Washington state has unusual places to stay that are the envy of those across the country. It may take some planning, but staying at one of these unique places will give you much more in the way of memories than another overnight at a run-of-the-mill chain motel.
Tiny houses in the trees
If you had a treehouse as a kid — or just really, really wanted one — Treehouse Point in Fall City is a childhood fantasy come true. The event center and bed-and-breakfast on four wooded acres is owned by Pete and Judy Nelson, whose work has been featured on Animal Planet’s long-running “Treehouse Masters.”
Staying here is a special-occasion splurge people fly in from throughout the country for. But a mere $20 gets you into an hourlong tour of six cedar cabins among the conifers.
Our tour guide, Charles, led us up a path through a forest of large western red cedars, Douglas firs and western hemlocks. The sound of the Raging River just below blocked out most of the occasional noise from nearby Preston-Fall City Road. Charles stopped in front of the first cabin and explained how to build houses on mature yet still-growing trees.
Then he grinned.
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“Ready to go see a treehouse?”
We climbed up to the first cabin on a sturdy sloped ladder with handrails. Other cabins were accessed by sturdy curving stairs, a long ramp and a swaying suspension bridge. Booking a place here is a little tricky; you can’t just reserve online, partly because the county wants to make sure you know what you’re getting into. Plus, no one wants to fly across the country and realize they can’t get to their room. And only one of the cabins has running water, so your bathroom’s likely to be a closet with a composting bucket under a toilet seat (three luxurious cedar-lined bath suites are available in the bathhouse on the ground). The treehouse interiors were darling, with lots of windows, outside decks, heat and electricity, and comfy touches. Go see.
If You Go
Treehouse Point: $300-$400/night; weekend dates open 60 days prior; weekdays open for booking twice a year. All visits must be scheduled by advance appointment only. Call 425-441-8087 or visit www.treehousepoint.com.
Lighthouse keepers’ quarters
A friend and I struck out in the fog one morning down Dungeness Spit east of Sequim. Although the five-mile hike in the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge was basically flat, we strained for purchase on the slanted cobbled shore. Finally, as the fog lifted, we neared the base of the 1857 lighthouse and staggered toward a picnic table. The familiar sound of a power mower cutting verdant grassy lawn punctuated the sea breeze. It was an unlikely bit of suburbia at the end of the spit.
Unlike us, the man with the power mower had arrived in style, shuttled out with his luggage and provisions for a week in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The New Dungeness Light Station Association (NDLSA) rents out the keeper’s house for a week at a time. You can reserve just one room in the four-bedroom keeper’s house (and meet some new housemates) or rent the whole place.
Keepers greet day hikers (and visiting boaters), give tours of the lighthouse, and perform light maintenance duties including raising and lowering the flag, watering the lawn (through an underground sprinkler system), mowing the grass and polishing the brass in the tower. Dividing up these duties among fellow keepers makes it easy. The tricky part is getting a reservation.
First, you must join the NDLSA ($35 annual fee; $50 for families). Then you plan way in advance. Although cancellations happen, the house was nearly full when I checked a few weeks ago — and booked through 2019. The schedule for 2020 will be posted early in December, and you can make reservations starting Jan. 2, 2019.
An easier alternative is staying just a night or two at one of four other lighthouses in the state. One Sunday evening, I sat on the porch of the empty keeper’s house at the Point No Point Lighthouse on the north end of the Kitsap Peninsula to watch the sunset. Located where the Strait of Juan de Fuca merges with Puget Sound, it’s a great vantage point for watching passing ships, and — if the timing is right — whales.
“Sure, during the high season, from June through October, nights here can go a year in advance, but other times there’s a lot of availability,” said Jeff Gales at the United States Lighthouse Society based at Point No Point. “There’s always going to be cancellations. Just call and ask.”
“People have a great time staying at keeper’s houses, and at the same time get the satisfaction of knowing that the rental fees go toward preservation.”
The keeper’s residences at the 1898 North Head Lighthouse outside of Ilwaco are set high on a bluff at the southwestern tip of Washington. Located in Cape Disappointment State Park, they can be reserved up to nine months in advance. Though you can’t see the lighthouse from the residences, it’s just a short walk through the trees; its striking location is one of my favorite places in the state.
You can also rent a keeper’s house close to Seattle. On the east coast of Vashon Island, stay at one of two keeper’s houses (built in 1885 and 1908) next to the still-working Point Robinson Lighthouse. North of Tacoma, the 1903 Browns Point lighthouse keeper’s cottage has been described by the U.S. Lighthouse Society as “one of the finest examples of lighthouse property restoration in the country.” Located on Puget Sound, it has antique furnishings and views of the Olympic Mountains and the lights of Tacoma.
Open year-round; prices vary widely depending on season and day of the week.
New Dungeness Lighthouse quarters: $420/week for an adult in 2019; four-bedroom house; www.newdungenesslighthouse.com/lighthouse-keepers.html.
Point No Point Lighthouse quarters: One-bedroom cottage or two-bedroom house; http://uslhs.org/about/point-no-point-vacation-rental.
Point Robinson Lighthouse quarters: Two-bedroom and three-bedroom houses; http://vashonparks.org/pt-robinson-keepers-quarters.
Browns Point Lighthouse quarters: Three-bedroom house; http://www.vrbo.com/500782.
Years ago, I took the moderately steep but short 1.3-mile hike up to the Heybrook Lookout tower in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest near Index off Highway 2. Although the top of the lookout was blocked off, I climbed partway up the ladder for a better look at the stunning mountain peaks overlooking the valley. Thanks to Seattle outfitter company Filson and the National Forest Foundation, the 67-foot lookout built in 1964 was restored last year and is one of only two lookout towers in Washington state visitors can reserve.
Heybrook Lookout: Open year-round, $75/night; six-months-out reservation window fills quickly. Tip: Reservations open daily at 9 p.m. PST (midnight EST); www.recreation.gov or 877-444-6777 or 360-677-2414.
The Hidden Lake, Park Butte, Lookout Mountain, and Winchester Mountain lookouts in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are open to the public on a first-come-first-serve basis for overnight use; 360-856-5700.
Quartz Mountain Fire Lookout: $59-$93; mid-June to late September only. http://parks.state.wa.us/423/Mount-Spokane-State-Park or 888-226-7688.
Evergreen Mountain Lookout: Reservations through www.recreation.gov, but closed/reserved through end of 2018 season (Sept. 30).
Several other fire lookouts in Washington are listed at www.firelookout.org/lookout-rentals.htm. Access is limited by road and trail conditions.
I was scouting out day hikes around the east side of the Olympic Peninsula one day when I came upon a furnished cabin at a trailhead. The cabin was one of three historic single-story cabins in the Olympic National Forest available to rent year-round through the U.S. Forest Service.
These are a rustic deal for hikers and nature lovers at only $50-$60/night (sleeps four to six people), with propane-powered lights, heaters, refrigerators and stoves (one cabin also has electricity). You do have to leave Fido at home, bring bedding and other supplies, pack out all garbage and clean the cabin — and for two cabins, bring your own potable water.
Completed in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the two-bedroom Hamma Hamma Cabin sleeps six above the west side of Hood Canal. Originally used as an office by USFS fire and trail crews, it features a hexagonal window that floods the living room with light; it’s also the only cabin with an inside flush toilet.
Built in 1912 and used as a fire guard station, the white two-bedroom Louella Cabin southeast of Sequim boasts electricity and an outside covered porch.
Interrorem Cabin, built in 1907, is a one-bedroom log cabin (it sleeps four) above the west side of Hood Canal, and one of the oldest remaining USFS structures in the Northwest. Features include potable water from an outdoor hand pump and a covered porch.
Visit www.recreation.gov or call 877-444-6777. Reservations open six months in advance to the day; most dates this summer and many in fall are booked, so be flexible, check for cancellations, or plan for next year. Check out other cabins and yurts (tent-cabins) at Washington State campgrounds at http://parks.state.wa.us/403/Cabins-rustic-shelters-yurts.
This post was updated May 31 at 5:15 p.m. to clarify that the New Dungeness Light Station Association provided the photo of the New Dungeness Lighthouse running with this story. The credit had been left off of that photo.