Camp in a real tree house in southern Illinois

Ever watched “Treehouse Masters” on Animal Planet and been envious? I have, so I was thrilled to discover a family-friendly treehouse resort near the gorgeous Shawnee National Forest.

My clan of four recently stayed at Timber Ridge Outpost& Cabins in southeastern Illinois. It was a fabulous “glamping” experience, where we got to enjoy the great outdoors without having to rough it. What parent doesn’t love more fun with less preparation?

Enthusiastic and hospitable owners Marty and Elizabeth Canfarelli, previously from the Joliet area, currently offer two fully equipped treehouses and two log cabins. An antique log cabin and outpost will open soon.

We stayed in the White Oak Treehouse, perched atop a 200-year-old tree, 20 feet up in the beautiful, blue sky. Thoughtful touches, such as a smiley face swing and cozy eating nooks, enchanted us as we climbed the 21 steps into the treetops. Opening the door, we were surprised by how spacious our 550-square-foot treehouse appeared to be.

The kitchenette has a refrigerator, sink, cooktop, toaster, coffeemaker, microwave/convection oven, and dishes. The modern bathroom features a toilet, stall shower and fluffy, spa-quality linens. A full-size futon, table, flat-screen TV with movies, high-speed Internet and a phone bring you most of the comforts of home. Heating and air conditioning make it enjoyable year-round.

Our 2-year-old and 4-year-old enjoyed climbing the ladder to the lofted bedroom, which features a full-size mattress in a lofted nook as well as a queen size bed by an interior tree branch. Outside was a fire pit, a camp-style grill and hammock. Down the path was a pavilion with tetherball, horseshoes, beanbags, swings and grills.

You can order home-baked dessert delivery or on-site massage. The pond is stocked for fishing and you can tell that Marty teaches 4-H by the gentle way he provided our 4-year-old son his first archery lesson. I now have him to thank for a Chicago husband who wants a bow and arrow.

While there was plenty to explore on-site, we couldn’t miss the other natural wonders. Garden of the Gods, a magnificent hiking spot just three miles down the hilly, country road, features prehistoric sandstone pillars and scenic bluff overlooks with the most amazing views in the Midwest. The 45-minute Observation Trail is easy enough for little ones to navigate holding an adult hand. Neighboring Rim Rock and Pounds Hollow, with a clean, spring-fed beach for summer swimming, also are popular.

While I felt like I might be going out on a limb with the six-hour drive and lack of cellphone service, it was fabulous to branch out to a totally different kind of adventure. The treehouse swayed and creaked at night, reminding me of sleeping on a houseboat as a kid. It is a vacation we won’t soon forget.

Timber Ridge Outpost & Cabins

  • Karbers Ridge, Shawnee National Forest, Illinois
  • (618) 264-9091

Cortney Fries
Cortney Fries
An award-winning travel journalist, Cortney Fries (pronounced "freeze") has been writing about family travel for over a decade. She knows that parents planning trips are looking for all members to have fun and make lasting memories. Cortney believes that you should definitely try anything that makes you slightly nervous.
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