The high life: Vacationing in a tree house
These tree-house lodgings put a whole new spin on the term 'high-rise hotel.'
By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- People always talk about returning to their roots, but some take that to the extreme, emulating their simian ancestors by living, however temporarily, in the trees.

At some lodges around the country, travelers can rest their weary bones high up among sheltering pine, spruce and birch trees. The Oak Room at the Plaza has nothin' on them.

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The rooms are surprisingly comfortable, even posh, with electric lights, cooking facilities, even plumbing - and, of course, bird's-eye views.

"We have wonderful scenery," says Myron McKee, who owns the River of Life Farm in Dora, Mo. "We're very remote, in the middle of nowhere and it's just beautiful here."

About 12 years ago, he realized the old family farm was a "gold mine" of fly-fishing potential, with rainbow trout swimming wild in the North Fork of the White River, one of the best trout-fishing sites in the country. The farm has about a mile of bank on the river.

McKee started with cabins but soon set his sights higher, into some of the tall trees that grow on his 275-acre property. To date, he has built five tree houses. (See a photo gallery of tree houses.)

Child's play

The origins of Michael Garnier's Out 'n' About Treesort in Takilma, Ore., began with a playhouse he built for his kids in a 400-year-old black oak. He made tree houses the feature of his south Oregon bed and breakfast because he figured that people would find them fun.

"In the summertime, we fill up," he says. "People come from all over the U.S. to stay here, from all over the world."

He now has nine different lodgings. They range from simple rooms with little more than beds and a few ... well, sticks of furniture, to more elaborate suites with clawfoot tubs, sofas and refrigerators.

Out 'n' About has cool features among the tree branches, such as platforms, forts and swings. There also are seven swinging bridges that are between 8 feet and 32 feet off the ground. Garnier also has installed a ropes course to climb and a giant zip line that the adventurous can clip onto and glide down from tree tops to ground.

Garnier sometimes helps build tree houses for others - traveling as far as Hainan in the South China Sea to build one for a resort run by the Chinese government.

Tree houses can cost "more than a regular house to build," he says, between $50,000 and $500,000.

Their business is growing

Terry and Patsy Miller ran other B&Bs before opening the Treehouse Cottages in 1992 in Eureka Springs, Ark. They have two sites - one in town and a 33-acre pine forest outside the city.

The tree house cottages have plaster interior walls and painted or stained exteriors in soft pastels. All are custom designed and may boast such features as stained-glass windows, queen size beds, Jacuzzis, fireplaces and Tiffany chandeliers.

The town of Eureka Springs is an attraction itself. Native Americans gathered here for the waters long before the springs drew European-American visitors. The town's heyday was in the late 19th century when the spring's reputation for curing illness contributed to its prosperity and the population approached 20,000. Most of its high Victorian buildings were erected back then.

Running up and down steep hills, it resembles an Alpine village with its streets (it is said that it is the only city in the United States where no street meets another at a right angle) Visitors still journey there - as evidenced by its 80 or so restaurants for a town of 2,000.

Call of the wild

Most visitors come to tree-house hotels, however, to experience nature, and that they get. The three hotels listed here are all located in vibrant natural settings with deep forests and abundant wildlife. The perspective one gets, high up in the branches, enables guests to enjoy birding and other wildlife viewing without experiencing that annoying crook in the neck.

The lodges are on birding migratory routes as well, so spring and autumn can bring waves of songbirds and other migrants through.

But whatever the season, non-acrophobic visitors enjoy the novelty, the comfort and the beauty of these unusual accommodations. (See a photo gallery of tree houses.)

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