Daniels Wood Land Inc., a playground equipment supplier based in Paso Robles, Calif., and Cavco Industries Inc., a supplier of park model RVs and cabins, based in Phoenix, Ariz., captured the interest of park operators four years ago when they designed a treehouse for the annual tradeshow of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).
The Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Mill Run, Pa., purchased the display unit, and installed it in time for Memorial Day weekend 2016, while Daniels Wood Land and Cavco subsequently teamed up to custom build a treehouse unit for the Herkimer Kampgrounds of America (KOA) Resort in Herkimer, N.Y.
Along with the launch of the Animal Planet television series “Treehouse Masters,” which aired from 2013 to 2018, some park owners are finding success offering accommodations that sit high-above the ground.
While the television series focused more on elaborate, upscale structures, park owners utilizing treehouses in their parks are finding success just building cabins on stilts.
At Minnesota-based Tree Wise Designs, which constructs treehouses for campgrounds, Reid Burland, owner of the company, said that treehouses are eye catchers.
“It hearkens back to everyone’s childhood,” he explained. “It gives guests a story they can tell when they get back home, about how they stayed in a treehouse.”
His company offers treehouses that are both tree-supported and ground-supported, depending on what types of trees a park owner has available.
“Our ground supported units are the most popular right now,” Burland said.
Lake-in-Wood Camping Resort in Narvon, Pa., has a number of unique rental units, including a double decker bus, a caboose and a covered wagon.
But one of the most popular units at the 400-site campground is a basic elevated cabin, built on a platform roughly 14 feet above the ground, that the park markets as a treehouse.
“We built it probably over 20 years ago,” said Resort Manager Jerome Bakker.
The two-room unit comes with a queen-sized bed, bunk beds, a little bathroom with a sink and no shower. It also has a kitchenette with a little table and four chairs.
Even though Lake-In-Wood’s treehouse unit is not technically a treehouse — in the sense of being supported by or built around a tree — it captures the imagination of children who come to the park and is one of its most popular rental units.
“It’s definitely in the top tier of my unique rentals,” Bakker said.
A handful of specialty parks offer treehouse camping experiences, including Vertical Horizons Treehouse Paradise, a bed and breakfast resort in Junction, Ore., that offers luxuriously appointed treehouses with unique designs that are built around actual trees.
Other specialty resorts with treehouse accommodations include Historic Banning Mills, a non-profit adventure park in Whitesburg, Ga., and Treehouse Adventures in Branson, Mo., both of which offer fully furnished treehouses that are actually different types of cabins or cottages that are built on platforms.
Height off the ground is typically key for treehouses, but they don’t have to be that high off the ground or even be suspended by trees to be of interest to consumers. In fact, several privately owned and operated campgrounds have found that they can successfully market a wide variety of elevated cabins as treehouse” or “treetop” cabins to families seeking unique camping experiences.
The Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Madison, Maine, is a case in point. Two years ago, the park built and opened its first treehouse unit, which is essentially a 16-by-24-foot cabin on stilts that raised the unit 10 feet above the ground.
Demand for the treehouse unit was so strong that the owners of the campground built a second treehouse unit, which it opened last year. Now the park is considering building a third treehouse unit, according to Libby Foss, who co-owns and operates the 162-site campground with her husband, Jeff.
“Everybody wants to stay in the treehouses,” she said. “They are rented non-stop until after Labor Day.”
The Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Bostic, N.C., is finding similar interest with its 18 “treetop” cabin rentals, each of which features elevated sleeping quarters, a lower deck with a kitchenette and a detached private bathroom nearby.
“People are really drawn to a unique camping experience and to the treetop experience,” said Tessa Wiles, a spokeswoman for Northgate Resorts, which co-owns the park. “Kids obviously think it’s cool. I think parents are also drawn to the novelty of it, especially with social media these days. Parents are looking for that picture perfect vacation.”
Even rustic treehouse type units have appeal.
Acres of Wildlife Campground near Steep Falls, Maine, markets a very basic elevated cabin as a treehouse, but even though the unit has no water or power and no bathroom or kitchen, it appeals to campers who are looking for a different type of experience, said Elaine Baptista Burnham, who co-owns and operates the park with her family.
But while Acres of Wildlife’s treehouse unit is short on amenities, it has something most campground treehouses lack: an enclosed tubular slide for children so they can slide from the interior of the cabin to the ground below.
Rustic treehouse rentals, of course, have been around for a long time.
Phyllis Soroko started the Maple Tree Campground, otherwise known as the Tree House Camp in Rohrersville, Md., in 1971. The park, which is now owned and operated by her daughter, Louise, features 12 wooded tent sites and 10 rustic treehouses, none of which have mattresses or wood stoves. The campground also offers eight treehouse cottages, which are built on stilts, eight to 10 feet above the ground. The cottage units are insulated for year-round use and have double, single, queen or king-sized beds, as well as wood-burning stoves for cooking and heating, but they do not have electricity.
“We kind of want to keep our place simple in the niche that we have,” Soroko said, although she is making improvements to her treehouse units.
Soroko added a new treehouse unit, called the FireFly, last fall.
“The bottom story is a porch. It’s tall and has skylights, windows and a loft. It’s very treehousy,” she said.
The FireFly also features a wood-burning stove for cooking and heating, though it has no running water or electricity.
All of the campsites and treehouse units at The Treehouse Camp feature an outdoor grill, fire circle and picnic table.
But while some park operators find they can successfully market elevated cabins they build themselves as treehouses, others have hired custom builders to design unique treehouse-themed structures for them.
Renee Scialdo Shevat, owner of the Herkimer KOA, said she knew the unique treehouse she purchased for the park would be popular with children. What Shevat didn’t expect, however, was that the treehouse would be equally popular with parents and grandparents.
While children love to be up high, she said parents and grandparents find that the treehouse enables them to relive the wonder of their childhood.
“It’s an exciting part of our park that draws attention from every age generation,” Shevat said. “It’s a magical memory tour for them.”
The Herkimer KOA’s two-story treehouse features two stone fireplaces and a corrugated metal roof and was built using a combination of upstate New York hardwoods and California redwood. Its interior furnishings are also made with handcrafted hardwoods.
Shevat decorated her treehouse with books, artifacts and educational displays to make it tie in with America’s early mining history.
“The theme in the treehouse is domestic mining,” she said. “Herkimer diamonds becomes one facet of that. We also talk about coal mines, silver mines and the Gold Rush. We talk about the economic commodities in our country and how people are using them. This way, the treehouse becomes a center of education in itself on top of the sensation you get from staying there.”
Shevat provides educational content in each of her unique accommodations.
“It has been a remarkable addition and amenity to our park. It just generates smiles and memories,” she said.
A celebrity guest recently proposed to his future wife in the treehouse. A gentleman also celebrated his 40th birthday in the unit.
“His wife rented the treehouse for him for his birthday,” Shevat said.
The Jellystone Park in Mill Run, Pa., for its part, had so much success with its first treehouse from Daniels Wood Land that it bought a second treehouse from the company last year.
The first treehouse unit has a watermill attached to it, while the second treehouse was designed with an Appalachian Mountain theme. Both units, which rent for $300 per night, are two stories. They sleep up to eight people and include full kitchens and bathroom facilities.
“People are willing to pay for the uniqueness of it,” said Tracy Czambel, general manager of the 258-site Jellystone Park at Mill Run, adding that campers are looking for unique experiences.
Czambel said her treehouse units also appeal to all ages and are regularly used for special events. “We had a wedding in the spring and the bride and groom slept in the treehouse,” she said.
While the Jellystone Park in Mill Run and the Herkimer KOA both found success with treehouse style units, those were the only treehouse units that Daniels Wood Land built for campgrounds in collaboration with Cavco, according to Andy Dauterman, custom and theming products manager for Daniels Wood Land.
He said demand for the unique treehouse units did not take off to the extent the companies originally anticipated.
Consumer interest in all types of treehouse accommodations remains strong, however.
Traditional campgrounds, adventure parks and resorts, in fact, are not the only businesses with an interest in providing treehouse accommodations to consumers.
Metroparks Toledo is developing an ADA-accessible treehouse village with four houses, three tent/hammock platforms for overnight camping, as well as a common treehouse linked by a canopy walk. The village, which is expected to be the largest public treehouse village in the country, is being funded with donations made through a non-profit foundation.
The project was designed in collaboration with Nelson Treehouse and Supply in Fall City, Wash., whose projects were featured in the Animal Planet series, “Treehouse Masters.”
Nelson Treehouse, which has designed and built hundreds of treehouses around the world, is currently building a treehouse village at the Norton Creek Mountain Preserve in Gatlinburg, Tenn., which will offer luxurious treehouse units for both sale and for rent, according to Daryl McDonald, Nelson Treehouse’s project manager and designer.
“The glamping movement is fueling interest in (treehouses),” McDonald said, adding that Nelson Treehouse not only sells treehouse plans online, but designs custom treehouses for clients around the world.
“We do custom units. We meet the clients and meet their trees,” he explained, adding that most of Nelson Treehouse’s treehouses are actually supported by the trees themselves.
The private campground industry, however, has not yet become an area of focus for Nelson Treehouse, partly because of the workload emanating from the “Treehouse Masters” TV series, McDonald said.
But regardless of whether a campground’s treehouse type unit is luxurious or rustic, park operators say there is plenty of consumer interest in these units.
“I think treehouses have a universal appeal,” said Soroko, of the Tree House Camp. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an elevated cabin or cottage on stilts or a simple rustic treehouse, like a “fort” that families have in trees in their own backyards.
“I think they appeal to people of all ages. It’s just fun,” Soroko said. “Our oldest rustic treehouses are still enjoyed by our campers and little kids really like them. I have parents who say, ‘My kids don’t want to leave.’”