Connect Wellness offers a pastoral oasis in Portland, Oregon

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Guest post series continues: Please welcome Sauna Map champion Tom who shares how Connect Wellness offers a pastoral oasis in Portland, Oregon. Enter Tom:

The Portland area boasts 6 pins on the Public Sauna Map but the newest and perhaps most complete could be Connect Wellness, about to enter their 2nd winter in business. When I got to the point of a recent family vacation that I needed a vacation from our vacation, Connect Wellness filled the bill perfectly. The unique amenities and beautiful outdoor setting provided such a wonderful retreat I returned the next morning for another visit. I left in just enough time for the sunrise session before flying home. If you’re lucky enough to live in Portland, Oregon or will be visiting soon, I highly recommend a visit to Connect Wellness. 

Sauna Talk listeners have heard much of the benefits of a rapid cool-off after a round in the sauna. And sure, you can take a cold plunge between innings at many sauna facilities. But at Connect Wellness I got the feeling most of the regulars actually visit to sauna between rounds of cold plunge. They’d fill a couple 5-gallon buckets from the ice machine to chill the hose-temperature water in one of two antique bathtubs down a lot closer to freezing, then ease into their ice bath for an extended soak.

The pastoral oasis

Connect Wellness started as an AirBnB with a barrel sauna. But owners Michelle and Alan soon found themselves unwilling to put Portland traffic between their home and paradise, so they moved into the house and a spa was born! Connect Wellness hides in plain sight in Vancouver, Washington, a Portland suburb just across the Columbia River. Park beside an unassuming home in a residential neighborhood, pass through the gate, and feel your jaw hit the ground as you take in the beauty of this pastoral oasis.

The very large and private yard provides peaceful quiet despite its close proximity to the highway. Michelle and Alan work incessantly to add improvements to the already amazing retreat. During my visit, Michelle spoke excitedly of the soon-to-arrive Odin Ice Bath, a multi-person fully-automatic chilled and filtered, cold plunge tank from Australia. The Odin, like every aspect of Connect, shows an impressive commitment to quality in fit and finish. The couple will add the plunge tank to this already amazing collection of amenities: 

Beautiful custom-constructed wood-fired sauna, mobile but usually parked at the spa.
Inside the custom constructed mobile sauna
Second resident mobile sauna, converted by Alan from a vintage RV
Interior of the vintage RV converted to sauna by Alan
Electric barrel sauna with an alluring Huum stove
Inside the barrel sauna
Ice bath awaits sauna cool down enthusiasts in one of these antique bath tubs on sight.
A yurt, hosting occasional wellness workshops, yoga classes, and massages on Mondays by Kristi, Connect’s second resident massage therapist – available at other times for semi-indoor relaxation when wind or Portland rain make the outdoors less hospitable
Inside the Yurt
Large custom concrete hot tub, formed and poured on-site, at Connect Wellness
Connect Wellness main house, foreground: hot tub, electro barrel sauna, gardens.

Not pictured:

  • Commercial Ice machine
  • Rope nest tree swing
  • Massage suite (book a session with full-time resident therapist, Ryan)
  • Fire ring and lots of comfortable outdoor furniture

And more improvements are in the works, including a large community sauna, clothing-optional area, and perhaps even lodging options.

Interview with Michelle and Alan:

Michelle and Alan, Connect Wellness, Portland, Oregon

So, where does the passion come from to provide such an eclectic, creative mix of saunas in your own backyard like this?

It evolved pretty organically into what it is now and our hope is to keep growing so that more people can discover the beauty of regular sauna and cold plunging. I’d love to see other people copy the backyard community spa idea and have our country explode with sauna use! My passion started after I experienced my first sauna+cold plunge about 6 years ago when Alan took me on a date to a Portland area spa. I fell in love with the sauna culture pretty quickly and started asking the question ‘why aren’t there more of these? They should be everywhere!’

We have been lucky to travel to some amazing spas and hot springs around the world and we started gathering what we liked and didn’t like about other facilities. I have a natural inclination towards entrepreneurship and since the closest place for me to sauna was 25 minutes away I took matters into my own hands. I originally intended to open a sauna facility that was a more commercial style but after covid I decided to just take a risk and see if people would come to our backyard.

To a lot of people’s surprise it worked!

Most of our customers love the feel of the space, they usually comment that it’s a hidden oasis or that they feel like they are hanging out in their best friend’s yard. As we’ve grown we’ve just added more saunas and spaces for people to be. Customers love following us on instagram and watching our stories to see what we’re up to, we are definitely not finished building saunas! Our kids make fun of us because whenever we see something unique we say ‘that would make a cool sauna!’ We just love them!

Is it hard to decide which sauna to fire up first? Which is your personal favorite for a private sauna session and why?

I’ve gotten the system down pretty well now. It depends a lot on the size of the group and the time of day but I usually start the electric barrel sauna as it has a Huum wifi capable heater and is closest to the showers, restroom and hot tub. Our first spa session is at 6 am so I don’t really feel like waking up at 5am to start the wood one. 🙂

On the weekends when we are typically busiest I’ll start the ‘Betty’ sauna (the vintage camper one) as soon as I have a cup of coffee. The Betty sauna is my favorite and once it gets hot, it’s easier to keep at the right temperature. I love it because it has nice wide benches for stretching, can easily fit 10 people and has lots of light! It’s the one that Alan designed and built so it has a special spot in my heart.

The ‘gypsy’ sauna is our smaller mobile sauna and it is a beast! It heats to sauna temperature within 20 minutes, versus 3 hours with the bigger one. The downside of the gypsy is it can get ‘melt your face off’ hot. If we aren’t careful temperatures can reach 260 which is just a tiny bit hot for me. We have customers that specifically ask for that one though and I love to see them jumping from a 240 sauna into a 35 degree ice filled cold plunge. There aren’t too many places where you can do that! I think that’s another plus side of our facility, we have different saunas at different temperatures which allows us to grab customers who don’t think the infrared or gym saunas are quite hot enough. We also get some sauna junkies which we love of course!

Tell us about your reservation system, are things working pretty fluidly in terms of guests signing up, showing up, and getting into the Connect Wellness vibe?

Our website and calendar system is pretty simple for the time being, I built it using a template off of wix and have been ok with it as an admin and for the customer experience. Customers book 2 hour spa sessions online with specific start times. That allows us to greet new customers, give them a tour and make sure they understand everything and have the best experience.

I would say 80% of our customers are new to this so it’s important for us to explain the health benefits of sauna use, our pro tips on the cycling of their sauna rounds, and to encourage them to try it. My favorite part is seeing people experience it the first time and then decide to join as members. That helps us with our cash flow forecasting but more importantly, I really see people change after about a month of regular spa time. They typically come 2-3 times a week and I’ve heard many testimonies of less aches, more calm in their everyday life and just better balance mentally and physically.

We have a pretty strict no technology policy which forces people to get off their phones and experience connection with others and themselves. I’ve solved many of my problems in this space and everyone who comes loves the disconnection.

We see a shipping container in the background.. is that your next conversion by chance?

The shipping container is currently used for storage until we can get our shop built. After that, who knows what it will be! It’s definitely on our list of things to make cool but we can’t decide if we should convert it to an overnight accommodation, perhaps another treatment room or maybe a steam room… just trusting that with time it will be what it will be.

We have decided on a few things for developing the property to help with our customer demand. We are working on a cute ‘check in shack’ that has a gift store and a place for some employees. A larger permanent wood burning sauna so we can transition the mobile saunas into being mobile. We really want to do some pop up events and have the ability for customers to rent them overnight. We are also planning for another sauna area that is a nude section with lots of sun bathing and better privacy.

Our long term goal is to create some fun and unique overnight accommodations so people can spend more than just 2 hours here. We are close to Portland and a lot of tourist locations but it feels like you’re far away when you step onto the property. Lots of our customers have expressed the desire to just spend the night 🙂

Thanks Michelle and Alan!

Visit Connect Wellness and you’ll instantly realize why we named it SaunaTimes’ Public Sauna of the Month for November, 2022!

Editor’s note: A big thank you to guest post contributor Tom who was able to connect with Connect Wellness hosts Michelle and Alan and wrote up this detailed review!

5 thoughts on “Connect Wellness offers a pastoral oasis in Portland, Oregon”

  1. I took way wife and father in law to Connect a couple of weeks ago and had a great time. We will be going regularly.

  2. That place looks lovely! Excited to visit the next time I’m up their. Hi Glenn, I recently purchased your ebook(an absolute lifesaver for sauna info) I’m wondering if you have a more condensed version of mobile sauna building available? Or will soon? My build is kinda funky in a lot of ways, but very exciting, and I’m sure their are a lot of people out there who have had to troubleshoot the many atrocities of building on an old rusty bucket as a support. Thanks!

  3. Hi John:

    There is a revised chapter in my book on mobile, as you know. Funky is good, and glad you’re going down that road. Glad the ebook has helped you along.

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