I love the outdoors. I adore exploring new hiking trails and breathing the fresh air. I’m happy to cook my food outside and to take a dip in a river or lake and call it a bath.
But, when it comes to sleeping, I’m all about the great indoors. Sleep in a tent? Outside? On the ground? No thanks.
My aversion to camping squashed many of my family’s travel dreams—until a few years ago, when I discovered cabin camping. We tried it, loved it, and never looked back.
If you like the idea of camping but can’t get over the lack of bed, plumbing and electricity, cabin camping might be for you. Here’s how the not-ready-for-a-tent crowd can rock a successful cabin camping trip.
What is cabin camping?
Cabin camping lets you enjoy some of the best aspects of camping without the discomforts. Instead of a tent, you sleep in a shelter, which can be as basic as a shack or even have its own kitchen, bathroom and porch swing. It still feels rustic and close to nature, but you don’t have to worry about weather or bringing (or buying) as much gear, which makes it great for beginning campers.
Cabin camping has been in the “best kept secret” category of travel—most people think of camping specifically as sleeping in a tent—but the pandemic has changed that. Camping in cabins (and RVs) has become a popular way to vacation because it makes it so easy to stay apart from other people.
Camping cabins are widely available; they can be found in state parks throughout the U.S. Established campground chains, such as KOA or Jellystone, also rent cabins in addition to campsites for tents and RVs. You’ll typically find fully-equipped cabins with kitchen equipment, a grill or fire pit and even indoor amenities like cable TV. Campgrounds usually have an on-site pool and other kid-friendly activities, such as organized games or crafts. You’ll also have the advantage of on-site staff for questions, emergencies and maintenance issues. If you’re unsure about being out in the wild—or keeping the kids entertained—this can be a great option.
Cabin rental prices vary widely, from as little as $30 a night up to hundreds of dollars for something with multiple bedrooms and lots of amenities. We see a lot of cabins that sleep four to six people for around $200 a night. Location, time of year, and day of the week all factor into pricing. As with most kinds of travel, prices are lower during the week and in the off-season. You may find slightly lower rates at cabins located inside parks but they tend to be no-frills and book up far in advance.
My family has camped in everything from bare-bones shelters just a step up from a tent to luxurious little houses. Our best family vacation memories are from cabin camping trips.
How to find a camping cabin
You may be surprised at how common camping cabins are—you can rent one in just about any area where tent camping is available. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy to find. Your best bet is to start with a destination, then start researching cabin options.
In the U.S. many national and state parks and national forests offer cabins to rent. Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska has simple cabins that lack power or running water and can only be reached by boat or seaplane—but are surrounded by berry bushes and wildlife like otters and black bears. Some of Oregon’s state parks have deluxe yurts with showers and televisions. There may also be private cabins near public parks. There’s no central listing or booking service for these cabins, so finding the right one means doing a bunch of online research.
In addition to campground chains, you can also check out campgrounds that cater to RVers, like the Thousand Trails network. Many have cabins, tiny houses (basically a mini-cabin on wheels) or yurts to rent. The YMCA also has a handful of campgrounds that offer cabin rentals dotted around the country—but you may need to do some digital sleuthing to find them.
Finally, there are the vacation rental standbys. Airbnb and Vrbo let you filter search results for cabins, though in many cases you may just be getting a smaller house.
What to look for in a cabin
Location and budget are the two biggest factors when choosing a cabin. To avoid spending unnecessary hours in the car, make sure your cabin is near your activities of choice. If a listing says “conveniently located near,” make sure to double-check the distance on a map. We once rented a cabin 25 miles from the park we wanted to hike. It didn’t sound very far, but getting there and back took nearly an hour each way—not how we wanted to spend our days.
If you’re budget-sensitive, don’t forget to include the cost of park admission fees, fishing licenses, and other activities in the cost of your weekend. They can add up quickly, as can meals.
Look at cabin photos and descriptions carefully, especially if you have specific needs. Most cabins will include separate bedrooms and living areas, but some will have an open floor plan, which means no privacy (and possibly a very early bedtime) for parents.
Common cabin amenities include heat, a bathroom, and a small kitchen stocked with basic cookware are common cabin amenities. But make sure to read the fine print—I learned the hard way that “access to a bathroom” is not the same thing as having a bathroom in your cabin. And just because your cabin has a kitchen doesn’t mean it has a cooktop with four burners, an oven, and a dishwasher. Cooking equipment may be very basic, i.e. a skillet, a saucepan, and a mixing bowl.
What to pack for cabin camping
You generally don’t need as much gear for cabin camping as for tent camping. But cabins aren’t luxury hotels, either.
Sheets and Towels
Linens are generally not included with cabin rentals, and if they are, it’s often for a fee. Be sure to pack pillowcases, blankets or sleeping bags, and towels. Check bed sizes in advance, so you don’t end up trying to squeeze a twin sheet onto a full-sized bed. Throw a dish towel or two into the mix as well.
Beyond basic hand soap in the bathrooms, your cabin probably won’t include personal care products such as shampoo or conditioner. Don’t expect a full cabinet of toilet paper, either. If you’re staying for more than a couple of days, you’ll want to bring extra.
Don’t assume anything will be included in the cabin kitchen if it’s not specifically listed. We always bring a tote stocked with a good skillet, all-purpose knife, cutting board, potato peeler, bottle opener, seasonings, foil, tongs, and extra trash bags. We also bring plastic plates and cups for the kids, instead of the oh-so-breakable glasses that are normally included.
Scope out the outdoor cooking/fire situation before you leave home. Does the cabin come with a gas grill or will you have to bring charcoal and fire starters? Is firewood included? If not, check for restrictions on bringing your own firewood, especially if you’re going out of state. Some campgrounds have restrictions in place to protect their ecosystems from invasive insects/
Though some camping areas have dining options or small stores onsite, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress by planning your menu in advance. List out your meals, snacks and grocery needs. We usually bring our food from home; you might find it easier to scope out a grocery store near your cabin and do a supply run on your way in.
You’re still camping! So don’t forget your first aid kit, flashlights, insect repellent and sunscreen. Long skewers or sticks for marshmallow roasting are important. Cards or board games are fun for downtime.
My most consistent “Wish I’d brought that” has been bikes for my kids and a hammock for me. They’re on my list for our next cabin-camping trip.