Pop quiz, think fast, what would you rather sleep in: a cabin or a tent? 9 out of 10 people will say cabin, and the remaining person is a masochist. Tent camping is only a means to an end and is never anyone’s first choice. If Lewis and Clark had just hiked across the Rockies and found a perfectly functioning wooden cabin, do you think they would have said “Oh, but the canvas tent is so quaint” and slept outside? On the Appalachian Trail, thru hikers don’t turn up their noses to the shelters along the trail but instead are grateful because it is more comfortable than sleeping in the nicest tent. Tents were invented and are still used only because we have yet to figure out a way to carry a cabin.
Another large benefit of a cabin instead of a tent is the ability for you to take non-“outdoorsy” (I hate that word) people into the woods and not have them complain constantly. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, you never want their first experience to be a bad one. Cabins are the perfect gateway experience; they’re warm, dry, and comfortable and can either have all the luxuries of home or just enough comfort to make you thankful for things like running water. Cabins come in three grades: Luxurious (nicer than my house), rustic (some amenities but not many), and bare bones (4 walls and you are grateful for them). The entire point of a cabin is to function as a home base so you can go and adventure nearby. So even if the cabin isn’t where you want to spend all your time, it should be the perfect launching place for everything else.
In the Carolina’s you have many options for cabins. During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built hundreds of cabins as part of F.D.Rs New Deal to put America back to work. From the beach to the mountains, many of the State Parks have cabins in the “comfortable” category, and even a few in the “luxurious”. Devil’s Fork State Park has the only cabins that I would deem in the luxurious range, and that’s because they weren’t made by the CCC but instead were built by Duke Power as executive retreats. When Duke Power turned over the land to the State, they also deeded the cabins as well. For about the same cost as a hotel room, these cabins sleep 8-10 people and are right on Lake Joccassee. Hot showers and satellite TV await you after your long day of swimming in the frigid water, making these the most luxurious cabins in the SC State Park system.
If you want a more remote location and don’t mind some more rustic accommodations, you have several different options. Not far from the Nantahala River, Lake Fontana, Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, and literally right on Lake Santeetlah are 2 cabins on Cheoah Point run by the National Forest service. Two room cabins, without air conditioning or a kitchen, they at least have running water and flush toilets about 30 yards up a walkway. Remember, the theory with cabins is that they’re you’re base from which to adventure and Cheoah Point has plenty around to adventure in.
If you want to go a little farther afield, there is another National Forest Service cabin near Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia. Blue Springs Cabin has a full-sized kitchen, 3 bed rooms, no central heating or AC, and flush toilets but no running tap water. A cistern provides water to the toilet, but if you need water for anything else you have to transport water from 5 miles down the road. The beauty of Blue Springs is that you’re located all alone on top of a mountain in a large meadow, and can look over 2 valleys on either side. There is almost no thru traffic, and you’re near old Virginia farm houses which are simply gorgeous to drive past. A little farther, you have access to Grayson Highlands where the State Park allows ponies to roam the passes in the summer and you’re free to feed them carrots. Blue Springs is one of the special places for me where I’ve gone to multiple times and still want to go back for more. And at $45 a night (no, that’s not a misprint) it’s affordable to just about anyone.
Barebones cabins can be scary, and are not for the faint of heart, the scared of the dark, the claustrophobic, or the arachnophobic. You have several different options: Swan Lake Cabin in North Carolina, the Donley Cabin in Tennessee, and Jones Mountain Cabin in Virginia run by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club which will let you know what it was like to live in 1880 including the fear of being killed by banshees. These are old cabins, with no modern amenities to speak of and they’re usually a several mile hike in. Also, be careful of the outhouses; black widows like dark, damp places to catch their prey. None of this is meant to scare you, but just to let you know what you’d be getting into.
While writing this article I’ve been trying to think of why I would want to sleep in a tent instead of a cabin, and I honestly can’t think of one. If you feel that a cabin lacks adventure, go to Jones Mountain and live off the land like our ancestors. If you feel like you need to watch the latest episode of Mad Men at 8pm but want to swim and hike during the day, maybe the cabins at Devils Fork are more your speed. Adventure is not drinking your pee like Bear Grylls, but is in the memories that you get from an experience.