Offbeat Accommodations

Wild, weird and possibly haunted hotels that are attractions in and of themselves

click to enlarge Get a new perspective at The Observatory Tree House. - PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT
Photo: Peter McDermott
Get a new perspective at The Observatory Tree House.

The Wilds

Where: 14000 International Road, Cumberland, thewilds.columbuszoo.org

Drive Time: 3 hours

If seeing animals on exhibit at the zoo isn’t close enough for you, The Wilds — a 10,000-acre nonprofit conservation center located on reclaimed mining land — brings the African (and Asian) safari experience to southeastern Ohio. Created in partnership with political, civic and Ohio zoo organizations — and currently operated by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and approved by that organization’s famed Jack Hanna — this savannah is home to animals ranging from giraffes and wild horses to zebras, rhinos and cheetahs. Divided into five different themed pastures, the park offers unique visitor experiences, including daily open-air and guided safaris (May-October), behind-the-scenes tours and overnight stays in well-appointed, on-premise yurts. The adults-only “glamping” accommodations at Nomad Ridge feature a variety of bamboo-floored yurts with their own bathrooms and climate control. 

“Nomad Ridge is located on a ridge overlooking the expansive grasslands of The Wilds,” says Patty Peters, vice president of community relations for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. “While there is no direct interaction with the animals from this vantage point, guests staying in the luxurious canvas-covered yurts fall asleep to the sounds of the animals calling from the valley below.

Bring binoculars to search for animals off your own private wooden deck or opt for a specialty horseback safari at sunset — two hours of rustic riding after a buffet dinner.

The Observatory Tree House

Where: Red River Gorge, Stanton, Ky., thecanopycrew.com

Drive Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

Looking for a way to get off the grid? Canopy Crew — a local tree care company that also happens to build custom tree houses — has just the solution: The Observatory tree house in Red River Gorge. This rentable “arboreal abode” is for able-bodied adventurers and romantics looking to refresh and reset. Set 50-feet above the forest floor, this funky, angular space features three tiered rooms, including a glass-ceilinged master bedroom for two, connected by floating walkways, ladders and various decks. 

“After living in a tree house in the Red River Gorge for three years, I realized how special spending time up in the canopy was,” says Canopy Crew owner Django Kroner. “When I had friends over, it totally blew their minds and inspired them, which was really satisfying for me. The bottom line is waking up in the tree tops offers a refreshing perspective.”

Climb more than 200 steps up a steep tree-lined ascent — elevated above the ground to reduce the impact on the forest floor — to the Observatory’s gear room, which has instructions for how to operate the solar power and hoist up food and coolers, plus some information about the swaying host trees in which you’ll be staying. It’s a low-impact indoor/outdoor rustic retreat with excellent views of flora, fauna and the Red River Valley. Additional amenities include a gas range in the kitchen, gravity-fed water supply, mudroom with hammocks, a fire pit, composting toilet and a high-powered telescope for some excellent stargazing. 

“I want to make an impression,” Kroner says. “I also hope that adults will be reminded how to play.” 

Jailer’s Inn Bed & Breakfast

Where: 111 W. Stephen Foster, Bardstown, Ky., jailersinn.com

Drive Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

The Jailer’s Inn Bed & Breakfast is situated in downtown Bardstown, right in the heart of bourbon country and directly on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail — conveniently nearby Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Four Roses and Willett distilleries. Aptly named, the inn operated as the Old Nelson County Jail from 1797 until 1987 and was the oldest operating jail in Kentucky when it closed. Constructed of 30-inch-thick stone with a quaint colonial wooden stocks and pillory out front, the seven-room B&B has maintained its penitentiary charm by allowing guests to stay in an authentic jail cell. With a steel door, original bunk beds and shower, you and a friend can play inmate for the night — with the added bonus of cable, a full breakfast and complimentary tours of the nationally registered historic locale. For non-complimentary tours, opt for a Bardstown Ghost Trek, which includes info on the apparitions supposedly haunting Jailer’s Inn and other area businesses. The most popular paranormal visitor at the inn is purported to be Martin Hill, who died in the jail while waiting to be hanged for murdering his wife. Fun! 

Ravenwood Castle

Where: 65666 Bethel Road, New Plymouth, ravenwoodcastle.com

Drive Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Live your princess and the pea dreams at Ravenwood Castle in Hocking Hills. Built in 1995 but modeled after British and Welsh castles dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, the structure is a Game of Thrones dream home complete with a moat, drawbridge, house pub, plenty of displayed suits of armor and zero white walkers. Built by Anglophiles Sue and Jim Maxwell — and now owned by former frequent guests and husband and wife Jim and Pam Reed — the aesthetic is classic British with Medieval charm and a dash of fantasy. Castle accommodations include Rapunzel’s Tower, a third-floor suite with a fireplace, and the Duke’s Dungeon on the lowest level, with a door leading to an outdoor patio. There are even cozy little cottages sprinkled throughout the property and a rural Huntsman’s Hollow. Play a giant game of outdoor chess or take in themed events, from murder mystery dinners to gaming conventions. 

Wigwam Village No. 2

Where: 601 N. Dixie Highway, Cave City, Ky., wigwamvillage.com

Drive Time: 3 hours

A classic and kitschy (and probably not PC) Americana roadside attraction, Wigwam Village No. 2 — a manifestation of one man’s dream — is one of only three remaining motel communities modeled after Native American dwellings. Frank A. Redford started constructing a chain of Wigwam Villages in the 1930s, with an original location in Horse Cave, Ky. and five more across the U.S. Purposely incorrectly named — the guest houses are actually shaped like teepees and not domed wigwams — Redford’s idea was so popular he patented it. Today, two villages still survive on Route 66 and one — the oldest standing — is located in Cave City, Ky., close to Mammoth Cave National Park. Fifteen small concrete teepees are situated in a semi-circle around a larger teepee (“the largest wigwam in the world,” which doubles as an Indian gift shop) and each contains a bedroom and bathroom and is furnished with period-style 1930s hickory and cane décor. 

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