a state park cabin love story {and tips for a cabin getaway}

The State Park cabins are an under appreciated vacation.  We never considered them until my husband’s job meant that a discount was available to us during the “off season” (November-March).

We booked a commercial cabin for the week following Christmas in 2013. Brandon discovered we could save a good deal of money by booking a cabin at Roan Mountain State Park.  We switched our reservation.  Although we had to forfeit a deposit at the for-profit cabin, we still saved money and were able to take a longer vacation in Roan Mountain.

December 2013/ Roan Mountain State Park

I studied the website and prepped as best I could.  I was pretty sure that this meant we’d be camping inside a rough and primitive shelter in lieu of a tent.  We made a stop at Trader Joe’s and bought loads of frozen foods to eat during the week and trekked over to the top right corner of our state.  We were pleasantly surprised that the cabin included everything we could possibly need.  It had a simple, yet well thought out, kitchen, a nice sized bathroom, and two bedrooms.  Along with a large comfortable living space with a cozy wood-burning stove.

We spent most of the week in the cabin or on the porch.  We read so many books while we were there,  and we just enjoyed each others’ company.  We took two main outings, one to see the Appalachian Trail that happened to run through the park a few miles up the mountain, and we made a day-trip to Asheville, NC.  Otherwise, the week was simple and un-busy.  It was a dream.

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December 2014/ Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park

We’ve been fans of the state park cabins ever since.  We took at trip to another state park over the New Year (2014-15).  For this trip we stayed in the “rustic” cabin.  It had been built in the 1930s as a WPA project and it was really, really cool.

A  few weeks ago, Brandon surprised me by saying he had booked a weekend cabin getaway.  This time to our local state park, Meeman-Shelby.  It’s only about 30 minutes away from us, but far enough to unplug a bit and enjoy the weekend together.

We’ve been camping at Meeman-Shelby several times before and had a wonderful time whenever we’ve gone.  This was our first time visiting the cabins, and they were wonderful.  We love our local state park.  We especially love that it proves you don’t ever need to go far to have a rejuvenating getaway.

(Keep reading past the photos for our tips for a wonderful State Park cabin vacation.) 

March 2016/ Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park (the self-timer family photo is kind of a tradition now. Thank goodness for picnic tables to use as tripods.)

We arrived on Friday evening and stayed until Sunday.


The boys spent some time fishing and hiking together.  IMG_2469


I spent some quiet moments reading in peace with my cozy reading companions- Peppercorn and a cup of coffee. (We chose a pet-friendly cabin for this trip.)


We went to the Shelby Forest General Store for lunch on Saturday and feasted on burgers and onion rings.




Saturday evening meant a roaring fire, making Samoa S’Mores, drinking tea, and more reading.


Samoa S’mores-ah (see what I did there?)

Here are a few of my tips from our different cabin-ing adventures-

  • What will be included?- The cabin will have all you need for daily life- towels, bedding, trash bags, hand soap, kitchen utensils, dish soap, pot-holders, serving pieces, dishes, and cutlery are all included.  Most cabins we’ve been to have also been stocked with firewood, matches, and fire-starters too.  (Just make sure to check with the park if you’re unsure.)  Life in the cabins is uncluttered and simple- and may make you fantasize about konmari-ing all your belongings and living a life with JUST what you need.
  • Bring your own sipppy cups- If your child uses sippy cups or toddler silverware I would recommend bringing it along.  You should also bring a portable high chair if needed.  Wm was almost two on our first cabin trip.  We chose not to take a high chair and he did just fine in an adult chair.  We try to use adult dishes when possible with him, so the dishes have never been an issue for us.
  • Kitchens- The cabin kitchens are well stocked.  The only supply I would suggest is bringing your own knife.  My chef’s knife is an extension of my arm and I don’t like to cook without it.  (And state issued cutlery leaves a bit to be desired.)  Otherwise, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the cabins always have a bare-bones, yet perfectly passable, kitchen.
  • Plan your meals- Many of the state parks are pretty secluded so grabbing groceries or takeout isn’t always an option.  For our first trip we took frozen prepared meals, but for our second trip I cooked fun meals for each night.  Since cooking is a hobby of mine I loved being able to cook unencumbered by the normal household chores of daily life.  You can certainly choose to eat camp food but we love making fun meals we wouldn’t normally eat when at home.
  • Essential ingredients- Remember to pack cooking essentials such as oil, salt, pepper, sugar, herbs, and spices!
  • Yes, there is a coffee pot- and paper filters are also supplied.
  • Creature comforts- The cabins are heated and cooled and definitely have power.  I was a little worried about this on our first trip.  The cabins are equipped with most of the comforts of home.
  • Read the reviews- Check Yelp or other review sites to see what other travelers have said about the State Park you’re visiting.
  • Make an excursion- This will help to entertain the younger travelers.  (Plus it gives you and excuse to put on some makeup change out of your PJ pants.)  Most of the state parks have little visitor centers and some have a museum of the park’s history.  Meeman-Shelby has a nature center that Brandon and William spent some time in, checking out the animals.  I got to hear a very cool story about an owl that spoke with William.  Visiting the closest city or town is also a great excursion. Do some research ahead of time or ask the rangers and go fall in love with a new place.
  • Unplug- In most instances, you won’t have a choice.  Most of the state parks we’ve visited don’t have great access to cell towers and we’ve yet to visit a cabin with WIFI.  If these are a problem, there is usually a visitor center with available WIFI.  We’ve been happy to unplug in our experiences.  Merman-Shelby happened to have a television- this was the first time we’ve had one in our cabins.  I wish I could say we didn’t turn it on, but we did.  That being said, a tablet loaded with some downloaded movies was a fun treat when Wm was too young to participate in the outdoor activities.  It was vacation for him too, after all.
  •   Don’t underestimate kids- Wm is four and at the height of the “I need to be entertained” stage.  For every trip, he’s enjoyed having a bag of simple toys, some coloring or painting books, and some storybooks.  Kids don’t need constant entertainment.  I promise.
  • Confirm the number of bedrooms- For our cabin vacation in 2014 we booked a cabin that advertised being “rustic” but said it had sleeping space for four.  This meant a full-sized bed and a two sleeper futon in one room.  This isn’t ideal for a family as I’m sure you can guess.  We ended up making the best of it and having time on the porch while Wm napped or spent time sleeping when he slept.  It turned out to be exactly what we needed that week!
  • Pets- the furry ones are not usually welcome in the cabins.  Make sure to confirm if the cabin you’ve booked is pet-friendly.
  • Have a wonderful time!


The State Park cabin is an under appreciated, economical getaway option.  I highly recommend trying them out and enjoying the somewhat dated decor, permanent woodsmoke scent, and guaranteed reboot that can only happen when you slow down and simplify for a few days.

so kitschtastic (and that aztec print is kind of chic these days, right?)
so kitschtastic (and that aztec print is kind of chic these days, right?)

6 thoughts on “a state park cabin love story {and tips for a cabin getaway}

  1. Love this post so much! (and the adorable family in it) Currently looking into local Indiana cabins because, as you so aptly write, I often feel the urge to start “konmari-ing all your belongings and living a life with JUST what you need.”

    1. I mean, these cabins usually have 8 place settings of dishes to deal with. 8. I have about 40-something place settings of different dishes. Of course I use them when I entertain- but it’s so danged freeing to not have all the stuff around! (It’s also freeing to be on vacation and not have real responsibilities… But the stuff is a main culprit!)

    1. We loved Roan Mountain. It’s forever far away- but was just GORGEOUS! (Warning the driving through mountains is kind of terrifying.) The cabins at Davy Crockett (outside of Nashville, I believe) have recently been renovated and look so cool. That’s one on our “must see” list.

  2. We love TN state park cabins also!! My husband and I have made it our pet project to visit all the state parks. Hitting the last one on Trails Day this Saturday! Woo hoo!!!! Now it’s a family affair visiting, hiking, picnicing, learning and having fun at the parks!

  3. Love this. We stayed at Lake Catherine in Arkansas this past summer when we went to the water park in Hot Springs. We debated a hotel back in the city or the cabin. I was unsure of the cabin. It was definitely a bit rustic (slept 5, on a really bumpy pull out couch) but we were right on the lake with a small private dock and a HUGE screened in patio.

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