Canyon Ranch, Tucson: A Wellness Resort

by Anne Dimon

First of all, let us define Wellness Resort. According the the glossary of industry terms, published by the Wellness Tourism Association, a Wellness Resort (also referred to as a Wellness Sanctuary or Wellness Clinic in some parts of the world) is “any facility with accommodations and a range of hospitality services where the primary purpose is to provide programs and experiences for the Wellness Traveler. The Wellness Resort is comprised of four primary elements: accommodations, a variety of wellness activities, healthy dining options and wellness-related facilities.”   Story by Anne Dimon

Since it opened its doors four decades ago, Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona as often been referred to as a Destination Spa, but the term does not do it justice. It is SO much more. Today, thanks to the Wellness Tourism Association, the term Wellness Resort, used to describe such singularly-focused properties, paints a more complete picture.

Strung together, the two words conjure up the vision of a spacious, full-service, hotel facility with quality accommodations, restaurants serving healthy meals, and wellness-focused services, activities and facilities that cater primarily to a wellness traveler.  Wellness Resort is a far more fitting term for Canyon Ranch and other such establishments that fall under the newly-created category.

Canyon Ranch Tucson, a Wellness Resort 

Canyon Ranch Tucson, photo Travel to Wellness

A short while back, I squeezed in a quick visit to Canyon Ranch and found that, here, in the tranquil Senora Desert, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Tucson, a collection of Southwestern-style buildings grouped together in a spacious community setting, welcome both permanent residents and wellness-minded guests.

Surrounded by the Santa Catalina, Tucson and Rincon mountain ranges, the private 150-acre, cactus-studded property offers gardens, streams, pools, fountains and countless pockets for quiet self-reflection. Since I visited, substantial renovations and enhancements have been completed or are well underway including:

  •  A floor-to-ceiling renovation of all guest rooms
  • A new area – “The Reserve” – that boasts the largest suite on property, shared spaces for small social or corporate groups, plus a fire pit and views of the Catalina Mountains
  • A new fiber-optic network to enhance Internet access property-wide
  • Big changes throughout spa and fitness facilities, impacting locker rooms, common space, and new high-tech flooring for workout areas. There’s even an expanded room and structure dedicated to TRX and the aerial yoga I tried during my visit
  • Renovations to the Life Enhancement Center’s common, dining, and patio spaces, plus upgraded state-of-the-art classroom facilities for adult learning

The overall peaceful environment makes it the perfect place to simple BE.  To do as much, or as little, as one wants. You can fill your days with a selection of the numerous wellness-focused activities (many included in the price) being offered, or not.  And, if you are a guest with a personal goal or intention, a Focused Wellness Program can be easily customized following a personal consultation.

It’s a safe and comfortable environment either to simply be your self, or try new things.  And, there is just so much to do, to learn and to experience. I met one guest who described the Wellness Resort as an “adult camp.” I’d add the word “luxury” to his description, but yes, with its extensive offerings, it does have the feel of an adult camp. There are walking and jogging trails, a nature embraced labyrinth, an 80,000 square-foot spa complex, various movement and fitness studios, a demonstration kitchen, a creative arts center, swimming pools, tennis courts, a high ropes challenge course, an aquatic center, a life enhancement center, plus, plus, plus. And, with over 50 movement and other activities offered each and every day, there is something to suit every level of fitness and a wide range of special interests.

canyon ranch tucson, aerial yoga

While it was difficult deciding which activities to work into my way-too-short stay, I did try the Aerial Hammock Yoga Clinic. It helps you see things from a totally different perspective. And, that’s a good thing!

I also had a private posture session with Lynne Pray-Raugh, a movement therapist trained in Pilates, Gyrotonics and yoga, and who has been at Canyon Ranch for 35 years. Another day I joined a group in a guided, four-hour hike along the Milagrosa Canyon Trail located a 25-minute drive from the resort. I found the classes, clinics, wellness practitioners, fitness instructors and guides to be excellent.  Many staff members have been employees for years (some for even decades) and their passion for their work is clearly evident.

Case in point is Chef Shawn Brisby and his daily Lunch & Learn program which offers attendees a salad buffet, a daily soup and a culinary demo served up with genuine enthusiasm.

Canyon Ranch Tucson, photo Travel to Wellness

Today, we are learning to make Mashed Cauliflower and the big lesson to be absorbed with this class, says the chef is that “cauliflower is not a potato.” Therefore, he underscores: “Making mashed cauliflower is not the same and making mashed potatoes. Since the cauliflower has no starch and doesn’t break down with mashing, it needs to be cooked more than a potato.”  Simple but important, he says.

Beyond the Lunch and Learn demo kitchen there are two other restaurants that are also part of the all-inclusive program. Food is wholesome, nutritious, locally and sustainably-sourced and there is plenty of it. It would be wrong to associate Canyon Ranch with being on a “diet.”  Instead, think exploring new ways to dine nutritiously and learning how to make healthier choices when it comes to food.

Since most guests at Canyon Ranch are like-minded, there is an easy camaraderie and, consequently, a great place to travel solo. While women age 50 – 55 make up the majority of guests, many also come with their husbands and adult children.

One guest, who returns on a regular basis, is here with her husband and 22-year old daughter. Another guest from Wyoming, tells me she has booked a one week visit every year for the last 15 years.  She makes it a annual event for herself, and to be proactive she books preventative screenings. Medical testing is a point of distinction here, and not all Wellness Resorts offer it.

“We look at Canyon Ranch as the setting for a personal, transformative experience guests have guided by our incredible staff and experts,” says Grant Dipman, Managing Director. “For us, the true measure of success is when guests go home feeling empowered to make their lives better every day that follows.”

And, that’s the beauty of a Wellness Resort like Canyon Ranch. Experienced, knowledgeable staff and just so much to offer, that one can easily create (and there is help if one needs it) the perfect fit Wellness Vacation or Wellness Retreat.  For more on Canyon Ranch

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Anne Dimon is the founder/editor of Travel to Wellness and the President/CEO of the Wellness Tourism Association.