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The best 7 cozy cabin vacations for autumn

Mark Twain SP cabins Cabins at Mark Twain State Park (Courtesy Missouri State Parks)

In this age of COVID-19, the best cure for cabin fever this fall is to seek out an actual cabin in the woods and rediscover the unhurried serenity of the great outdoors. 

Research conducted this summer by AAA indicated that many Americans who are concerned about the coronavirus steered away from plane trips and hit the road instead. In fact, the summer forecast indicated 683 million car trips would be taken over the summer.  

“Vacations are going to look a little different for a while. The first choice for many people will be a nearby destination where they can get outside and enjoy fresh air and natural wonders,” said Carol Hoffman, executive director of the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau. “There’s no better place to escape the never-ending news stories and stresses of this crisis than in a cabin in the woods. This is the best kind of isolation.”

Across the Midwest and South, there’s a treasure trove of cabins and cottages where people can step away from their everyday routines and worries for a while this fall. Most have kitchens so you can bring your own food, and all are employing stringent cleaning practices to help keep guests safe.      

Shawnee Forest Cabins

At Shawnee Forest Cabins, some of the units have hot tubs. (Courtesy Illinois Department of Tourism)

Illinois

Fall affords the best time to explore the Shawnee National Forest, which sprawls across 280,000 acres of varied landscape between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in southern Illinois. The forest is marked by rolling hills, mountains, rugged bluffs, and canyons.

Visitors can explore beautiful vistas from scenic drives and on a variety of trails that crisscross the forest. In addition, there are historical sites, lakes for fishing, and geologic formations, including the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area, which is one of the state’s most photographed places. An observation trail offers outstanding views of bluffs and rocky outcroppings. 

Nestled in the forest are dozens of cabins and guesthouses that can accommodate vacationers from couples to large families. Among the options are Shawnee Forest Cabins, located not far from the Garden of the Gods. With one- and two-bedroom options, the cozy cabins have full kitchens and bathrooms, electric fireplaces, WiFi, fire pits, and some have outdoor hot tubs. southernmostillinois.com 

Indiana

There are a variety of cabins across southern Indiana, but for an out-of-the-ordinary escape, consider the floating cabins at Patoka Lake Marina. Instead of looking out your window at a forest scene, you’ll be greeted by views of the beautiful 8,800-acre Patoka Lake, located just south of the historical towns of French Lick and West Baden.

Each of the cabins has its own deck, gas grill, fully equipped kitchen, and private boat slip. Two- and three-bedroom options are available. Guests are lulled to sleep at night by the sounds of water lapping outside the cabin and enjoy lovely autumn sunrises on the lake, which is surrounded by the Hoosier National Forest. 

In addition to the floating options, there are a number of cabins on land, as well as a winery that has its own lodging, including two-story suites in converted grain silos. patokalakemarina.com

Patoka Lake cabins

Visitors to Patoka Lake Marina can stay on the water in floating cabins. (Courtesy Patoka Lake Marina)

Kansas

Outdoor enthusiasts would be hard-pressed to find a better place to explore in eastern Kansas than Clinton State Park. Located just four miles west of Lawrence, the 1,500-acre park rests on a bluff above Clinton Reservoir. The park is known for its extensive trail system used by hikers, nature photographers, and mountain bikers. There’s even a disc golf course, archery range, and cross-country ski trail. After all there is to see and do in the park, relax in one of seven cabins that offer great views of the lake. ksoutdoors.com

Missouri

With rolling hills in the north, the Ozark Mountains in the south, and rivers and streams coursing nearly everywhere, Missouri is home to a variety of landscapes. Offering a snapshot of nearly all of those natural resources are Missouri’s State Parks. Of the state’s 91 parks and historical sites, 16 offer lodging ranging from modern hotel rooms to rustic cabin outposts.

For instance, tucked into the Salt River Hills of northeast Missouri, 2,800-acre Mark Twain State Park features Mark Twain Lake and six miles of trails with gorgeous lake views. Six log cabins have electricity, heating, and air conditioning, but do not include water or restrooms. A central restroom and shower house are nearby. mostateparks.com

Arkansas

Home to the nation’s first national river, two magnificent mountain ranges, and three national forests, Arkansas is justifiably known as The Natural State. Cabins throughout the state offer a front-row seat to the wonders, including more than 200 in Arkansas state parks alone. Some are rustic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps of stone and timber, while others are more modern. All feature modern amenities.

Among the parks to consider is Mount Nebo State Park, located about 80 miles northwest of Little Rock. Rising 1,350 feet, Mount Nebo offers sweeping views of Lake Dardanelle and the Arkansas River Valley. After hiking the park’s 30 miles of trails, settle into one of the 11 rustic or four modern A-frame cabins located at scenic points around the mountain. arkansasstateparks.com

Poverty Point cabin

One of eight cabins on the lakefront at Poverty Point Reservoir State Park. (Courtesy Louisiana State Parks)

Louisiana

Although New Orleans and Mardi Gras are often the first things that people associate with the state, Louisiana’s diverse ecosystems are just as captivating. When you get away from the city in Louisiana, you’ll find ancient cypress groves, intriguing swampland, lush forests, and coastal bayous teeming with wildlife.

In northeast Louisiana, visitors to Poverty Point Reservoir State Park can fish in the 2,700-acre reservoir and catch a glimpse of birds migrating along the Mississippi Flyway. Nearby, the Poverty Point UNESCO World Heritage Site showcases earthworks from an ancient Native American civilization. Eight deluxe cabins on stilts seem to float over the lake, or choose one of four two-bedroom lodges with lofts on land. Lastateparks.com

Mississippi

When visitors stop at French Camp Historic Village along the Natchez Trace Parkway, they’ll discover a window to the past. The site has been welcoming visitors since the early 1800s when settlers, soldiers, and American Indians followed the historical corridor. Located in central Mississippi next to the Trace, the village features a restaurant, pottery studio, gift shop, and historical accommodations.

In addition to a bed-and-breakfast building and carriage house, the site offers two cabins. The Burford cabin was built using half of an 1800s dogtrot cabin, and the Bed and Breakfast Junior cabin was constructed from the wood of several 1800s buildings. It’s a great place to turn off your phone, settle on the front porch, and relax. frenchcamphistoricvillage.com

Dennis R. Heinze is regional editor of AAA Midwest and Southern Traveler magazines.

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