A curious splashing sound caused me to pad across the heated floor to the bathroom, where I was surprised to find my husband, Ed, in the oversized soaking tub.
"This tub is awesome," he said, tossing a handful of scented bath salts into the water. "You'll have to try it."
Ed doesn't normally take baths, much less baths enhanced with scented salts. But when you're on a getaway weekend at a posh cabin in the woods, it's tempting to try all of the amenities. And there are plenty at the brand new Owl Ridge Cabin in Wausau, Wis.
The 1,100-square-foot, contemporary cabin sits on a thickly wooded 10-acre lot. The picturesque woods seem to spill into the main living area and bedroom through banks of floor-to-ceiling windows. In addition to a fully equipped kitchen and gas fireplace, the cabin features keyless entry, a guest app and Amazon Echo Show smart displays. There's a king-sized bed, an extensive pillow selection and motion-sensor nightlights. The bathroom sports a two-person steam shower, bidet toilet with heated seat, a heated towel rack and that deep tub in which Ed was soaking.
You can book enhancements that will be waiting for you upon arrival, too, such as a dozen roses, homemade chocolates, a specialty cheese tray and electric bikes. Guests can even request in-cabin massages and dinners prepared by acclaimed local chefs. For all this luxury, a typical overnight stay runs $260 to $350 per night, with no minimum stay.
Posh in the woods
Owl Ridge is the brainchild of Randy and Sara Bangs, who are also the proprietors of the Stewart Inn, a boutique property in downtown Wausau that was rated the No. 1 hotel in Wisconsin and the No. 7 "small stay" hotel in the nation on TripAdvisor. Ed and I were excited to check out Owl Ridge after previously staying at the similarly luxe Stewart Inn. The impetus behind Owl Ridge, which the couple opened in December, was to create posh lodging aimed at millennials.
"If you look at the cabin market, there's a plethora of rustic cabin options," Randy Bangs says. "But when you think about the millennial traveler, I don't know if a rustic cabin is what they want. What they really want is a Chicago loft in the woods. And that's what we're offering."
The Bangses moved to Wausau in 2016, relocating from Delavan, Wis., where they ran the Allyn Mansion hotel. They were attracted by the impressive Stewart Inn, which they reopened as a bed and breakfast in 2017, and by the unsung qualities of Wausau, a modest city of 40,000 three hours east of the Twin Cities.
"We always say Wausau is the best-kept secret, even to people who live in Wisconsin," says Sara Bangs.
She ticks off a list of the city's unexpected treasures: a thriving arts scene, including the bird-centric Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, both of which are free. Quality boutiques such as Blackash Urban Goods and Clothing and the Milk Merchant, which offers fine cheeses, wine pairings and more. There's also the Timekeeper Distillery located in the historic Milwaukee Road train depot, several breweries and restaurants serving locally sourced food.
Whereas Owl Ridge is open, airy and modern, and created for single travelers or couples, the Stewart Inn was built in 1906 and designed by George Maher, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright and an influential contributor to both the Prairie School movement and Arts and Crafts design. Guests of the inn's five suites mingle at the multi-course gourmet breakfast and at the evening wine-and-cheese reception.
During our prior stay at the Stewart Inn, we focused on skiing and snowshoeing at Nine Mile County Forest, a 4,900-acre parcel of hardwoods and wetlands laced with miles of XC trails. It sits just south of the popular Granite Peak Ski Area.
We did take the couple's recommendation to dine at Back When Café, three blocks from the inn. We indulged in the restaurant's excellent farm-to-table cuisine, although we apparently missed a key experience by passing on dessert. The next morning, several other Stewart Inn guests raved about Back When's signature carrot cake. "My piece was so big, they delivered it in a truck!" said one.
In December, with Owl Ridge Cabin as our base, we planned to snowshoe the trails at Rib Mountain State Park, then check out some of Wausau's attractions. So after enjoying a quiet brunch while watching snowflakes lazily drop from the sky, we headed to the park.
After snowshoeing for miles through frosty woods, though, the thought of wandering through shops and museums wasn't nearly as appealing as slipping into that tub at Owl Ridge. So we returned to the cabin, and I filled the tub with warm, heavenly scented water. While I enjoyed a soak, Ed turned on the fireplace, popped open a bottle of Zinfandel and broiled a thick filet mignon.
Perhaps we'll return to Owl Ridge in the summer, when the warm weather will make it more enticing to explore downtown Wausau. But Randy Bangs says they're adding a hammock and cabana to the cabin, which includes a patio we didn't have the chance to enjoy. So all bets are off.
Melanie Radzicki McManus is a travel and adventure writer. She lives near Madison, Wis.
If you go
Owl Ridge Cabin: owlridgecabin.com, 715-323-2010.
Stewart Inn: stewartinn.com; 262-599-258.