Back in 1981, Bill Compher was surveying the land he’d bought near Mount Rainier when he realized that from the forest floor he couldn’t see the mountain. “So I climbed this old-growth cedar,” he says, “like Jack and the Beanstalk, and when I got up there, about 50, 60 feet up, it was another world. The views did it for me—I decided to build a treehouse.”
Piece by piece, with the adventurous landowner risking life and limb while climbing a ladder of 2 x 4’s, the treehouse was born. Eventually the surrounding trees grew and blocked the view, so he built another. “Higher up this time,” he says, “about 100 feet up. It’s an octagon treehouse we call the Observatory.” To reach it, you climb an 82-foot spiral staircase encircling a Douglas fir—the “Stairway to Heaven,” built by Compher’s then-16-year-old son as a summer project. His son, by the way, is named Cedar.
For 19 years, Compher has offered tours and lodging at his Ashford, Wash., compound, Cedar Creek Treehouse, which now also includes a “Floating Treehouse” suspended 75 feet in the air by a web of steel cables lashed among five trees. He’s not the only one: In Washington, treehouse lodging has become an incredibly popular niche market for travelers in search of a unique vacation experience.
Few have done more to pique public interest in treehouse lodging than Fall City resident Pete Nelson, the host of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters. For the show, Nelson travels the country building high-end treehouse manors for people like Dale Earnhart Jr.; he even built a treehouse recording studio in Woodinville—Bear Creek Studios—christened by Cee-Lo Green. Nelson got his start back in Fall City at TreeHouse Point, a six-treehouse compound that’s so in-demand you have to book weekend stays 60 days in advance. The lot’s first treehouse was completed in 2006, the “Temple of the Blue Moon.” It earned the name because the first night Nelson wandered the property, looking for the right tree to build his first house in, he noticed the glow of the full moon illuminating a giant spruce, which turned out to be the perfect tree for the venture. The five houses that followed are all gorgeous works of art—some are two stories tall, many have balconies.
Both Cedar Creek and TreeHouse Point require plenty of advance notice for booking, but even if you aren’t the planning type, a treehouse stay could be in your future. Surprisingly, Airbnb has a lot of cheap, on-the-fly treehousing options. Whidbey Island, Kingston, Auburn, and even Seattle have listings for cheap, beautiful treehouses, all $150 or less per night. And down in Sedro-Woolley you can stay in the Stump House, built by the famous SunRay Kelly, for only $100.
Kelly, a Hobbit-like man who wanders around barefoot sporting a giant white beard and a floppy conical hat, has built countless whimsical druidic structures on his nine-acre plot, including a yoga studio with a door resembling a vulva, a hermit hut, and his iconic Sky House, a four-story castle-like home built, like all his other structures, using only natural materials. Despite its relative modesty, Kelly calls the Stump House one of his favorites on the property, a cozy, wood-fired one-room home with running water, nestled next to a pond stocked with fish.
For those who don’t like roughing it, however, you may be better off at the relatively luxurious TreeHouse Point, because as one Stump House guest noted, “If you are fussy or expect all the creature comforts, this isn’t the place for you.” Interesting, since plenty of creatures seem comfortable in trees—you, possibly among them this summer.