Henry David Thoreau wasn’t the first American to seek refuge in a cabin, nor was he the last. But when he holed up at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1845 and 1846, in order “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life,” he forever ensured the romance of cabin life.
Today, even decidedly less spartan cabins offer the chance to live deeply and close to the marrow of both life and nature. These five from across the country vary in terms of modernity and landscape, but all will appeal to present-day Thoreaus searching to, as the author put it in Walden, “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.”
1. Lokal A-Frame
Dorchester, New Jersey
South Jersey may not be classified as idyllic very often, but that’s the word that will come to mind when you see this cabin along the Maurice River, just 50 minutes from Philadelphia. At the A-frame structure, guests will encounter what’s essentially an oasis of amenities in the woods: Big Green Egg grill outside, professional kitchen within, three bedrooms, two baths, two fire pits, a rear deck (complete with a Nordic Hot Tub), all overlooking the forest, which is perfect for long hikes or simple strolls to a private beach on the riverbank for a paddle. The 1960s cabin was given a full Scandinavian interior overhaul by Philadelphia hospitality company Lokal, and it exemplifies the brand’s philosophy of collaboration with a cavalcade of well-regarded millennial contributors: The furniture is from Article, the mattresses from Casper, the sheets from Parachute, the sound from Sonos. Most important for sleep-deprived city escapees, the coffee is from Rival Bros., one of Philly’s best roasters. From $250 per night.
2. Dunton Hot Springs
There was once gold in the hills near Dunton, Colorado, an unincorporated town in the San Juan Mountains, but the mine went cold about 120 years ago, and the prospectors disappeared, leaving their cabins to wither. Today, however, there’s gold again, as the ghost town has been repurposed into a luxury retreat. Each of the 12 hand-built cabins, which are clustered in a loose semicircle around a central bathhouse, has been lovingly restored, maintaining elements of rusticity amid the grandeur. The Well House cabin, for example, is equipped with a woodburning stove, a private indoor hot spring, and a cold plunge pool. Some of the cabins have year-round private outdoor hot springs buried in the wildflower- or snow-covered ground, and there’s so much wide-open space and big sky that isolation is the default. This doesn’t mean idleness, however; with skiing, snowshoeing, and sleigh rides in the winter, and horseback riding, hiking, and world-class fly-fishing along a private stretch of the Dolores River in the warmer months, there’s no lack of activity. The resort also boasts an upscale saloon—menu items include the Bountiful Ridge farm egg with morel mushrooms, sorrel, and sauce vin jaune—and a bar into which the real Butch Cassidy carved his name but over which now pass bottles from cult winemakers such as Paolo Bea and COS. From $1,025 per night, all inclusive.
3. Kūono Volcano
A modern home with a design inspired by the seaside bungalows of Nordskot, Norway, located just a stone’s throw from an active volcano on the island of Hawaii, seems unlikely, to say the least. But once you step into this 488-square-foot cabin, the disparate threads come together in a space that’s at once minimalist and lush. The lushness is largely owed to Hawaii’s most sacred tree, the ohia lehua, a dense forest of which surrounds the house in flowering squiggles just beyond the fire pit and cedar soaking tub on the lanai. The minimalism, which doesn’t preclude a full kitchen, washing machine, and all the modern conveniences (yes, there’s Wi-Fi) is thanks to architect Loch Soderquist, who worked with owner Jeff Brink to form an interior of clean angles and a light Scandinavian palette that lets in plenty of sunlight. All this comfort will be welcome after a hard day’s hike through the dramatic landscape of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the entrance to which is a mere five minutes from the cabin’s bright red door. $350 per night.
4. Watchman Cabins at Blackberry Mountain
We may never know who watches the watchman, but we know that if he sleeps in one of these cabins (top photo), nestled among the trees in the Great Smoky Mountains, he’ll be well-rested. There are 35 houses, cottages, and cabins spread across the 5,200 acres of protected land that make up Blackberry Mountain, a sister property to the legendary Blackberry Farm that opened last year. All of the accommodations are charming, but these wood-hewn cabins with full-length windows looking out on sourwood, tupelo, and sassafras particularly summon solitude and comfort in equal measure. Soak in the Kohler tub, sip a saison from the Blackberry Farm Brewery, watch the wind play in the leaves while a fire crackles in the wood-burning stove, or go hiking or mountain biking in the Smokies. Then, when you tire of the solitude, head to Firetower, one of the property’s award-winning restaurants, located in a restored fire lookout, to sup on fried chicken, crab rice, and other comfort food. From $1,795 per night, double occupancy, including breakfast and dinner daily.
5. The Rolling Huts
These six uber-modern cabins, found in a floodplain meadow in an alpine river valley, look more like a platoon of Modernist spacecraft than vacation rentals. They do, however, offer a very earthly getaway. Designed by famed Seattle architect Tom Kundig, each of the huts is lifted above the surrounding wild grasses on a set of wheels (although they do not, in fact, roll) and is oriented to provide the best view of the splendid North Cascades range. With almost equal amounts of indoor and outdoor space (200 square feet in, 240 out), these are spartan but sophisticated abodes. Cork and plywood finishes lend a light touch to the basic space (sleeping mats in lieu of bedsteads; microwave in lieu of oven), while the location of the showers and toilets in a nearby barn simplifies the living quarters. Winter is actually peak season here, since the valley is home to one of the world’s longest cross-country ski trails, but mountain bikers, rafters, hikers, and lovers of blooming wildflowers will find plenty of reason to visit during the warmer months. From $145 per night.
Next Up: 21 New Hotels for 2021