Pete Nelson rules the roost at Treehouse Point. Photo by Luma Weddings / courtesy Nelson Treehouse and Supply.
Made in the Shade
Where would we be without Pete Nelson? Grounded, probably. The Pacific Northwest wouldn’t be the national center of high-end treehouse making, and the construction landscape wouldn’t be scattered with builders who came up under the undisputed king of treehouses. Even now, one can’t talk trees without hearing about the 59-year-old Fall City man or his now-concluded reality TV show, Treehouse Masters; after all, he’s built close to 4oo structures over his 30-year career.
As a boy Nelson made his first “terribly funky structures” in the woods of New Jersey, inspired by his forester father, and has since become the first name in luxury hideaways that can include rain showers and floor-to-ceiling windows. A $1,000-per-square-foot price tag is the norm. For his part, Nelson doesn’t think tree life is solely the domain of the ultra-wealthy; he pictures an affordable housing treehouse village on, say, Portland’s steep, unbuildable slopes.
For decades he’s studied how to let a structure adjust to a living tree, and he sits at the center of a community that gathers annually in Oregon (“There’s a lot of THC rolling around at the Treehouse Conference, as you can imagine,” he says with a laugh). But to ask Nelson, his real strength is in promoting the whole idea of arboreal life: “I’m more of a dreamer.”
As fanciful as the seven treehouses at his Treehouse Point property on the Raging River may be, they are fully permitted, a griding process of asking forgiveness rather than permission from official housing authorities. The latest addition to the lot will be its last, but the shingle-sided rental known as Ananda represents something special: ADA accessibility. It took years for Nelson to convince King County that he could meet the requirements (a steep slope helps, which means the house is suspended 22 feet high using two Douglas fir “monsters” while the access ramp is relatively flat). The whole Treehouse Point property has become so famous through his books and TV show that tours are offered only by reservation.
The “how” aside, when it comes to treehouses the “why” isn’t even a challenging question. Of course off-the-ground forts are cool, even considering the attendant challenges of a living foundation, wind hazards, and plumbing impossibilities. But Nelson thinks about the question still—why he’s drawn to homes up high—and concludes: “As humans we relate so closely to trees. They’re just so magnificent and mystical and beautiful and vital.”
Everything’s warmer east of the mountains, not just the temperature; the color palette in the ponderosa pine woods outside Goldendale glows with such warmth that the town could have well been named for it (though in truth its moniker comes from an old settler). Tan dirt blankets Scott Brock’s sprawling acres, the trees a dusty sage color and their trunks almost reddish, and the treehouse itself is clad with cedar shake siding. Portland-based Brock and his twin sons have a vacation cabin nearby, but the sky-high rental—34 feet off the ground at the top—feels perfectly isolated (and no one can see you on the outdoor toilet). The wood-lined interior features a very steep stairway, basically a ladder, to the loft, the main floor cozy with a bed and kitchenette. The neighboring town includes an astronomical observatory in Goldendale State Park, but the star views from the treehouse patio are quite literally on the house.
At Doe Bay Resort’s annual summer music festival, official performances
take place on the main stage—but after hours, musicians play around campfires, in the woods, and most memorably, on the lofty porch of a treehouse. Crowds sit on the ground to listen to acoustic sets far into the night. Year-round, the treehouse is one of Doe Bay’s signature rentals, with a loft bed accessible by ladder and views that can reach into Puget Sound. The entire resort is imbued with a kind of hippie vibe—clothing is optional at the soaking pools, and the restaurant emphasizes plant-based cuisine—never as obvious as in the knotty walls of its highest cabin.
It took three years for the logistics to align for Max Lindsay-Thorsen and Tatiana Rocha’s dream on Whidbey Island, but it all came together at a good time—in 2020. Lindsay-Thorsen spent the pandemic helping build the treehouse on a forested plot on Whidbey, the island where he spent his youth. The former tech worker felt that permits and official approvals were key for the rental; the structure can withstand 110 mile per hour winds and a 9.2 earthquake. The pair previously sold candles under their Treehouse and Co. brand before embarking on the construction project, moving from a scented simulation of forest life into the real deal. When they opened their doors in July, renters stepped into a brand-new birch plywood interior with woodsy decor sourced from the duo’s favorite Northwest makers, and they will sell local products to guests. Already Lindsay-Thorsen is picturing treehouses elsewhere in Puget Sound, a Treehouse and Co. brand extension that reaches across islands.
Elevated by Design
An unpaved, one-lane road works its way slowly through the forest so far above the Columbia Gorge that the river is a distant memory, even though the town of White Salmon, kiteboarders, and craft breweries sit a mere 10-minute drive away. The clearing that hosts Taryn and Colin Mooney’s imposing Klickitat Treehouse is so remote that cell service is faint and neighbors are wholly unseen, with snowy Mount Adams the only landmark through swaying Douglas firs. The Scandinavian influence makes for a blocky, charcoal exterior to contrast the warm woods of the patio. Stark white walls inside pop with black accents. This is the woods for people who aren’t sure they really like the woods. Between the leather couch and walk-in shower, the two-
story treehouse is a showpiece from every interior angle. The tilted hillside makes the structure feel much higher off the ground than it is, with the master bedroom tucked on the first floor and a two-bed loft with even better mountain views.
Blitzed in the Branches
Tracy Rice doesn’t leave her house unless she knows she can get stoned—she even brings weed when she walks a few hundred yards from her home to the four treehouses on her four-acre Monroe property. “I’m never not going to be smoking weed,” she says. “I’m those people.” So she understands marijuana fans who are loathe to travel unless they know they can smoke up in their accommodations, which is why her Mountain View Treehouse Joint is explicitly, joyfully, almost overly, pot friendly. The roof of one hobbit-looking treehouse is even shaped like a pot leaf. In the past year Rice fought the pandemic with a flurry of pet adoptions and additions, from alpacas (call them Bong and Dab), sheep (Mary Jane and Flower Pot), and goats (Homey and Ronie, the latter short for Corona). “I’m living my best life all stoned with my animals out there,” says Rice.
Several of her treehouses came from the creative mind of SunRay Kelley, a Concrete man known for eccentric cabins that resemble art projects more than living units. Sure, Rice would cringe when the shoeless Kelley would swing a chainsaw around his waist and climb a tree during construction, but she found the results impeccable—solid yet whimsical rentals propped above the ground, sprinkled with skylights and twisting tree-branch loft ladders.
The treehouse decor should surprise no one: murals, tie-dye, black lights. A 40-foot tree net, a kind of suspended hangout hammock that holds a crowd, dangles in the middle where Rice likes to hang with her cannabis-loving guests. Almost all the renters (adults only, naturally) come specifically for the vibe. “I think people being high in the trees and being high on trees kinda goes hand in hand,” says Rice.
They may not be treehouses, but other sky-high Northwest rentals offer overnight uplift.
Evergreen Mountain Lookout Of the five former fire-scouting towers for rent in Washington, the historic structure northwest of Stevens Pass boasts some of the most spectacular Cascade views.
Pleasant Bay Lookout We’ll forgive this south-of-Bellingham Airbnb its self-proclaimed “treehouse” status—it’s more of a cottage on the steeps—because of how its deck tucks perfectly into the green hillside.
Sequim Lavender Castle The Olympic Peninsula’s medieval reproduction comes complete with castle movies and knight costumes for play—though the solar energy that helps fuel the tower is decidedly twenty-first century
Public domain (Evergreen Mountain), courtesy the owners (Pleasant Bay, Sequim).