Imagine your ideal weekend getaway.
Perhaps it involves reading on a cabin’s porch while sunlight filters through a leafy canopy. Maybe it’s hiking wooded trails to view fall colors during the day, then strolling to the edge of an open field to stargaze at night. It could be a cozy gathering around a campfire, sharing s’mores. Or maybe it’s being lulled to sleep by the sounds of nature in the chilled night air.
All of these scenarios — and more — can be experienced at Dana’s Retreat in rural Princeton.
The 12-by-12-foot glamping rental cabin can accommodate four guests on its 10 acres of timber. Almost as soon as the location opened in summer 2022, proprietor Nancy Johnson-Timmons’ guest calendar started filling up.
“People were booking like crazy,” Johnson-Timmons says. “I didn’t think there would be that big of a turnout for it.”
Guests should note that the Airbnb lodging is listed as a camping rental, not a house. The cabin has no electricity or plumbing, although battery-operated LED lights are provided, as well as an outdoor handwashing station and modern outhouse.
Three of the four walls at Dana’s Retreat have sliding screen doors and windows so guests can experience the outdoors from the comfort of indoors.
“At night, when you open the windows, you feel like you’re outdoors,” Johnson-Timmons says. “You have nature around you.”
The lodging shares the property with 2nd Hand Ranch & Rescue, a wildlife rehabilitation facility operated by Nancy and her husband, Randy Timmons. Despite the proximity of the animal rescue, guests will find full privacy in the cabin atop a wooded hill. The only hint of 2nd Hand Ranch is the occasional bleat of a goat or the late-night yips of the resident foxes.
As a bonus, Dana’s Retreat guests can venture down to the rescue from 5 to 6 p.m. each evening to meet and help feed the animals. The ranch houses an array of animals, including beavers, woodchucks, raccoons, possums, foxes, squirrels and pigeons, plus farm animals like horses, donkeys, pigs, chickens and a cow. A guineafowl named Nod also roams the property.
Johnson-Timmons has operated the animal rescue for more than a decade. As a child, her mother volunteered at Oxbow Park & Zollman Zoo in Minnesota, where she first was introduced to wildlife care and rehabilitation. As an adult, she wanted to pay forward the opportunity to assist wildlife and educate others.
“There was nothing like that around here for people to come and visit,” Johnson-Timmons notes. “That’s why I started doing this.”
While the resident wildlife is one of the main attractions, people who visit the ranch are equally excited about meeting the livestock. Johnson-Timmons says the majority of Dana’s Retreat guests have never encountered farm animals up close.
All animals have personalities, she explains to visitors, including animals traditionally considered meat sources, such as Albert the cow, who was rescued from a veal farm.
“I want to teach people there’s somebody behind the something,” she says. “As fun as it is teaching people about wildlife, it’s fun teaching them about the cow.”
ESCAPE INTO NATURE
Dana’s Retreat offers encounters with wildlife in their natural habitat. Johnson-Timmons recommends going for a nighttime hike.
“There’s all of these trails here. It’s the guests’ private park,” she says. “We have headlights for them to wear. There’s flying squirrels, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, deer, raccoons. When you put the headlights on, it reflects the eyes of the animal, so you can see there are lots of flying squirrels if you look up.”
The headlamps also reflect spider eyes, which look like drops of dew on plants and trees.
The majority of Dana’s Retreat guests are city residents. Johnson-Timmons underscores the importance of spending time outside and retreating into nature. When she lived in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, she valued escapes into rural settings.
“I know what it’s like to live in the city and then take a reprieve into the countryside to see stars, see fireflies, listen to frogs,” she says.
Dana’s Retreat provides a blend of rustic with comfort. Despite the lack of electricity, Nancy and Randy offer several amenities to let guests choose how much to unplug, including a wireless hotspot and a Jackery battery with outlets and USB ports. Other items available to guests include a welcome basket with supplies for s’mores, fire pit and bundle of wood, grill, furnace, art supplies, nature books, bug spray, citronella candles, binoculars, a first-aid kit, flashlights and a zip line for dogs. Pets are welcome for an additional fee.
As a complimentary service, guests’ luggage and coolers are delivered to the cabin so they don’t have to hike their belongings up the hill.
The retreat is open year-round. Johnson-Timmons hopes guests can relax and make memories in all seasons — and possibly discover inspiration.
“This place attracts a crazy amount of good energy,” she says. “You can just stop, unplug, just be creative. You can sit down on the floor, do some art, (write in a) journal. Just find something in your soul. …
“This is our little slice of heaven.”
Check out the gift shop in the 2nd Hand Ranch & Rescue office. Handmade gifts and products raise funds for animal rescue and rehabilitation. “Maple mobiles” are a popular product — they’re made from wood chewed by Maple, the rescue’s resident beaver.
Once a month, 2nd Hand Ranch & Rescue hosts free open houses. Visitors can explore the ranch, meet the animals and gather around a bonfire for free hot dogs, chips and s’mores. Remaining open houses this year are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 8, Nov. 19 and Dec. 4.
IN MEMORY OF DANA
The retreat is named in honor of Dana Deutsch, a friend of Johnson-Timmons’ who died in 2018 of cancer.
Like her friend, Deutsch displayed a passion for animals. She served as an animal control officer and animal warden in the Chicago area and also founded Ralphie’s Place Animal Rescue. After Hurricane Katrina, Deutsch volunteered on a pet rescue mission for five months. She did so again when Hurricane Harvey made landfall.
“Disaster response was her passion,” Johnson-Timmons writes in a tribute on the ranch’s website. “Never doubt that one person can make a huge impact on the world. Dana inspired every human she met and saved every animal she encountered.”
The cabin is the first legacy project of Dana’s Heart to Hands, an organization headed by Deutsch’s friends that fundraises for animals in need. All proceeds from Dana’s Retreat go toward animal care at 2nd Hand Ranch & Rescue.