie for taking me back so beautifully with this perfectly written review! The camaraderie, the replenishing refresh, the detangle…yes! It’s all so real at Rock Springs! I will definitely be returning for more!

  30. I haven’t been to Tennessee in years but do remember it as a beautiful state. A week
    of hiking in nature would be a wonderful break from my normal city dwelling activities. And I’m retired. I don’t have any excuses. The Rock Springs Retreat Center would be a perfect place to start.

  31. This is SO cool. What a fabulous concept. I know there are all sorts of extreme sport vacations out there. But it never crossed my mind that something like this – ability required, but at an attainable level of aspiration – existed. Thank you for sharing! I’m going to forward this to friends in Nashville.

  32. WOW! I am so ready for this!!! You had me at “Prepare for a concentrated week of activity, community and possibly transformation. “

  33. This place is breathtaking. H u place to recenter yourself. Due to all the confusion in the world today, I will keep it at the top of my list.

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