Creaking, swinging rope bridges, spiral staircases, rolling pastures and cabins many feet above the ground are not the features of your typical vacation getaway, but they are what draws travelers to Out ‘n’ About Treehouse Treesort.
The 37-acre property is located 11 miles south of Cave Junction, Oregon, not far from the California border. Rather than a high-rise hotel or sprawling campground, 12 treehouses sit high above the ground in the canopy of the trees. Each treehouse is fully furnished, and the main lodge sits at ground-level with free breakfast every morning and plenty of activities, like horseback riding and ziplining, to choose from each day.
The treehouse resort lies on a beautiful plot of land near the Oregon-California border. The owner lives on the property in his own giant treehouse.
The owner and founder of the “treesort” is Michael Garnier, originally from Indiana, who heads a small, committed group of people dedicated to building residential treehouses. Michael, 70, started by constructing a treehouse for his kids in 1990, and has since become the epicenter of the treehouse building community. Michael’s creativity is expressed by the humorous names for his treehouses, such as The Peacock Perch, Cavaltree, Balcontree and Pleasantree.
Perhaps it was his years of experience that led him to develop and create a signature — and crucial — bolt that would safely secure the treehouses in place: the Garnier Limb. When Michael builds a new treehouse, he leaves enough room for the tree to move and grow around the bolt, which reduces the strain on both the tree and the hardware. Aside from producing and selling his craft, Michael continues to build treehouses through contracting and consulting third parties.
“It’s rewarding, at the end of the day,” Michael said. “There’s a pride in it, to see someone else build something with your help.”
Michael Garnier poses outside one of his treehouses. Garnier created his own treehouse bolt, an important crafting tool.
The road leading to Michael’s property bares a painted message: “Slow Down.” Though the message reminds drivers not kick up dust on the surrounding horse pastures, in another sense, it’s a message for visitors to recognize the change of pace from their daily routine.
“When I first built this, everybody thought I was crazy,” he said, reflecting on his past while perched outside the main lodge with his dog, Kenzie, beneath the swinging bridges. He wears a sunhat and shoes worn by years of work.
In 1993, Michael’s first treehouse was featured on the cover of Peter Nelson's book "Treehouses, the Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb.” Nelson, a longtime friend and treehouse builder, would go on to create the Animal Planet series, “Treehouse Masters.” Both of them joke that Michael is “the treehouse master’s master.” He believes Nelson’s book and subsequent show generated a lot of interest in people not just staying in treehouses, but building their own.
Michael Garnier and his pets sit nearby his front office on a warm afternoon.
Despite the vibe of the resort, Out ‘n’ About’s own path to becoming sanctioned was anything but relaxing and carefree. Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, the resort and the county continue to fight legal battles.
To become a bed and breakfast, Michael had to provide stress tests in order to prove his treehouses were reliable. The county had never dealt with treehouse permits, so it wasn’t clear how to determine that they were structurally sound. To prove it, Michael had 66 people, weighing a total of over 10,000 pounds, climb onto the Peacock Perch treehouse on July 4, 1994.
However, that wasn’t the end of it. When he received a cease and desist order from the county in 1994, Michael came up with a unique solution to this dilemma. He decided instead of renting out treehouses, he’d only allow friends who bought his “treeshirts” for upwards of $100 each. Michael would let them stay overnight with no extra charge.
This appeared to satisfy the county for the time being, as relative peace ensued for a few more years. But this brief grace period came to an end when the county stated his land needed a development permit because it was zoned as resource property (as opposed to private property) due to his horse pastures.
In 1997, despite support from friends, neighbors and other treehouse enthusiasts, the court mandated only Michael and his family could use the treehouses, and if he violated this term they would be torn down.
“Everyone likes treehouses, except for government officials,” Michael said.
The following year the county backed off after a judge ordered officials to explain why the building application had not been processed, even when the county had ordered the resort closed. Michael finally received his building permits in March 1998, eight years after opening his resort.
Each treehouse on the resort has its own special look and identity, each of them separated by rope bridges.
Out ‘n’ About gained international attention in July 1997. The growing community and enthusiasm around treehouses culminated in the first-ever World Treehouse Conference, hosted at Michael’s treesort, where enthusiasts shared ideas and gear and were able to learn from fellow builders. Michael will host the conference again in 2019.
“In the beginning, I never thought it would get this big,” Michael said. “I built one, my money came back. I built another one, that money came back. And that’s how I built it. I didn’t take out a big loan or anything.”
The neighboring towns support Michael’s passion, and the resort has become both a place for employment and a community gathering space. Out ‘n’ About employs over 35 people, who help tend the horses, cook food for visitors and accommodate guests. The treehouses bring tourism to the otherwise sparse suburbs of Cave Junction, which results in business for local restaurants and vendors.
Just outside the lodge, Michael hosts bonfires at night, and the property offers swings, a frisbee golf meadow and freshwater pool. At certain times during the year, the treesort hosts events, such as an annual Fourth of July blowout party.
Skyla Patton, a Cave Junction resident and recurring guest at the treehouses, grew up around the treesort and attended the Fourth of July party with her family and friends every year. According to Patton, the town becomes a small-scale music festival for the holiday.
“It was essentially like a family reunion,” said Skyla of the treehouse party. “Or like going to a barbeque at your friend’s house... but it just happened to be at the treehouses.”
In addition to providing a communal space, Michael is looking to make an impact on the local economy, and his latest project termed a “Bud n’ Breakfast,” aims to do just that.
Since it was legalized in the state four years ago, the market for selling and consuming marijuana has grown rapidly, which inspired Michael’s plans for an adult-only treesort centered around the plant. Michael sees this as the most logical next step to bring more people to the area and boost the local economy.
A stay at the fully-functioning marijuana treehouse resort will include tours of local medical grow operations in Southern Oregon, and as the website suggests, “free ground coffee and munchies provided daily.” The Bud ‘n’ Breakfast is set to open in summer 2019.
Methodical and knowledgeable about the best times to capitalize on trends and relevant topics in Oregon, Michael has made both a home for himself and others in the woods and meadows that are characteristic of Southern Oregon. Still venturing into a plethora of creative endeavors including the Bud & Breakfast and even a treehouse commissioned in Hawaii, Garnier is unafraid of fighting legal pushback and instead seeks to create an experience for his visitors, all while following his passion for building.
“Now, if you go on Airbnb, they’re all over the place,” Garnier said. “And I’ve helped build a lot of them."
Out ‘n’ About Treehouse Treesort was the start of it all and allowed Garnier to meet clients, friends and others that are thrilled about the idea of creative housing out on a limb.
An evening on the property revealed a beautiful starry sky and decorative treehouse lights.