Quirky places to stay, from treehouses to caves

November 7, 2016

The walkway to the Lofty Lookout Treehouse gets you ready for the inside, which includes a king size bed and a heart-shaped Jacuzzi for two. It's one of the treehouse or cottage you can book at Treehouse Cottages in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

When family and friends in Portland, Ore., found out where we were staying during a recent visit, they just had to come and take a look.

It’s not as if we had splurged on the presidential suite at the city’s best hotel. In fact, our accommodations were no bigger than a typical bedroom in your average American home.

Caravan — The Tiny House Hotel is made up of six miniature houses, ranging in size from 120 to 170 square feet, circled around an open courtyard in Portland’s trendy Alberta Arts District. They look a lot like oversize doll houses, each one a different design. Tiny houses — the star of several TV shows — are all the rage these days, thanks largely to an increased emphasis on sustainable and affordable living. Caravan was the country’s first hotel of tiny houses when it opened in 2013.

We invited guests to the courtyard on our first of two nights at Caravan. Four young women showed up for a tiny cocktail party. We drank out of tiny red Solo cups and dined on hors d’oeuvres served on toothpicks.

Nobody could resist joining in on the tiny house fun.

There’s something about miniaturized objects that’s irresistible. It’s this kind of attraction to a unique or unusual place to stay that sometimes outshines — or at least takes equal billing with — a destination. Castle hotels in Europe, for example, can be as much of a draw for a trip as the location itself. In the U.S., some weird and offbeat lodging options can be reason enough for a getaway, or at least enhance the experience so that your accommodations are more than just a place to sleep.

My sister and I shared Caravan’s largest unit, Pacifica. She slept upstairs in the lofted queen bed and I took the bed downstairs. In the morning, we marveled as the sun colored the light coming through the stained-glass windows. A tiny house with colored sunlight is magical.

Across the U.S., quirky lodgings are available at a variety of price points. Here are some fun ones to try:

Kokopelli’s Cave in Farmington, N.M., is a 1,700-square-foot space built into a sandstone cliff overlooking the La Plata River Valley. The cave is 70 feet below the surface, with views of the Four Corners area of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. To get to the entrance, you walk down a sloping path and steps cut into the cliff face. "Since there is no elevator, it is wise to pack as lightly as possible," the website advises.

Once inside, there’s a master bedroom, living room, dining area, kitchen and a bathroom with rock walls forming a waterfall shower. There’s also a replica kiva — a room for Native American rituals — and two porches with sliding glass doors. Meals from a French chef can be ordered in advance.

If underground isn’t your thing, how about up in the treetops?

Treehouse Cottages in Eureka Springs, Ark., features seven luxurious treehouses built into a pine forest. About 25 feet off the ground with king-size beds and double whirlpool tubs, these aren’t your childhood havens. These are secluded spots for romance and relaxation, outfitted with antiques, chandeliers and wrap-around decks.

Also up in the air is Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho, where you can take the kids and sleep inside a 30-foot-tall wooden beagle, a kind of Trojan dog, if you will, named Sweet Willy. You enter from a second-floor deck to a room with a queen-size bed that has a headboard adorned with 26 dog carvings. The kids can climb up into Sweet Willy’s head, where there are two futon mattresses. Books, games and puzzles are provided but no television.

Animals are also the draw at Wildlife Prairie Park outside Peoria, Ill. But instead of wooden carvings, these are live bison, elk, cougar, black bear and more, all native to the Midwest. At this 2,000-acre zoological park you can sleep in refurbished red cabooses at the edge of the bison and elk range, near Caboose Lake. I remember hearing the animals at night when I stayed here a long time ago with my large extended family and young children taking over all four cabooses, which sleep up to five.

More like regular hotels but still out of the ordinary are The Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., and The Liberty Hotel in Boston.

Formerly a famed 1930s ocean liner, The Queen Mary is now a floating hotel with 355 rooms, many featuring artwork and wooden art deco built-ins from the era.

The Liberty, at the foot of Beacon Hill, is a 298-room luxury hotel that was once the Charles Street Jail. A national historic landmark, the former jail was originally constructed in 1851. Previous "guests" included Malcolm X, doomed anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti and a German U-boat crew captured in the Atlantic. The catwalk where guards watched over inmates is now part of the lobby.

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IF YOU GO

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Caravan — The Tiny House Hotel: Rates range from $145 to $165 a night; www.tinyhousehotel.com.

Kokopelli’s Cave: Two-night minimum stay costs $560 for two people, $760 for three to four. The cave is closed during December through February; www.kokoscave.com.

Treehouse Cottages: High-season rates begin at $159 a night. Take note: Cottages book up far in advance; www.treehousecottages.com.

Dog Bark Park Inn: Open April 1 through Oct. 31, overnight rates are $98 for two and $10 for each extra person; www.dogbarkpark.com.

Wildlife Prairie Park: Rates for the cabooses, available April through October, start at $100. Other lodging options include cabins, cottages and camping; www.wildlifeprairiepark.org.

The Queen Mary and Liberty hotels: Rates begin around $119 on the former ocean liner (www.queenmary.com) and $399 at the one-time jail (www.libertyhotel.com).

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