Jail cells! Concrete wigwams! Fire lookout towers! Presenting a complete guide to our nation’s wackiest places to stay
This summer, get a room with a view—into another way of life. Play lighthouse keeper, set up camp like a Plains Indian, or bunk in a World War II battleship. Here, accommodations that are both wonderfully wacky and affordable. The adventure begins at check-in.
Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village
Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo—and a herd of Spanish mustangs—still roam. Canvas guest tipis at this camp on Blackfeet land face east to welcome the sun and block westerly winds. At night, a fire will warm your family as you sleep on the ground (in sleeping bags atop cushioned mats). By day, learn how to craft a parfleche (rawhide tote), rattle, and drum with the camp’s owner, Darrell Norman, a Blackfeet artist. Then head to adjacent Glacier National Park for some hiking, trout fishing, and horseback riding. Or go on a history hunt with Norman. He’ll show you medicine rocks—sacred sandstone guideposts for the nomadic tribe—and ancient bones embedded in the earth beneath the Two Medicine River "buffalo jump," a cliff over which hunters drove their prey. Back at the lodge, Norman and his wife, Angelika, serve a traditional feast of roasted buffalo, Anasazi beans, acorn squash, and soup made from blueberry-like saskatoons. Stick around for fireside singing and storytelling—and the chance to beat your own drum. 406/338-2787; blackfeetculturecamp.com; two-night packages $395 for two adults, plus $96 per child, including meals, outings, and entertainment.
Race Point Lighthouse
As the sky darkens, twirl up the spiral stairs and imagine a time when the glow of this Cape Cod beacon guided whaling ships through the "race," the treacherous crosscurrent roiling in the distance. Today, the light is automated, but the property looks much as it did a century ago, thanks to the American Lighthouse Foundation, whose on-site volunteers attend to the buildings and overnight guests. Choose among three old-fashioned bedrooms under the eaves in the 1879 keeper’s residence, or take over the newly renovated two-bedroom Whistle House, which once held the steam-powered foghorn and bell. There are no roads to this beachfront compound four miles out of town—in days of yore, the keeper’s children walked over the sand to school—but ALF staff will ferry you there by four-wheel-drive. Pack linens, towels, groceries, and drinking water—and don’t count on trips back to civilization. Instead, devote your days to fishing, watching for Wright whales, swimming, and snuggling into the warm dunes, here at the end of the world. 508/487-9930; racepointlighthouse.net; Keeper’s House, doubles from $150, four-person room $245; Whistle House (sleeps eight) $2,500 per week.
Napa Valley Railway Inn
With their redwood walls and shiny iron wheels, the nine steam-era railcars permanently parked in Napa Valley’s sophisticated little Yountville look as if they were stopped in their tracks at the turn of the last century. Inside is a different story. Converted to bright and tidy guest rooms, the cars offer few hints of their former function: you’d never guess that No. 4 used to carry cattle or that the skylight in No. 9 was once a hatch for ice-block deliveries. Disembark to visit Vintage 1870, a repurposed Victorian winery next door, where you can eat, shop, or hitch an hour-long ride on a hot-air balloon ride (800/944-4408; nvaloft.com; outings $220 per person). Refuel down the street at chef Thomas Keller’s Michelin-starred bistro Bouchon (707/944-8037; frenchlaundry.com; dinner for four $145), in an old Wells Fargo stagecoach stop. And board the restored Pullman cars of the Napa Valley Wine Train (707/253-2111; winetrain.com; adults $49.50, kids $24.75) for a three-hour jaunt from Napa to St. Helena. You’ll have fun all the livelong day. 707/944-2000; napavalleyrailwayinn.com; four-person car $160.
In a grove of century-old white oaks in southwestern Oregon, carpenter and incorrigible punster Michael Garnier has taken the B&B business to new heights. Guests at his Treesort nest in 13 arboreal aeries—some cantilevered, some on stilts, and all with comfy beds—including the spacious Treeroom Suite (with kitchenette and full bath!) and the Swiss Family Complex, which has a playhouse connected to its sleeping quarters by a swinging bridge. No shinnying skills required: plank stairs lead to each of these roosts, the loftiest of which is 37 feet off the ground and has a pulley system for hoisting gear. Descend for a dip in the stone-lined swimming pool, fed by the East Fork Illinois River, and to take part in some of the "activitrees." There are classes on tree house construction, mosaic making, and forest ecology; guided horseback outings; harnessed tree climbs; and, for those seeking the full Tarzan experience, rides on a 650-foot zip line. Nightlife?Campfires, cosmic light shows, and the occasional owl hootenanny. 541/592-2208; treehouses.com; tree houses from $110, including breakfast and some activities.
Best Western Move Manor Motor Inn
Monte Vista, Colorado
Sleeping Quarters A room in a two-story motel that horseshoes around a 50-foot-tall movie screen, in operation since 1955.What You Get Speakers and a picture window for watching the G, PG, and PG-13 movies (shown May 10 through September 12), a snack bar selling popcorn and candy, Kelloff’s Movie Manor Restaurant, and a playground. What to Bring Comfy shoes for scaling the awesome mountains of sand in nearby Sand Dunes National Park. 719/852-5921; www.bestwesterncolorado.com; doubles from $86.
Fairlee Motel and Drive-in Theater
Sleeping Quarters One of 12 rooms, all of which look out on the screen at this 1950 drive-in. What You Get Picture windows and wall-mounted speakers for watching nightly features (from July 4 through Labor Day) as you lounge in bed, and a concession stand serving burgers made of Angus beef from the owners’ farm, along with pints of Ben & Jerry’s. What to bring Bathing suits for a dip in nearby Lake Morey. 802/333-9192; doubles from $69.
Fire Lookout Towers
Many of these high-up huts, once used by forest rangers watching for flames, are now available for nightly rental. You’ll need to bring water, food, bedding, and battery-powered gear—and be prepared to hike to get where you’re going.
Sleeping Quarters A 1939 cabin on stilts that once housed park rangers, 7,115 feet up in the Bitterroot National Forest. What You Get The Anaconda Pintler Wilderness (to the east) and the Bitterroot Mountains (to the west) in a room with wraparound windows, a double bed, and two sleeping mats; logs and an ax for the wood-burning stove; and an outhouse. What to bring Water, food, bedding, propane for the cooktop and lantern, and packs for your gear—the hut is a 1 1/2-mile hike from the road. 877/444-6777; recreation.gov; lookout tower from $30.
Bear Basin Butte Lookout and Pierson Cabin
Sleeping Quarters A fir-paneled cabin towering over the Six -Rivers National Forest. What You Get Three double beds, a window overlooking the Siskiyou Mountains, dining areas inside and out, a fire ring, an outhouse, and a key to the observation tower, a 250-foot hike from the cabin. 877/444-6777; www.recreation.gov; $75.
Sleeping Quarters One of California’s oldest lookout towers—built in 1931—4,089 feet up in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. What You Get Two twin beds in the 14’ x 14’ restored cabin, views of Mount Shasta and Castle Crags State Park, a table, and an outhouse—on a site accessible by car. 877/444-6777; www.recreation.gov, $35.
Indian Ridge Lookout
McKenzie Bridge, Oregon
Sleeping Quarters A 1958 cabin-on-stilts located 60 miles east of Eugene (and an easy quarter-mile hike from the road)—still used occasionally by fire watchers. What You Get Two twin beds; chopped wood for campfires; wild bear grass, huckleberries, and flowers; plus a view of the snowcapped Three Sisters. 541/822-3381; www.recreation.gov; $40.
Jailer’s Inn Bed & Breakfast
Sleeping Quarters Choose from six renovated rooms in the 1819 jailer’s house or the cell in the 1874 Nelson County Jail—both are on the National Registry of Historic Places. What You Get Inmate bunk beds and a Jailhouse Rock poster in the cell room; or full-size beds, hand hewn timbers, and antiques in the jailer’s house—plus iron window bars, 30-inch-thick limestone walls, and breakfast in the courtyard where hangings once took place. What to Bring A striped wardrobe. 502/348-5551; www.jailersinn.com; jail cell $80, inn rooms from $115.
The Old Jail Bed & Breakfast
Taylors Falls, Minnesota
Sleeping Quarters A converted 1884 jailhouse with original iron bars and a loft bedroom overlooking the cell block, now converted into a living room. What You Get A double bed and a futon, equipped kitchen, woodstove, and a full breakfast delivered to your door. Beyond the bars: the St. Croix River Valley, where you can hike, bike, or canoe. What to Bring Books and games for entertaining while in solitary confinement. Groceries and bikes also come in handy. 651/465-3112; www.oldjail.com; Overlook Suite $140.
Here are our favorite beacons—east coast, west coast, and in between.
Point Arena Light Station
Point Arena, California
Sleeping Quarters There are three three-bedroom, two-bath keeper’s cottages at this lighthouse compound atop a cliff jutting out of the Mendocino Coast, the closest point of land to the Hawaiian Islands. What You Get Tempur-Pedic mattresses, guided tours of the 115-foot tower (including a climb to the top), a wood burning fireplace, full kitchen, and satellite TV. What to Bring Binoculars for scoping out brown pelicans and grey whales. 877/725-4448; www.pointarenalighthouse.com; cottages from $220.
Keeper’s House Inn
Isle au Haut, Maine
Sleeping Quarters There are two bedrooms in the Keeper’s House and two dormered rooms in the Woodshed Cottage. Both are solar and wind-powered. What You Get Boat rides to town with keepers Jeff and Judi Burke on their daily excursions to pick up mail, a Wednesday-night lobster bake, and bikes for rides to the fishing village of Isle Au Haut. What to Bring Nothing—just sit back in an Adirondack chair and watch the lobstermen haul their pots. 207/460-0257; www.keepershouse.com; three-night Keeper’s House package from $950, including meals; Woodshed Cottage $2,000 per week, meals not included.
The Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast
Two Harbors, Minnesota
Sleeping Quarters Three bedrooms in the Keeper’s House attached to the tower, and one bedroom in the outlying Skiff House, at this nonprofit compound on Lake Superior. What You Get A 19th-century travel chest at the foot of your bed, a four-course Scandinavian breakfast (fruit soup, stuffed French toast, wild rice pancakes, or apple ham soufflè), the Superior Hiking Trail for nature walks, and a night light that’s been shining since 1892. What to Bring A car for trips into town. 218/834-4814; www.lighthousebb.org; Keeper’s House doubles from $125; Skiff House $135; $25 for each additional guest.
Saugerties Lighthouse with Bed & Breakfast
Saugerties, New York
Sleeping Quarters Two guest bedrooms in an 1869 red-brick lighthouse furnished with early 20th century designs, and set on a circular stone base in the Hudson River. What You Get A shared kitchen with a 1938 refrigerator; fishing and swimming in the river; and a picket fence inscribed with the names of former keepers. What to Bring Fishing tackle, a kayak or canoe, and a good book. 845-247-0656; www.saugertieslighthouse.com; doubles from $175.
Heceta Head Bed & Breakfast
Sleeping Quarters A Queen Anne-style Keeper’s House with six rooms set on a grassy cliff overlooking the Pacific.What You Get Queen-size beds with down duvets; a seven-course breakfast made with produce and herbs from the lighthouse garden, local meat and cheese, and the innkeeper’s own pastries; a yard for croquet, bocci ball, and kite flying; a path to the beach; and a sea lion cave a half-mile away. What to Bring Hiking boots for exploring the rocky Oregon coast. 866/547-3696; www.hecetalighthouse.com; doubles (which hold a maximum of three) from $215. Kids 10 and up only.
Rose Island Lighthouse
Newport, Rhode Island
Sleeping Quarters Two Keepers’ Bedrooms and a kids’ bunk room (which sleeps two) at this nonprofit museum on Narragansett Bay, restored to its 1912 appearance and operated by vacationing keepers. What You Get A bedside washbowl and pitcher, an outdoor solar shower, wind-powered electricity, bottled water, and a boat ride to the island on a 32-foot lobster boat. What to Bring Food, a cooler (there’s no refrigerator), and an alarm clock—you’ve got to have the place in ship shape when the museum opens to the public at 10 a.m. 401/847-4242; www.roseislandlighthouse.org; doubles from $185, Kid’s Bunk Room$30 per child, or $15 if you bring your own bedding. For more lighthouse stays, visit lighthouse.cc or www.cyberlights.com.
Grand Canyon West Ranch
Sleeping Quarters There are five tipis at this 106,000-acre working cattle ranch—14 miles from the western rim of the Grand Canyon.What You Get Three Western-style meals a day; a communal campfire with singing cowboys; and, for a fee, a horse-drawn wagon ride on the historic Joshua Tree-lined Mormon Trail and a helicopter ride into the Grand Canyon. What to Bring Riding boots and 10-gallon hats. 800/359-8727; www.grandcanyonranch.com; adults from $89, children $49.
Sleeping Quarters Nineteen concrete-and-wooden tipis on Route 66—relics from America’s autocamping era.What You Get Motel-style quarters, each with a queen-size bed, a bathroom, WiFi, TV, refrigerator, and air conditioning. On the premises: a pool and palm trees. What to Bring Stamps to send out your official Wigwam Motel souvenir postcards. 909/875-3005; www.wigwammotel.com; tipis from $70.
Sleeping Quarters Three Sioux-style tipis on a 295-acre campground in the Ozarks, bordered by the Class I Niangua River. What You Get In each tipi: Three air mattresses on a redwood floor; a gas-log fire pit; and battery-powered lanterns. On the premises: A general store; canoeing, kayaking, and tubing; and a fishing instructor who reenacts the exploits of Redbeard, the urbanite turned mountain adventurer who established the camp. What to Bring Bedding and bathing suits. 417/533-7337; www.redbeardsranch.com; tipis $65, plus a $5 camp fee for adults, $3 for children over four.
Hot Springs, South Dakota
Sleeping Quarters Eight tipis at this family-owned ranch in the Black Hills.What You Get A fire pit for cooking, inner tubes for floating down the Fall River, Lakota Sioux storytellers, and for a fee, guided horseback rides. What to Bring Sleeping bags and mats. 605/745-1890; www.gwtc.net/~allenranch; tipis $30.
Rancho Oso Guest Ranch & Stables
Santa Barbara, California
Sleeping Quarters A faithfully reproduced Conestoga wagon kitted out with four army cots in the Santa Ynez Mountains, 15 miles from Santa Barbara. What You Get A chuck wagon-style restaurant, pool, volleyball court, and camp store. Riding available for an extra fee. What to Bring Bedrolls and jeans. 805/683-5686; rancho-oso.com; wagons from $69.
Crowne Plaza at Union Station
Sleeping Quarters Thirteen permanently stationed Pullman train cars house 26 rooms in this full-service hotel, located in America’s first union station. The Romanesque-revival structure, built in 1888, is still an active station.What You Get An indoor pool, proximity to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Zoo, white fiberglass statues dressed in Steam-era garb, and the rumbling of passing trains. 800/227-6963; www.ichotelsgroup.com; doubles from $159.
Northern Rail Train B&B
Two Harbors, Minnesota
Sleeping Quarters Eighteen box cars have been converted into guest rooms on the north shore of Lake Superior, 30 miles from Duluth.What You Get Breakfast in the Depot; weekend campfires; Gooseberry Falls State Park; and for rail fans, the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, the Lake County Historical Society Depot Museum in Two Harbors, and train excursions on the North Shore Scenic Railroad. 218/834-0955; www.northernrail.net; doubles from $149 for two, $10 for each additional guest (children 10 and under free).
River of Life Farm
Sleeping Quarters Eight spacious cabins on stilts, on 275 private acres of lush forest in the Ozarks, run by the McKee family who pride themselves on maintaining the camp’s remoteness.What You Get All the amenities of a cottage on the ground: equipped kitchen, air conditioning, queen- and twin-size beds, plus stained-glass windows, red cedar woodwork, and the occasional hickory growing through the balcony. What to Bring Waders, tackle, and a rod for rainbow trout fishing in the White River. 417/261-7777; www.riveroflifefarm.com; doubles from $139 for two, $25 for each additional guest, $10 for children 5 to 11.
Cedar Creek Treehouse
Sleeping Quarters A secluded cabin 50 feet up in a 200-year-old red cedar tree near Mount Rainier.What You Get Two double beds, a bathroom, a kitchen, a hammock, a skylight for stargazing, a telescope for spying on mountain goats, a swimming hole, and huckleberry picking—plus a guided trek up the Stairway To Heaven (an 82-foot spiral staircase) and across the suspension bridge to the observatory lookout with owner Bill Compher. What to Bring Food and the treasure hunt-style map that leads to the location—Bill will mail it you. 360/569-2991; www.cedarcreektreehouse.com; doubles $300. Kids 10 and up only.
Big Sur, California
Sleeping Quarters A tent of canvas stretched over a circular fir lattice—a Mongolian invention updated with electricity, running water, French doors, and a redwood deck. What You Get A swanky lodge serving waffle breakfasts and wood-fired barbecue dinners, and a heated pool. What to Bring A constellation guide for stargazing through your domed skylight. 877/424-4787; treebonesresort.com; four-person yurts from $205, including breakfast.
Orca Island Cabins
Sleeping Quarters Three yurts, each with a queen-size bed and a futon, on a tiny, private island in Humpy Cove’s Resurrection Bay.What You Get A private bathroom, propane stove and heater, outfitted kitchen, linens, a grill, and kayaks to rent for trips to the nearby salmon stream (see them spawning all summer) and waterfall. What to Bring Binoculars for watching black bears and mountain goats on the mountainside, bald eagles overhead, and killer whales in the bay. 907/491-1988; www.orcaislandcabins.com; yurts $250, plus $55 for the water-taxi.
Never Summer Nordic
Colorado State Park, near Walden, Colorado
Sleeping Quarters Seven yurts along a hiking trail in the remote Medicine Bow Mountains, all but two accessible by car in summer. What You Get Bunk beds, a wood stove and axe, cooking equipment, trails for mountain biking and streams for fishing, the occasional moose sighting, and a journal in each dome to read about past guests’ adventures and add your own tales. What to Bring A Colorado Parks Pass, drinking water, and a lantern. 970/723-4070; www.neversummernordic.com; yurts from $60 weekdays, $75 weekends.
Bobby Brown State Park
Sleeping Quarters Five heartñpine-floored yurts on Clarks Hill Lake, the largest man-made reservoir east of the Mississippi, used for boating, skiing, and fishing.What You Get Each yurt has two double beds and a set of twin bunks, white-cedar log furniture, electricity, and a ceiling fan. Outside there’s a fire ring, grill, picnic table, and a water spigot. If the lake level is down, look for glimpses of the building foundations that date from before the valley was flooded. What to Bring Bedding; plus spatulas, tongs, and food for barbecuing. 800/864-7275; www.gastateparks.org; yurts $45.
Sun Valley Trekking
Sun Valley, Idaho
Sleeping Quarters The Coyote Yurt, 8,600 feet up amongst spruce and fir trees. It’s a six-mile car or bike ride, then a 1/3-mile hike—do it on your own or with a naturalist guide who can also arrange for delivered meals and shuttle service to town. What You Get Four sets of bunk beds, each with a double on the bottom and a twin on top, kitchen equipment (including a fondue set), propane stove, a wood-fired sauna, hammock, fire pit, charcoal grill, board games, two outhouses, and proximity to Yellowstone National Park. What to Bring Sleeping bags and food. 208/788-1966; www.svtrek.com; four-person yurts $100.
The Birches Resort
Sleeping Quarters Three yurts adjacent to a lodge and cabins in the Great North Woods, which you’ll share with the area’s large moose population.What You Get Bunk beds, a propane cooktop, the resort’s restaurant, fishing and swimming in Moosehead Lake, and for $30, your gear transported to the yurt where a crackling fire in the woodstove awaits you. For a fee, there’s river rafting, moose cruises on a pontoon boat, sea plane rides, and guided kayaking, mountain biking, and Jeep safari trips. What to Bring Sleeping bags. 207/534-7305; www.birches.com; yurts from $35 per person, $70 minimum.
Frost Mountain Yurts
Sleeping Quarters Two yurts on the Burnt Meadow Mountain Snow Mobile Club Trail Network that leads to the summit of Frost Mountain. Lovewell Pond is a mile away.What You Get Each yurt has three bunk beds and a futon; a camp stove and kitchen equipment; playing cards and board games; a grill and fire pit; free use of canoes and kayaks; and a wheeled cart for toting gear the quarter-mile from the road. Nearby Sherman Farm sells prepared meals, baked goods, and hormone-free milk. What to Bring Bedding, drinking water, and a cooler. 207/935-3243; www.frostmountainyurts.com; yurts $65 for two, $12 for each additional person over the age of five.
Falling Waters Adventure Resort
Bryson City, North Carolina
Sleeping Quarters The camp’s yurt village on Lake Fontana has eight knotty-pine floored domes, each outfitted with a queen-size bed and futon, refrigerator, and private deck.What You Get Quick access to the Appalachian and Bartram Trails; and, for a fee, white water rafting on the Nantahala River Gorge, and guided horseback riding, fishing, mountain biking, canoeing, and kayaking.
What to Bring Life vests, food, and bug spray. 877/247-5535; www.fallingwatersresort.com; yurts $69, $5 for each additional person.
The Shady Dell
Sleeping quarters One of the nine classic trailers at this RV campground, each decked out in 1950’s styles, whether with red linoleum or leopard carpeting. What You Get A phonograph and a selection of hit records, a black-and-white TV, period periodicals, and Dot’s Diner next door for burgers and shakes. What to Bring Not much—tin-can living is tight. 520/432-3567; theshadydell.com; trailers from $45.
Battleship New Jersey
Camden, New Jersey
Sleeping quarters Triple-decker bunk beds on a World War II battleship, the biggest in U.S. history, permanently docked in the Delaware River. What You Get Reveille at 6:30 a.m., taps at 11:30 p.m., chow-line breakfast and dinner in the crew’s mess hall, and a simulated ride over Iwo Jima in a Seahawk prop plane. What to Bring Sleeping bags and sailor caps. 866/877-6262; battleshipnewjersey.org; $50 per person, including breakfast and dinner.
Kokopelli’s Cave B&B
Farmington, New Mexico
Sleeping quarters A former geologist’s station bored into a 65-million-year-old sandstone cliff. What You Get A bedroom and living room (with petrified wood and plant fragments visible in the walls), stocked kitchen, flagstone balcony with views of the La Plata River Valley, waterfall-style shower, and hot tub. What to Bring Easy-to-haul luggage—the entrance path is steep. 505/326-2461; bbonline.com; $280 for a family of four.