Editor’s Note: Time for an update! I’ve been cabin camping recently. (Well, sort of. It’s a long story.)
Many national and state park campgrounds have a smattering of cabins dotted in amongst the campsites. Private campgrounds and rustic resorts get into the act too, offering tent cabins, solid-wall shelters, unmoving trailers, full-fledged vacation cottages, and even angularly-challenged yurts for rent.
But are these better than a tent of one’s own? That depends on the cabin or yurt you’re renting. Certainly it’s more expensive to rent a cabin or yurt or whatever. So what do you get for that money?
Tent Cabins and Yurts
I hate tent cabins. They’re always tiny, they rarely have (or allow the use of) heaters, and they never have private bathrooms. Sure, I could set up a camp toilet in a tent cabin (maybe, if there was enough floor space for a bucket). But if I’m going to do that, I might as well save $100 per night and camp in my own damn tent–it’s about the same size as a Yosemite-style tent cabin. The only thing that tent cabins have going for them are real beds and (sometimes) electric lights. Meh.
Yurts are rounded tent cabins that often have lots of floor space. Which makes them better, because I can walk around the bed without tripping over my own shoes. Some yurts even have in-the-cabin toilets (though they may be compost toilets rather than traditional flushies)–always a huge win not to be forced to stumble across a campground with a flashlight at 3am. Yurt prices vary widely depending on the location and luxury of the yurt in question. While as a rule I prefer solid-sided shelters, I’ll stay in a yurt in a pinch.
Hiker’s shelters, such as those that dot the Appalachian Trail, are 3-or-less-sided wooden shelters with wooden platforms onto which a camper can roll out a sleeping mat and bag. The shelter may or may not be weatherproof, might not be all that clean, and could be full to the brim with other campers by the time you get to it. Hiking shelters have no bathroom facilities, no water, and no heat. On the plus side, your piece of plywood will be free of charge. As a traveler with pain, I vote no on hiking shelters.
Camping cabins and cottages are permanent structures made out of wood or stone. They keep the weather on the outside and the heat (which may be part of the package, or may take the form of a propane or space heater brought from home) on the inside where it belongs. They almost never have air conditioning, and only sometimes have indoor toilets. Those without bathrooms often have conveniently located corners where you can set up a camp toilet and rig a sheet in front of it as a screen. In California state parks, most camping cabins are strictly BYO bedding, towels, cookware, cooler, and usually stovetop.
On a good week, I can live with all that plus hiking across the campground to the shower, so long as I get to sleep inside every night. Your mileage may vary.
All these options (except for the hiking shelters) require advance reservations almost every night of the year. That goes double for popular campgrounds, and quadruple for popular campgrounds in high season or over holiday weekends. Only healthy people can enjoy the luxury of unplanned camping–if you can’t sleep on bare ground or in the bucket seat of your car and wake up refreshed the next day, join me in planning at least a month or four ahead.
With any of these options, keep firmly in mind that you are still camping. Camping runs much, much tougher for travelers with pain (and any other disability) than vacationing at a motel, inn, or hotel. Expect to walk lots, get dirty, sleep poorly, eat questionably, and endure less-than-ideal bathroom and shower facilities. I usually plan at least two full days of at-home recovery time after a stint of yurt or cabin camping.