Score the Perfect Vacation Rental

From rustic retreats to oceanfront condos

Story and Photos by Lauren Braden

Photo at right: Some of the charming vacation rentals available in Seabrook, Wash.

Looking for a fun alternative to a hotel, but averse to the lace and frills of a bed and breakfast? There’s another lodging option you can book with the click of a mouse —the vacation rental. From rustic mountain cabins to deluxe oceanfront condos, vacation rentals often come loaded with perks and might even save you money.

Your cabin in the woods at Black Butte Ranch.

Many, but not all, vacation rentals are second homes. As the vacation home renter, this means you might open a dresser drawer to find someone’s spare nightie, or experience cruel disappointment when you discover the home owner’s idea of morning coffee is instant.

But there may be surprising benefits, too. We once booked a vacation cabin near Lake Wenatchee with a colorful hand-tiled shower that was truly a work of art. A loft we rented on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands was the second story of an active pottery studio and we had a chance to watch the artists in action. You’ll probably find a rental’s kitchen to be fully-stocked, which is always a plus when you forget to pack the salt and pepper. If you love to try new board games, the average vacation home has plenty.

Seattle author Lyanda Lynn Haupt regularly books her family’s local getaways through, where she recently found a deal on a cabin at Spring Creek Ranch in Winthrop, Wash. She described it as beautiful, rustic and well-designed for a family retreat, but it was the added perks of the setting that truly put this place over the top for her.

“The cabin is on an alfalfa farm at the edge of the Methow River. Right out of your cabin door you can access this trail, a lovely cross-country ski trail in winter. It’s so private and tranquil,” said Haupt. Other perks of the cabin include a fenced dog run, washer and dryer to launder your gear and even boarding for horses.

One of the amenities at a vacation rental at Black Butte Ranch.

Vacation rentals are easy to locate, evaluate and book these days with websites like, and Owners of vacation rentals post the listings themselves, so there is no middleman or travel agency to go through. The lodgings will have plenty of descriptive text and photos for you to peruse. You can narrow your search with parameters such as the number of bedrooms you need or whether pets are allowed. You can even surface results based on keywords, like “hot tub” or “golf.” Most helpful, though, are the reviews left by prior renters that give you a good sense of a property’s assets, pitfalls, and overall value before you commit.

For a more niche market, check out local websites that feature listings for vacation rentals. Popular with outdoor recreationists, features cabins and ski condos in the Methow Valley. Owners of vacation homes around Lake Wenatchee post their cabins on, and Mt. Baker chalet owners use If your eye is set on a particular vacation resort community like Seabrook on the Washington Coast or Black Butte Ranch in central Oregon, you can go directly to the resort’s website, then search for and book vacation rentals right there.

Tips for a smooth rental experience

Find amazing vacation rentals like this well-kept craftsman-style home in Bend, Ore.

Do your research. Read through the property’s reviews to see what past guests share about their experience. Look for common themes in the reviews. If one bad review had a petty gripe about the front door sticking but most of the other reviews are glowing, you might confidently ignore that one bad review. But if the same complaints surface a few times, take notice.

Go offline. Lyanda Lynn Haupt always makes contact with the owners for information not included in the property description. “I hate traffic noise, so I might call and say ‘I’m looking for a place that is quiet, can you tell me how loud the highway noise is?’ I appreciate it when the owner gives me a candid response, and I like engaging with the owner ahead of time.”

Follow safe practices. Perhaps you’ve read about travelers being scammed by booking vacation rentals via websites like Craigslist only to show up and find the property doesn’t even exist. Avoid being scammed by taking common sense precautions. Never wire money. Spot red flags, like if the owner pressures you to act fast before someone else books the property. And if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Read the fine print. Many of the rentals require minimum stays of two nights or more, or require a cleaning fee. Know what the cancellation policy is, and if there are any house rules you need to follow.

Budget Rustic Retreats

Not all vacation rentals are on Throughout the Pacific Northwest, outdoor enthusiasts are finding cheap sleeps right on the lands they play on, and they’re not just sleeping in tents. Some dwellings are light-filled yurts near a beach, while others are historic cabins in the woods. Rates can start as low as $46 a night. Washington State Parks offers heated cabins and yurts at 23 locations, including cozy cabins at Wallace Falls and canvas yurts at Cape Disappointment.

To reserve, visit A fun option near Seattle is to rent a refurbished shipping container at King County’s Tolt MacDonald Park in Carnation. The mod vessel rents for $50 a night; call (206) 205-5434 to reserve.

Lauren Braden is a Northwest writer with a focus on recreation and local travel. She blogs at

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