Hotels schmotels. If you want to make your vacay extra-extraordinary—you’ve got to make your overnight accommodations as much a destination as any place else. So whether you want to spend the night on a battleship, sleep on a big cat refuge, or hunker down in a treehouse, there are oddities galore when it comes to vacation rentals. Read on to find out about some of the coolest spots to book with your brood.
Take to the Trees - Cave Junction, OR
Make like a Swiss Family Robinson and take to the trees! This sprawling "Treesort" just north of the California-Oregon border will make your child's every treehouse dream come true. All of the accommodations here are up in the branches, accessible only by wooden stairs and suspension bridges. If that's not enough to satisfy your little Tarzan, there are also a slew of zip lines for every level of adventurer, as well as a giant rope swing, tree-to-tree slacklines (that are close the the ground), a swimming pond, and a riding stable with plenty of horses ready to hit the trails.
Rates start at $150 a night Note: All of the treehouses are family-friendly except the "Majestree" house, which is recommended for families with children over 5 due to its height.
Go Off The Grid in Paradise - Mt. View, HI
If your idea of a vacation means starry night skies and the soothing sounds of the jungle all around you, this cozy Hawaiian eco-cottage is the place to be. Designed to be as off-grid as possible while still maintaining a sense of luxury (meaning there's running water, wifi and electricity but the whole place has a tiny ecological "footprint" and is solar-powered), this small home was featured on HGTV's "Tiny Paradise" and boasts unique (and repurposed) features in every nook and cranny. Perched eight feet above the ground, the home comes complete with a full kitchen, bathroom, living room and loft space bedroom—as well as a swinging bridge that leads to a quiet sitting area in the trees. There's also a jungle zip line (!), outdoor shower and ground-level hangout space. The entire place may be small, but with two doors and 18 windows overlooking the surrounding Ohia and Hapu'u forest, you'll have plenty of space in the views.
Note: This home is recommended for kids seven and up because of the inherent risks associated with the loft, swinging bridge and zip line.
Rate starts at $99 a night, with a 4-person maximum.
Sleep in a Covered Wagon - Bear Lake, UT
Once upon a time, explorers headed west in rickety covered wagons to search for new frontiers. Today, you can get a taste of that same experience—minus the tough parts and the actual moving caravan—by staying at this upscale resort near the Utah-Idaho border. The resort boasts a fleet of replica covered wagons luxuriously outfitted with queen sized beds and bunk beds for the kids (a shared bathhouse offers showers and toilets). If you or your little campers want a little more privacy, you can opt for the Grand Tent, a safari-style tent with wooden floors, queen-size beds and a full private bathroom with a waterfall shower and tub.
During the day, you'll be free to explore Bear Lake, which is a hub for all kinds of water sports, including fishing, waterskiing, boating and swimming. The surrounding mountains offer plenty of trails to hike, and there are some spectacular nearby caves to explore. At night, head to the ranch's own Campfire Grill for a full-course dinner, where you'll dine in an open-air dining room overlooking a communal fire pit. After that, have some s'mores by the fire and marvel at the endless night skies. It'll make you thankful those explorers made it out here.
Rates start at $174 per night and vary according to tent/wagon choice.
Take a Safari in the States - Eureka Springs, AR
Does the idea of sleeping a stone's throw from a lion (without being in any danger) excite you? Then Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a sprawling animal rescue center that specializes in big cats, should be next on your bucket list. The 450-acre refuge, which calls itself the "Africa of the Ozarks," is home to almost 100 wild felines, including lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats and leopards (there are also bears, a monkey and a macaw). The refuge's mission is to provide a home for abandoned, abused or neglected big cats, with its visitor program (including its overnight experiences) contributing to this cause.
The refuge offers walking tours of its facility and grounds, but it's the overnight stays that make this a destination for people from all over the country. The safari-like accommodations—you can choose from suites, tents and a treehouse—all let you sleep within earshot of the resident carnivores, with several of the abodes actually overlooking the animal habitats.* So while you might be just 15 minutes from the town of Eureka Springs, you'll feel more like you're in Kenya than Arkansas. Overnight stays also come with two complimentary tickets to the refuge, where you and your kids can take a guided tour and attend keeper-led classes or talks.
Rates start at $125 per night.
*Hint: We recommend booking the Siberian Suite or the Treehouse, both of which overlook Floyd and Tigger's habitat. Kids must be over five to stay in the Treehouse.
Fall Asleep On the Water - AZ or CA
If you've got a brood of super-swimmers and are looking for a trip that'll get you off-land for a while, a houseboat rental is a perfect way to give your kids their sea (or lake) legs. Not sure where to go? This West Coast rental company offers a huge fleet of houseboats for rent in serene and quiet lakes across California and Arizona, including docks in Lake Powell, Lake Mead, Lake Oroville and Lake Havasu. The boats range from 50-footers that sleep four to 6-bedroom luxury boats that'll sleep 14. All of the boats have kitchens, living rooms, above-deck seating, and waterslides to make for fun plunges into the water—as well as canopied top levels so you can relax and watch those little swimmers in style.
Rates start at $2,625 for a 3-night stay.
A Yurt with a View - Zion National Park, UT
If you love the idea of camping in solitude but want something with a little more ... walls, this spacious yurt sits at the edge of Zion National Park and offers glampers something that's a step up from camping but still rustic enough to feel adventurous. A dirt road takes you to the home, which stands perched by itself on a mountainside overlooking the entrance to the world-famous Zion Narrows Upper Trailhead, known as Narrows Hike. There are no other homes as far as you can see, and the night skies at this place rival what you'd see in a planetarium.
But be prepared for a real off-the-grid experience. While the yurt is outfitted with a queen-size bed, three bunk beds, a kitchen and a bathroom with a shower and toilet—there is no plumbing, electricity, outlets, generator, Internet, satellite phone or cell phone reception. So be sure your little naturalists are ready for the plunge back to basics.
Rates start at $267 per night. Recommended for older kids (and experienced hikers) because of the remoteness of the place.
Overnight on a Battleship -Corpus Christi, TX
Ahoy, sailors! Grab your sleeping bag and pillow and spend the night aboard the U.S.S. Lexington, a retired aircraft carrier that has been docked in the Corpus Christi harbor since 1991 as a living history museum. Overnights on the battleship mean a unique first-person lesson in history: Not only will you get to bunk in the crew's original quarters; you'll also get a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship and hear stories from its past (the ship was heavily used during World War 2). Overnighters are also treated to a nighttime scavenger hunt, a movie in the 3D MEGA Theater, a few good old-fashioned ghost stories, a flag ceremony and two trips through the chow line.
Hint: The ship is large and there are stairs, so wear comfortable shoes.
Rate: $55 per person (for one night). Kids must be five and up to attend the sleepover.
A House Devoted to Candy - Orlando, FL
The littles will forget all about Disneyworld when they step foot into this gigantic Orlando-area vacation rental that is, basically, every kid's dream come true. Whether they're swimming in the ice cream cone-shaped pool, hanging in the ball pit bedroom, or doing karaoke in the disco, your kids will pretty much be in heaven here. The 10-bedroom home has everything a kid would want (and then some), including an arcade, movie theatre, mini-golf course, and life-sized backyard Candyland game. The pool has a giant chocolate bottle squirting water down the waterslide; there's a carnival-themed room complete with games and prizes, and a laser tag room that lets kids battle it out.
Rates start at $3,816 for a 2-night stay and vary by date. (It may seem exorbitant, but considering that the home sleeps up to 52 people, it could be do-able if you split the cost with the group.)
Stay In a Historic Lighthouse - Cape Cod, MA
For a true New England vacation with a killer view, you can have this entire historic lighthouse and its adjacent home all to yourself. Located at the tip of Wings Neck Point along the western coast of Cape Cod, the lighthouse was built in 1849 and completely renovated in 2003. Formerly a U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse, the light tower still stands next to the original three-bedroom keepers home. Kids will love climbing the whirling stairs and subsequent ladder to reach the glass top of the lighthouse, where they'll get a 360-degree view of the Atlantic Ocean and the adjacent rocky shores. And, when just looking at the water isn't enough, there is a private sandy beach nearby where kids can swim in the gentle waves of the bay.
Rates start at $2,500 per week and vary by season. The home can accommodate up to eight people.
Go Back in Time - San Luis Obispo, CA
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in the late 1800’s? Well, you can actually stay at an old townsite in San Luis Obispo, California. At Old Edna Townsite, you can meet the mayor, Pattea Torrence, and roam free around the historic, flower-filled town. You’ll see a large farm and garden, the Macgregor Vineyard, a creamery, the Blacksmith shop, the Bluebelly Barn, Almas Reading Room and Sextant Wine Tasting Room, among other lovingly restored buildings. Spend the night at the Suite Edna Guest House, a lovely, well-decorated three-bedroom farmhouse, built in 1908.
Play All Day at a Gaming House - Orlando, FL
This 15-bedroom mansion devoted to games will wow grown-ups as much as it does their little gamers. Built by the same couple who made The Sweet Escape, this bastion to all-things-playable lets guests walk inside their favorite board and video games. It's a gamer's paradise: There's a LEGO room covered in foam blocks; a Ms. Pac-Man room that'll make you feel like it's 1985 (it comes with a multi-cade arcade machine and an Atari 2600); and a CLUE room that also works as an escape room. There's also a huge pool with a lazy river and waterslide; a human whack-a-mole game that's just begging for social media likes; a human bowling game that puts people inside Zorb balls to knock down giant bowling pins; and a giant dartboard that uses Velcro soccer balls instead of darts.
Rates start at $1,395 a night (sleeps up to 54 people).
Underground in a Hobbit House - Nashville, TN
Lord of the Rings fans will geek out at the opportunity to stay a night in a hobbit house. These underground pods—located on a crop farm near Nashville, Tennessee—look like little hills from afar; but get closer and see the wooden walls and the giant round doorways. There are two pods for sleeping (for up to four guests each), with separate pods for the kitchen and dining rooms. Communal barbecue and sitting areas are located around the eco-farm to bring people together. Kids will love exploring the trails and looking for waterfalls (there are two of them) across the farm's 15 acres. There's also a chicken coop where you are free to collect fresh eggs for breakfast.
Rates are currently listed at $365 per night.
Slumber in the Nicest Cave Around - Parthenon, AR
This is no bat cave. Beckham Creek Cave, a luxury cave dwelling (!) deep in the Ozark Mountains, features everything you'd expect in a modern villa—only it's inside a cave. This means you'll have four bedrooms, four bathrooms, a full gourmet kitchen, and multiple living areas with lofts and balconies ... plus exposed rock walls all around and a heck of an echo. Originally constructed as a fallout shelter, this upscale abode now rents for up to $1,600 per night and has been featured by media outlets worldwide. Watch TV on a 72-inch flat screen bolted on the rock wall; shower in the luxurious rain showers; or just hang on the couch after a day of Ozark mountain hiking, horseback riding or canoeing—you'll feel like the coolest caveman (or woman) ever.
Note: One Yelp reviewer warned that it does get cold, despite the online promises of "thermal heating," so bring warm clothes. This is a cave, after all.
Rates start at $1,200 per night.
Dome Dwelling - Woodbridge, NY
Got a whole crew in tow? Check out Glamping Hub’s Unique Dome, Caravan, and Tiny House Rental for a group vacation in the Catskill Mountains, located in New York. With accommodations for up to 25 people, all sleeping quarters are spread out over 12 acres. There’s a communal outdoor kitchen, an outdoor shower and bath, fire pit, pizza oven and bathroom available. Kids will love swimming in the pond and adults will enjoy watching from the wood-fired cedar hot tub. The property, perfect for multi-generational families, also has bunnies, sheep, and goats.
Go Rustic in a Hut - Page, AZ
Have you ever thought about how cool it would be to stay in a Navajo hut, with an earthen floor and a wood-burning stove? The rustic Native American-owned Traditional Navajo Hut Rental for a Secluded Vacation near Page, Arizona accommodates four family members and has a fully stocked bathroom nearby. An outside fire pit is where you’ll cook your dinner under the moonlight. The best part: you’ll wake up to a traditional Navajo breakfast complete with blue corn porridge, fresh fruit and ranch coffee or tea sourced from the land. Keep a look out for roaming sheep, sheepdogs, and horses before you set off for a visit to the nearby Grand Canyon.
Sleep Where Elvis Slept - Tulepo, MS
Tupelo, Mississippi is home to more than the birthplace of Elvis Presley, it’s also where you can find The Hester House. This historic home was once Elvis’ best friend’s house and Elvis himself has spent the night here. Your family can rent this four-bedroom home and enjoy easy access to The Elvis Presley Birthplace Trail, a walking/biking path that connects downtown to the birthplace of Elvis; the farmers’ market; the Elvis Presley Homecoming Statue, Healthworks! Kids Museum and the Tupelo Community Theatre at the Lyric on Broadway.
Stay in a Haunted Hotel - Cheyenne, WY
If you're going to stay in a hotel, you may as well make it a haunted one! In downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming, you’ll find the beautiful Historic Plains Hotel, a National Historic Landmark, built in 1911. This hotel is full of local Wyoming art, stained glass, and several websites claim paranormal activity at the hotel—including Trip Advisor reviews. Visitors to Cheyenne can embark on a Cheyenne Trolley Ghost Tour to learn more about the Historic Plains Hotel ghost activity and the cowboys and Indians of the wild west. Jill Pope, who has worked for Visit Cheyenne and the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, has written two books on haunted Cheyenne and she leads tours and lectures that include the Historic Plains Hotel. Whether you believe in ghosts or just love hearing folklore, a night at the Historic Plains Hotel will be a night to remember.
— Melissa Heckscher and Wendy Altschuler