Retreat, Relax, and Rejuvenate, close to home Photos by Patsy Oliver 

The Background

Some of you may remember The Retreat at Artesian Lakes as Chain-O-Lakes, and already be loyal visitors.

For those not familiar with this close-to-home haven, one visit will make you a believer.

Located in Cleveland and skirting the Big Thicket National Preserve, a trip for the week or a weekend will have you at your destination in about an hour.

The facility is privately owned and offers resort accommodations as well as a conference center for corporate gatherings.

Owner Helena Smith sat down with me on my most recent visit – the first in quite a long time – and her love for the property and all the relationships that go with it was obvious.

“It’s (the resort) been in my husband’s family for three generations,” said Smith with a smile that reflected her feelings for the place.

Smith said that the resort had changed names several times, first opening in the ‘20s as Red Arrow. She and her husband, Dr. Jimmy Smith, changed the name from Chain-O-Lakes to The Retreat at Artesian Lakes in 2006, although many repeat guests will always know it by its former name.

I pointed out the beautiful tables adorning the sitting area in the Hospitality House, asking about their origin.

Smith explained that her husband had seen the huge cypress tree trunks when someone building in the area had done some clearing. He did not want to see the spectacular old trees go to waste, so he dug up the stumps and had them made into tables.

Their passion for preservation is also evident in the cabins. Hurricane Rita left the resort with many downed trees, including some majestic old favorites. These were used to build furniture that is now being enjoyed by cabin guests.

Whether a romantic escape for two or a family weekend with the kids is your pleasure, this resort has you covered.

With 29 authentic log cabins, five log suites and one log house, the accommodations are absolutely charming, but not so rustic that you don’t get all the comforts, with the exception of television – considered an unnecessary distraction to the serene setting.

What To Do


Stargazing, making S’mores on the campfire, horseback riding, canoeing, fishing, hiking, biking and more are there for the taking.

On my most recent visit with my kids, we took the carriage ride to breakfast at the resort’s renowned Hilltop Restaurant.

When my family visited years ago, we never did this. I’m not sure if it was not available then, or if we just chose to make our own breakfast. But this is something you do not want to miss, and it is complimentary every morning, except Sundays. The horse-drawn carriage will pick you up at your cabin and take you to the restaurant for a scrumptious breakfast buffet, including everything from their herbed breakfast potatoes (Oh my, are they good!) to blueberry pancakes, eggs, fruit, sausage and more.

We all enjoyed it very much and the only complaint was from my youngest who later said we rushed him and he didn’t get to go back for the herbed potatoes ... we’ll have to let him have two servings next time.

My sons enjoyed fishing in the artesian lakes located throughout the resort. We did not come prepared, but the store on the property has everything you need for a very reasonable price.

The boys caught perch just about as fast as they could get the lines back in the water.

Fishing is free and allowed in all areas, with the exception of the lake surrounding the restaurant, where most of the really large turtles reside.

There is also one area called Blue Gill Bend Pond, which is stocked with Blue Gill and there is an honor system to pay when you fish there.

While the boys fished, my daughter and I enjoyed several relaxing walks down the roads and through the trails that wind and criss-cross their way across the expansive property. We saw bunnies and squirrels, not to mention the turtles – some massive – and the alligators that guests have come to love throughout the years of wildlife watching at the resort.

Later, my daughter and I scheduled a horseback ride. For $20 per person, you can take a guided trail ride that lasts about 45 minutes from saddling up to returning back at the stables.

Mandy Rose and her family have been running the stables for years and are delightful guides filled with good information about the property.

Mandy also sells her homemade goat’s milk soaps at the stables. My daughter and I bought several bars and I’m afraid we may be addicted.

The swimming lake has a huge slide, which we witnessed children of all ages enjoying, including my two grown children. If a pool is more to your liking, the pool and hot tub area is simply gorgeous. Parents can enjoy a cool beverage or snack while keeping an eye on the kids, from a sitting area overlooking the pool. To be near the very young ones, tables and chairs are also located alongside the pool.


If a spa experience tickles your fancy, that can also be arranged. The spa, located adjacent to the Hilltop Restaurant and Herb Garden, offers massages, facials, wraps and scrubs.

For those who want to partake of a romantic getaway, this can be added as part of your Lovers Weekend Package. These packages include accommodations for two nights, Friday seafood buffet dinner at the Hilltop Restaurant, a horse-drawn carriage ride, breakfast, a picnic basket to take to the romantic picnic setting of your choosing, Saturday white-linen dinner delivered to your cabin, and a leisurely Sunday brunch (prices range from $550 to $650).

The resort also hosts weddings, reunions and corporate events. Their list goes on and on with grateful comments from business owners that have hosted events and retreats at the facility for their employees.

When it comes to getting away from the hustle and bustle, without going too far, The Retreat at Artesian Lakes is the perfect answer.

Rates and Reservations

Rates per night for cabins, log suites and the log house range from $150 to $475, depending on size and date.

Bedding and towels are provided, but you’ll want to bring your own cookware and utensils.

For a larger family or just to have even more room to spread out, the resort also rents a number of spectacular private homes.

Pets and firearms are not allowed on the property.

For more information about booking your own getaway, call 832-397-4044 or visit

Call early for reservations, especially for holidays.

I have many fond memories from years ago when my family first discovered “Chain-O-Lakes.” Making these newest memories was great fun and I strongly encourage you to do the same.



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