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- I wanted the outdoor fun of summer camp but am too old for a dining hall or forced group activities.
- I found just that at Ojo Santa Fe in New Mexico with swimming, hiking, archery, and more included.
- The whole stay was fun but also relaxing with a spa, mineral baths, and my casita with a fireplace.
After a year and a half of feeling locked inside amid the pandemic, I was itching to get outdoors. I craved wide open spaces, crisp air, and invigorating activities.
What I wanted it felt like, were the summer camps I experienced as a kid. While summer camps for adults do exist, it seemed like each one was meant for day drinking 20-somethings whose idea of fun was a three-legged race followed by a boisterous meal in the dining hall.
Being well north of that age, I knew I needed more privacy, high thread count sheets, and the ability to choose my activities.
I decided to design my own adult summer camp at Ojo Santa Fe in New Mexico where camp-inspired activities like swimming, archery, hikes, and animal interactions were all-inclusive alongside a spa, mineral baths, and a restaurant.
Designing my own summer camp was a great experience and one I'd gladly replicate throughout the year.
Keep reading to see how I designed my own adult summer camp.
Choosing the location
I've been to New Mexico many times and knew the confluence of Native American and Mexican American cultures and the mountains would make an ideal setting.
I landed on Ojo Santa Fe, with a spa, restaurant, and all-inclusive camp-inspired activities with no extra resort fee. As children under 16 were not permitted it also had an adults-only feel.
The 77-acre resort is a 20-minute drive southwest of Santa Fe, with 52 rooms ranging from $290 for a garden room with a balcony or patio to $395 for a stand-alone casita.
I booked a casita for four nights with my boyfriend, who planned to work and needed the extra room.
My boyfriend and I flew from Chicago O'Hare International Airport to Albuquerque International Sunport, from where we rented a car to reach Ojo Santa Fe.
Ojo Santa Fe offers complimentary shuttle service to and from the Santa Fe Regional Airport. Direct commercial flights to Santa Fe are only available from Dallas, Denver, and Phoenix.
Driving to Ojo Santa Fe, GPS was essential on the winding country roads. I was grateful we arrived in the daytime. The security guard at the entrance to the hotel confirmed our reservation before letting us in.
Walking to the small building that houses the front desk, we passed a bubbling fountain surrounded by native plants. Just beyond was the patio of the on-site restaurant, Blue Heron, perched above a mineral spring-fed pond.
The idyllic scene felt plucked out of Monet's garden at Giverny. Mineral baths shimmered, hammocks swayed, and it was clear that the pictures on the website do not do this place justice.
Check-in was easy and the staff was courteous. We were given our keys and driving directions to our casita.
Our casita was located at the far end of the resort with a private entrance lined with native lavender and sage. The decor was classic Southwest with adobe walls, earth-tone furnishings, and artful driftwood.
The casita counted 600 square feet, but the layout made it feel bigger. There was a sitting area, a desk, a gas fireplace (AC, too), and a bedroom with a Queen bed. The bathroom had a separate dressing area with a mirror, good lighting, and a mini-fridge. Coffee, tea, bath, and body products were provided and we also had a private patio.
A central ice machine and shared microwave were available for casitas but there are no TVs. Wi-Fi, however, was provided and fast enough for video streaming.
Sadly, there were no views to be enjoyed from our casita. From what I could see of the garden rooms, all overlooked the well-kept grounds, and from some, you could catch a glimpse of the mountains. Except for a few minutes of stargazing every night, our patio became a depository for wet bathing suits and pool towels.
The space was pin-drop quiet and plenty big for a couple but could also easily work for a family.
Adjusting to the elevation
After settling in, we headed out to explore but quickly felt exhausted as Santa Fe is 7,000 feet above sea level.
The dramatic change in altitude required adaptation. If you are coming from a place with lower elevation, be prepared to spend a couple of days adjusting. Altitude sickness is not uncommon.
Mineral baths and spa
As such, we started with low-exertion activities such as the three mineral spring-fed bathing areas that are the star of Ojo Santa Fe.
I strolled the grounds in the provided white bathrobes, starting the day by the spa and moving between the hot baths that ranged in temperature from 98 to 104 degrees.
These tubs overlook the pond, a gas fire pit, and hammocks. Private soaking tubs are available. Swimwear is optional in the private tubs but required everywhere else.
When I was ready to move on, I headed to the comparatively cool 85-degree, Olympic-sized saltwater pool. It was the only area with music playing, though the mood was still refined. Private poolside cabanas were available for an additional fee.
Here, I noticed my fellow guests, which included couples, women for friends' getaways, solo travelers, and large groups.
At the spa, I perused treatments like the Cactus Flower Massage and Scrub and the CBD Massage, but settled on the Bamboo Massage, which used heated bamboo rolling pins of different sizes to access deep tissue. It was one of the best massages I've ever had.
Checking out the Puppy Patch
Ojo Santa Fe had one major advantage over the summer camp of my youth: it came with puppies. The Puppy Patch was open daily each morning, where guests could play with puppies in a fenced-in yard to socialize the animals while providing a calming, restorative effect for us humans.
Ojo Santa Fe has fostered over 250 puppies for adoption through the Puppy Patch. At any given time, there are one to six puppies in residence. In the days I was there, three dogs found homes, and several new puppies arrived.
Going for hikes
Once we were acclimated to the altitude, we signed up for a guided morning group hike, which started with a drive to a trailhead about 25 minutes away, just outside of downtown Santa Fe.
We enjoyed a moderate, shaded hike, and we were so impressed, we signed up to do another trail the next day. Having a guide to take us on hikes was something we would have paid for; the fact that the guide and transportation were included was a big bonus.
Other things to do and winter activities
We did better with the air rifles. I have never shot anything and was squeamish at the thought of holding the thing, but soon took great satisfaction in making mincemeat of the paper targets.
Alas, ax throwing was not available due to construction.
Yoga and Pilates classes were also offered and required reservation, and there was a small gym with basic cardio and weight equipment. When I peeked inside, there was only one guest using it and he wasn't wearing a mask. Since I can do all these things at home in Chicago, I opted to spend time doing outside activities instead.
It's also worth noting that Ojo Santa Fe is a worthy place to design a winter camp, too. When snow makes hiking untenable, activities shift to feature snowboarding, cross country and downhill skiing, and interactive art experience at museums and galleries in the city.
Dining at Blue Heron restaurant
The resort had only one on-site dining option, the Blue Heron restaurant.
The menu featured a range of food skewing healthy-ish, but with plenty of variety. They did not serve hard alcohol, only wine, even in their cocktails, which I decided were not worth the calories or money.
The view overlooking the pond from the outdoor patio was stunning. Waiting for our food to arrive, I watched enormous carp lazily skim the water's surface while an actual Blue Heron looked on from the branches of a nearby tree.
Ojo Santa Fe follows the CDC recommendations for COVID precautions. I saw all staff wearing masks indoors, 100% of the time. Hand sanitizer was readily available in public areas as well.
At the restaurant and spa, the staff wore masks outside, too. Prior to my massage, I had to answer health screening questions and keep my mask on throughout the treatment.
None of the guests wore masks at the bathing areas, and some outdoor activities, such as the Puppy Patch, required masks. Others, like target arts and the chicken chat, did not.
When indoors, guests were expected to wear masks in the spa and restaurant. Most followed the rules; some did not.
The bottom line
We loved the upscale, adult summer camp atmosphere and well-maintained grounds of Ojo Santa Fe.
Ojo Santa Fe is for people whose idea of a party is going for a hike, followed by a dip in a mineral bath, puppy playtime, and capping the day sitting by a fire. This is not for those seeking a rollicking stay.
If I were to go back with girlfriends, I would skip the casita and get a garden room since the extra space was nice, but not necessary, and lacked any views.
For those seeking to replicate the feeling of summer camp as an adult, Ojo Santa Fe offered a variety of all-inclusive outdoor activities with the amenities of an upscale spa for a stay that felt like I received a lot of value for the cost. I loved designing my own summer camp here and I'd gladly do it again in fall, winter, or spring, too.
Book Ojo Santa Fe starting at $290 per night
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