You don’t have to choose between woodsy scenery and comfortable ecotourism. These four destinations let you appreciate both.
By Diane Pham
Getting out into the thick of nature no longer requires that you sleep with bugs and give up modern creature comforts. Architects across the United States have transformed traditional drafty log cabins into enviable vacation escapes that bring together modern amenities and the beauty of nature. Featuring everything from recycled materials to sustainable power sources, these eco-friendly gems are the picture of ingenuity, seamlessly integrating respect for the environment with technological innovation and cutting-edge design. Sounds a lot like the Chevrolet Volt!
Scott Newick’s Off-Grid Cabin
With its 18 crystal clear lakes, trout-filled streams and a plethora of flora and fauna, it’s no wonder New York City stylist and interior designer Scott Newick fell in love with the tiny hamlet of Yulan in upstate New York. Inspired by the 1973 eco-classic Handmade Houses: A Guide to the Woodbutcher's Art, Newick spent two years creating a private weekend escape where he could take in the beauty of the Catskills Mountains (he previously stayed on the 50-acre property in a tent before it burned down!). With modern lines and an open, airy plan balanced with a rough and rustic look, this 14’x14’ eco-friendly cabin is the perfect amalgamation of the indoors and out. Recycled materials and an off-grid energy system, also make this cool, modern cabin light on the earth.
Yulan is nestled firmly in the Catskill Mountains, making it an ideal retreat for canoeing, rafting, fishing, hiking, biking and simply enjoying the splendor of upstate New York. While the wind chills and heavy snow drive people away during the winter, locals and city dwellers pack into their cars in droves to appreciate the outdoors in every other season.
Places to stay nearby:
Bradstan Country Hotel
Beaverkill Valley Inn
Olson Kundig Architects’ Prefab Cabin
Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Few landscapes are as diverse as Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Here the Hoh Rainforest greets the Pacific Ocean, and a spectacular range of snow-capped mountains hugs the scene from behind. It’s no wonder that the architects at Olson Kundig wanted to create a cozy place of respite for a client wanting immersing themselves in the beauty of the area. Prefabricated offsite to reduce waste and respect the land, the angular modern cabin was placed on four stilts to minimize its footprint and protect it from occasional floods (there is a river nearby). The cabin doesn’t slack when it comes to keeping its inhabitants comfortable either. The Olson Kundig design has two levels, with all the amenities of a home back in the city.
Preservation efforts have kept the Olympic Peninsula romantically wild and full of intrigue. National Geographic included the area in its book Drives of a Lifetime, which details the world’s greatest places to tour by car. Adventurers will feel right at home here whether hiking, whale watching from the coast or admiring the nearly 30 waterfalls in the area.
Simple Shelter’s Shinto-inspired Cabin
Sited in the middle of a 40-acre field just southeast of Hollister (not far from Carmel), this Shinto-inspired cabin built by Simple Shelter Texas roots itself in minimalism to let the elements shape what it means to live with nature. The tiny cabin was constructed from scratch, starting with a pile of reclaimed fencing and wood built into a sleek A-frame dwelling. The structure was then mounted on 24″ reclaimed utility poles to hover above its grassy site, with an entrance provided via wood ladder.
In true Shinto spirit, the cabin keeps its space clean and pure, holding only a bed, a few chairs and wood burning stove for heat. The cabin is a perfect place for rest, contemplation and taking in the fresh air and sun of the Golden State.
The Porter Family Island Cabin
20 miles off the coast of Maine
With solar panels, south-facing windows, a screen porch and plenty of expansive sea vistas, this tiny eco-retreat makes the most of its isolated New England island locale. The project was borne out of love by a father and his designer daughter, and the distinctive cabin is one of only 20 family homes on Ragged Island, a tiny island covered in unwieldy plants and fragrant flowers. Solar power, a rainwater catchment tank and a composting toilet keep the family’s waste to a minimum — something crucial as it is located 20 miles from the mainland. The home, built by Alex Scott Porter Design keeps all of the conveniences of a regular home (including hot water) and some really sleek built-in furniture.
The island is part of an eight-island archipelago where rare birds and plant life outnumber the local folk. If you’re looking for a quiet place without all the pretense, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Places to stay on nearby Matinicus Island:
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Diane Pham is a freelance writer and a senior editor at Inhabitat.com.