Leafy lodgings: Your bunk is in the branches at Treehouse Point

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ISSAQUAH, Wash. -- A squirrel glances over as he scurries down the trunk of a nearby tree -- the same tree we both slept in the previous night.

It's morning and we're both still in the tree -- I am on a treehouse patio, sipping hot chocolate as the summer sun streams through the forest; he is on the side of the tree that's a central support for a treehouse cottage called The Nest.

Welcome to Treehouse Point, a bed and breakfast where your overnight accommodation is one of six treehouses on four acres of Pacific Northwest forest.

If you go

Tree house hotels

Tree house hotels exist all over the world, but in the United States they seem to be more plentiful on the West Coast. There are, however, exceptions.

In Rohrersville, Md., about a three-hour drive from Pittsburgh, there's the Treehouse Camp at Maple Tree Campground.

Each tree house lodging site offers different amenities when it comes to toilets, showers, etc. Rules also vary on whether these tree house hotels allow children or pets.

Here are some of the tree house overnight sites available in the continental United States:

• Junglewood Vacation Treehouse, Raystown Lake, Pa., 1-814-599-2650, www.shybeaverlakeviewest.com/jwood.htm, $240-$255 per night.

• The Treehouse Camp at Maple Tree Campground, Rohrersville, Md., 1-301-432-5585, thetreehousecamp.com, $43-$72 per night.

• The Original Treehouse Cottages, Eureka Springs, Ark., 1-479-253-8667, www.treehousecottages.com, $149-$169 per night.

• TreeHouse Point B&B, Issaquah, Wash., 1-425-441-8087, www.treehousepoint.com, $195-$275 per night. Daytime tours ($15 per person) are available to see as many of the eight tree houses as possible at 11 a.m. and noon weekdays, by appointment only. To schedule, email info@treehousepoint.com. For accommodation reservation availability, email general@treehousepoint.com.

• Out 'n' About TreeHouse Treesort, Takilma, Ore., 1-541-592-2208, www.treehouses.com, $120-$300 per night.

• Free Spirit Spheres, Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, Canada, 1-250-757-9445, www.freespiritspheres.com, $145-$235 per night.

Near Fall City, Wash., about 30 minutes east of downtown Seattle, Treehouse Point was opened by treehouse builder Pete Nelson in 2006, but it has gained national prominence in recent months thanks to the Animal Planet TV show "Treehouse Masters" (10 p.m. Friday).

Mr. Nelson, 51, stars in the series, traveling the country to build elaborate treehouses for clients. Some even have electricity and plumbing. Most of the ones at Treehouse Point, which has also been featured in episodes of the show, are more rustic.

While some of the treehouses come with a toilet called an Incinolet -- rather than using water, a flush activates a fire that burns up any deposited refuse -- none currently has running water.

A new bathhouse is being built, and the recently completed Burl treehouse should have a standard water toilet by next summer after a new septic system is installed. The treehouses with Incinolets also will be converted to conventional water toilets, according to Judy Nelson, Pete's wife.

"The Incinolets are really hard to clean and keep clean," Mrs. Nelson said. "The cleaners can't stand them. And I know people love running water. So we're excited about making the switch. Just with Pete being gone a lot, it's taken a back seat."

He has been on the road building treehouses, their construction chronicled on "Treehouse Masters," which drew 1.6 million viewers for a recent episode. That's a strong ratings number for an Animal Planet series that ensures the program will be renewed for a second season. And that attention via a nationally televised cable show has resulted in booked treehouses until September.

"Our phone is ringing all the time, and I think the only downside has been the people coming onto the property unannounced and wanting to walk around," Mrs. Nelson said. "People are funny. They say, 'Is Peter here?' And we have to tell them, 'No, he's off building for the damn show so you're not going to see him.' "

A new manager had the idea to offer tours of Treehouse Point by appointment for visitors who are not staying overnight. Treehouse Point will grow by two more treehouse rooms within the next couple of years.

Mrs. Nelson admitted to some nervousness about having their enterprise filmed for a TV series.

"Before Pete and I saw the first episode, we hadn't seen anything so we didn't know what the show was going to be like," she said. "We're so happy about it. It's really positive and good for all ages. The feedback from family and friends and people we run into has been so positive."

That's particularly surprising to Mr. Nelson, who generally abhors reality TV.

"I'm thrilled and excited, and I'm still pinching myself to think we've got a TV show," he said. "I don't like reality shows -- I'm repulsed by them -- and yet I'm fully excited about having one of my own."

Mr. Nelson began his dream of building treehouses in 1987 and moved from Colorado to Washington with Judy that same year. He built homes and dabbled in publishing coffee-table books filled with pictures of treehouses. His first book, "Treehouses: The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb," was published in 1994.

"It was a dream of mine that started it, essentially," Mr. Nelson said. "It was 1987 and it was like suddenly being taken by something so strongly that you can't sleep and you just see it unfold before your eyes. At that time, I said, I want to be a treehouse builder."

It took years before he could move on from houses and dedicate himself full time to elaborate treehouse construction.

"The treehouse hotel started during a wonderful time when banks would loan carpenters a million dollars," Mr. Nelson said of his nestled-in-the-woods B&B that sits alongside the Raging River just two miles off I-90.

Treehouse Point treehouses range in size from The Nest, which is smaller than a cruise ship cabin, to the two-story Trillium and the well-appointed Temple of the Blue Moon, accessed via a jostling wooden bridge.

All the treehouses have electricity, but only some have Incinolets (a shared bathroom in another building is available to all guests). The Nest had one of the fire-breathing toilets just outside the front door as well as a small deck with two chairs off another side of the treehouse. Inside, space was tight but the queen bed was super comfortable, offering a restful night's sleep.

A small antique-style table fan was running when we arrived to cool the room, which provided a comfortable summer camping temperature. (The Nest also has a heater.)

Different units come with different amenities, but ours had a hot water heater for making morning coffee and tea. I snatched a packet of cocoa from inside the main lodge where cookies awaited us on our arrival along with all the ingredients for making s'mores at one of two campfire pits on the property.

The main lodge is also where breakfast is served family style at a long wooden table. On the morning of our visit there were several breakfast options, including scones, some covered in a surprisingly delicious bacon jam procured at Seattle food truck Skillet (http://skilletstreetfood.com).

Ponds and streams dot the Treehouse Point property and down by the river, dozens if not hundreds of cairns -- a pile of stones stacked one on top of the other that are often used to mark a path -- are arranged along the banks of the river.

"That started about five years ago when our manager, who was a different person at that time, surprised his wife on her birthday," Mrs. Nelson said. "He made her breakfast and stacked up probably 30 cairns and people just started building them."

The river washes the cairns away each winter, but Treehouse Point staff members and guests rebuild them in the spring and summer. The cairns are along the rocky river's edge at The Point, a short walk from the center of the treehouse camp. The point includes a campfire pit and several hammocks discretely anchored to trees.

Margie and Randy Cook of Enumclaw, Wash., an hour south of Fall City, booked an anniversary stay at Treehouse Point about a year in advance. They are fans of unusual hotels and marveled at the craftsmanship on display in their Temple of the Blue Moon treehouse, which is supported by a Sitka Spruce and Western Red Cedar.

"Just the attention to detail is amazing," Mr. Cook said. He also noted the unusual feeling of their room for the night swaying just a little with the trees in the breeze.

The amenities at this treehouse B&B are superior to traditional camping, but a little bit of nature will find its way inside.

"There was a spider in my shoe this morning," Mrs. Cook said. "But I love spiders so I wasn't freaked out at all."


Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.


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