More than cabins in the forest, this mysterious retreat offers nature immersion for the camping-averse. Words & photos :: Kristin Schnelten.
The arcana website is a bit of an enigma. An interactive animation of a shimmering rectangular cube simulates the changing seasons in a southern Ontario woodland. A description of meditative energy is followed by cabin dimensions and amenities. But so many questions remain: Why is this mirrored building—or buildings?—in the middle of the woods? How can I stay there? And, wait, just where the heck is it?
“We’re intentionally vague on the site,” says arcana co-founder Jeremy Hill. “The word ‘arcana’ derives from Latin, meaning ‘hidden’ or ‘secret,’ and the mystery is part of the intrigue. Guests only learn the location after booking, because the experience is about being here completely, not about what attractions are nearby.”
There’s no need to know your proximity to the bay or a ski resort, no use for a directory of area activities, says Hill. “We want our guests to come here and immerse themselves in nature, right out their door.”
Park the car for a few days, tuck your phone away (there’s no Wi-Fi) and just be. You’re on your own to explore, to experience the property without a prescribed list of trails to follow or features to visit. “Discoveries are here to be made, but we really want to reward the seeker,” Hill says.
Rewarding the seeker. The phrase is repeated—both by my tour guide and in my head—as we crunch through the snowy property. Located down a nondescript, signless lane that could be anyone’s hunting camp, simply making that leap of faith to turn from the road (Is this even the right address?) offers its own reward.
Hidden deep within the maples are three polished stainless steel cabins (two available for overnight stays), fully equipped modern tiny homes designed by architect Michael Leckie to reflect and disappear into the surrounding natural world.
A European sauna with cold-water plunge is situated along a separate meandering path, one of many leading from the centre pavilion.
The sauna, designed with a startling full-glass wall and situated in a darkened copse of towering pines, is one of the few details shared with potential guests. The co-founders are firm believers in the restorative powers of nature for mental, spiritual and physical health, and the sauna-cold water cycle is central to that experience.
“We wanted to create a place for city-dwelling professionals who would like to explore nature but to whom camping doesn’t appeal,” says Hill. “There’s so much focus on improving our physical fitness, but spending time outdoors or in meditation both have proven benefits on our mental health, as well.”
Just strolling through the 15 kilometres of trails has its own calming effect, but the co-founders nudge visitors further in the direction of meditation with a custom audio recording, accessible only within the walls of each cabin. A collaboration with two New York-based yoga and meditation centres, the “sound journey” is an hour-long guided mindfulness experience with spoken word and soothing chimes. The Little Book of Moments, a palm-sized grounding, exploration, connection and restoration journal, welcomes guests upon arrival and walks the reader through conscious moments in the woods.
Providing the framework for an immersive stay involves local collaborations as well, including Bruce Wine Bar meals and Good Grief coffee, available for pre-order and stocked in the cabin kitchens before guests arrive.
Constructed during the pandemic and launched just this past September, arcana first released four months of bookings, and those nights were snatched up in less than 24 hours. Their second release sold out in less than 90 minutes, and a third of those bookings were return visitors.
“The forest changes so much from season to season; it’s really our hope that guests return four times a year, to experience those changes first-hand, furthering their reconnection with nature,” says Hill.
Striking mirrored exteriors, deep-forest audio journey, painstaking attention to detail—the on-site revelations are a lot to take in. Arcana has smartly set a two-night minimum stay, but I’d argue it should be longer. Creating a relationship with the outdoors takes more than 36 hours, especially when you spend the first 24 awestruck by your surroundings.