Ozark Oasis

Set outside of Branson, MO, Big Cedar Lodge (Ridgedale) is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. In fact, the land upon which it was built was once teeming with wildlife. It wasn’t until the railroads began crisscrossing the country that the area even became accessible, other than by foot or on horseback. In the early 1920s, two wealthy Missourians began developing the land known as Big Cedar Hollow as a luxurious country retreat. While the property changed hands throughout the years, Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, purchased it in 1987 and has since transformed the more than 800 acres into a grand wilderness resort with three distinct lodges, 81 private log cabins, eight cozy cottages, and more to come. Last fall, the resort introduced Top of the Rock, a nature-based heritage preserve and cliff-top extension of the resort experience with restaurants, social spaces, a natural history museum, and more. In addition, the resort debuted Cedar Creek Spa, which finally gives spa-goers the dedicated space they’d been craving. The 18,000-square-foot standalone building gives them the ideal setting to truly savor their spa experiences.

Leaving no detail undone, the spa is a reflection of its extraordinary location. “Big Cedar Lodge is a rustic yet elegant resort set in the natural beauty of the Ozarks,” says spa director Barb Reffitt. “Coupled with genuine Ozarks hospitality, the spa features a number of details that make it both unique and memorable.” According to her, the gorgeous grotto pool, which replicates the awe and beauty of an Ozarks cave, and the 11 treatment rooms, each of which conveys tranquility with a gas fireplace and candle-like sconces that softly illuminate the space, help it stand out. From the moment guests enter the spa, they’re encouraged to leave their worries at the door. To help facilitate this, the entryway is lined with Aspen trees, river rocks, and trickling water. It was just one of the many details that pushed back the spa’s opening. “It was well worth the delay to create the perfect ambience as guests enter Cedar Creek Spa,” says Reffitt.

Aside from the impressive entryway, the two-storey spa also features a grand staircase, complete with Aspen trees along its sides, that leads from the men’s and women’s relaxation rooms to the treatment rooms on the lower level; a couples’ treatment room with a lounge area, shower, and private outdoor hot tub; and a full-service salon equipped with massaging pedicure chairs, a gas fireplace, and an old-fashioned barber chair for male grooming services. Ideal for bridal parties and groups, the Bridal Suite is designed for those wanting to treasure a special occasion. It includes a staging area with a three-sided full-length mirror for the bride and long stone counters with vanity chairs for the rest of the party. Beyond its French doors is a private patio with outdoor lounge seating and a grand fireplace.

While the Ozarks craftsmanship, with hand-hewn timber ceilings, natural stone floors, and handcrafted stained glass accents, certainly makes an impression, so, too, does the tempting treatment menu. “We were looking for diverse offerings to meet the needs of everyone from the first-time spa guest to the seasoned,” says Reffitt. “Our sampler menu provides a means to try various new spa offerings without being committed to 60 or 90 minutes, yet we also provide the most popular Swedish and deep-tissue massages, customized facials, and our own unique Ozarks Rain experience.” Involving therapeutic water from eight showerheads, the Ozarks Rain Treatment ($140, 50 minutes) provides guests with an exfoliation using a seasonal scrub followed by a hydrating massage with a matching soufflé. Although Reffitt says the experience has been a harder sale than anticipated, those who do try it say it’s their new favorite treatment. The spa’s most popular treatment is the Swedish Massage ($145, 60 minutes; $175, 90 minutes) with an add-on of moisturizing cocoa butter ($15). “Our cocoa butter bars from Biggs and Featherbelle have four simple ingredients—cocoa butter, coconut oil, sweet almond oil, and vitamin E—and melt to the warmth of guests’ skin to provide nourishing moisture, and guests can take the rest of the bar after the service,” says Reffitt. According to her, most guests can’t resist the spa’s massages and the ambience of the grotto pool.

Also proving irresistible is the spa’s variety of skincare services, particularly the Luksus Facial ($200, 75 minutes), which was created by Lili Fan, M.D. “I met Dr. Fan at a dinner a little more than a year ago during Spatec in New Orleans,” says Reffitt. “We were discussing the new spa, which was under construction, and gradually landed on the topic of facial products. Once I tried the Luksus facial, I knew we had to offer it to our guests.”

Such thinking was part of the entire product selection process. “We looked for excellence and exclusivity in choosing our lines,” says Reffitt. “We also value organic and natural products, which has a strong influence on what is selected.” Encouraging guests to continue their spa experiences at home with the products, therapists provide personalized prescription cards that let guests know exactly what products were used during their services. This allows the checkout staff to help them find the right products.

With 10 full-time and 19 part-time staff members, the spa can handle 50 to 70 guests on a typical Saturday. Come high season, those numbers can be expected to increase. In the meantime, Reffitt is busy working with the Big Cedar team to employ and train a new spa staff for Big Cypress Lodge, a companion property that debuted in Memphis, TN, in April. It, too, offers spa services. If they’re anything like those at Cedar Creek Spa, spa-goers will be lining up to experience them.

Owners: Johnny L. and Jeanie Morris

Spa Director: Barb Reffitt

Opened: November 2014



70% female, 30% male



18,000 square feet; 11 treatment rooms



Biggs and Featherbelle, Bumble and bumble, CND, Deborah Lippmann, Éminence Organic Skin Care, Luksus, PAR Springer-Miller, Tara Spa Therapy



Cleo, Cirrus, Oakworks



HKS Hospitality Group (Dallas)



Lauren McGowan, HKS (Dallas)



HKS (Dallas)