Plan your 'cabin in the woods' getaway now

As the leaves fall from the trees and we look forward to planning winter getaways, a lot of Californians start thinking about that cabin-in-the-woods experience, whether as part of an extended ski holiday or just a way to get completely away from civilization. After all, what could be better than snuggling up with that Significant Other to enjoy a nice warm fire in a cozy cabin in the mountains?

Here are three examples of California destinations ideal for that cabin-in-the-woods getaway. They range from the Lake Tahoe area to the mountains of Southern California just east of Los Angeles.

Lake Tahoe

It's not often that a resort gets put on a map just as if it were a town, but there it was on our Rand McNally map: Sorensen's, a little berg near the intersection of Highways 89 and 88, deep in the Sierras southeast of Lake Tahoe. We double-checked with Innkeeper John Brissenden and, yep, there are eight souls who call this place home. And on any given summer night there are another 33 cabins full of people who have come from places like Los Angeles and San Francisco to put some distance between them and the steel, glass and asphalt of everyday life in the big city.

Out here where the mountains are high and the stress is low, Sorensen's Resort sells what Brissenden describes as "the magic of the surrounding wilderness area." In fact, this wilderness is like staying in a national park without the bumper-to-bumper RVs. A network of trails and lakes are just minutes away in any direction, with the Carson mountain range always close at hand, just waiting to provide the perfect backdrop for your next family photo.

Just in case you big-city types suffer serious withdrawal, South Lake Tahoe is just a short scenic drive away -- 16 miles to be precise. You can pop into town, get a fix of glitz at one of the major casinos and be back just in time to watch the deer feeding as you enjoy a quite glass of wine and a wilderness sunset. There's also plenty of Lake Tahoe lodging available that is not so far off the beaten path but we found we enjoyed being out away from the city, and that this was the perfect place to enjoy part of our Northern California vacation.

We arrived at Sorensen's about midnight and found our cabin was already unlocked, the lights on to welcome us and an incredibly comfortable, fluffy bed was beckoning these weary travelers to a quiet, restful sleep in the woods. After all, that really is the Sorensen's calling card: the "cabin-in-the-woods" experience that just happens to have a few extra amenities -- such as gourmet dining. In fact, Lake Tahoe vacations always offer a great combination of wilderness scenery and creature comforts.

We were staying in a simple, but modern log cabin with a loft and bathroom area. The kitchen, complete with microwave, two-burner stove and a small refrigerator, was along one wall of the main cabin area. Nearby, a queen bed was covered with charming home-made quilts. The main room also included a sitting area and a dining area, as well as a free-standing wood stove with plenty of wood at the ready even though it was not needed this warm summer night.

The resort itself is actually a village of cabins, joined by meandering pathways, but separated by mature aspens, creeks, ponds and lots of natural vegetation. In winter, the snow gets deep and the winter recreational activities nearby are seemingly endless. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling you name it, if it can be done in the snow, you can do it here.

To make reservations, call (800) 423-9949 or visit


While living in or visiting Southern California, a trip to the mountains is closer than you might think. The San Jacinto range offers a stark contrast to the warm, arid climate just a few miles away and, for that reason, places like Idyllwild have become popular getaways for people who want a taste of the four seasons.

Not too much of a taste, mind you. This is all about putting that four-wheel-drive through its paces just enough to justify the couple of grand extra that you spent on it. The fact is Southern California residents, for the most part, don't need four-wheel drive.

So up these weekenders go to the windy roads and steep ridges that take them 5,000 feet, 6,000 feet and higher above Hemet, the nearest city of any size in this part of Riverside County. The community of Idyllwild is set in amongst the pine trees that Mother Nature has combined with oak and spruce to create a powerful allure for people who grow weary of what passes for trees in Southern California's cities.

During winter, most visitors are more than happy to return to warmer climes after their weekend dalliance because shoveling snow is just not one of the things Southern California residents are programmed to do. Many of them think it's better to get just enough exposure to the snow and frigid temperatures to appreciate why they are willing to pay the high price of living in sunny Southern California and then go home.

There are no big resorts -- the accommodations range from smaller motel-type units to "executive' vacation homes. There are several bed-and-breakfast or country inns as well as cabin motels offering mini-cabins mixed with several others on the same property.

For our recent trip, we chose to rent a three-bedroom "cabin" about three miles outside of Idyllwild. It really was as large as a house, but with its cedar interior, two fireplaces and a free-standing wood stove, this house gave every bit the impression that it was in fact a cabin. It was well furnished with a complete kitchen and all dishware and utensils, a living room with a comfy couch, lounge chair and satellite TV and plenty of deck space to gaze out at the spectacular albeit slightly obstructed view of the mountainsides and valley below.

Offered by Muir's Mountain Vacation Rental, the "Smith" cabin was exactly what we were looking for a true mountain retreat that was nicely separated from any nearby cabins on wooded property that gave us a true feeling of seclusion. Built just in front of a massive boulder, we hiked just a few yards higher and could gaze out on views that stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The views from inside the cabin were great, too, and enhanced by the ample use of picture windows on the upper two floors.

Even though this was a January trip, we visited Idyllwild at a somewhat atypical time when there was little snow on the ground and no need to crank up our own four-wheel drive. Skies were clear and blue but temperatures dipped down to the 20's in the evening. We were thankful we had brought lots of warm clothing. Daytime temps were in the 40's and 50's.

We enjoyed spending some time in downtown Idyllwild where there seemed to be an endless variety of shops and a steady stream of visitors. There were shops selling anything you can imagine and in some unusual combinations. Art galleries are also a big part of Idyllwild and there are no fewer than 17 of them for visitors to tour. In fact, Idyllwild is included in a new book "The 100 Best Art Towns in America" by John Villani.

For more information on Idyllwild, visit or phone 888-659-3259.

Big Bear Lake

No question that Southern Californians look to Big Bear in the winter as that place they can find skiing, winter sports and a fair degree of winter weather, all about two hours east from Los Angeles. It's so convenient go curl up in a cabin with snow on the ground, spend a few hours at the ski hill and drive back down to Southern California palm trees and beaches all in one weekend.

On one trip, we stayed in an impressive log vacation home called the S.S. Getaway that would be the envy of any family with its huge game room with pool table and foosball game. But that's just for starters because this cabin-style house has 3 bedrooms, modern kitchen and dining area and a huge living room with a hi-def television and stone fireplace. Up there in the game room, you can look out on spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and Big Bear Lake itself.

To make a long story short, this vacation home would have been a great place to hole up no matter where it was located but it just happens to be a couple miles from all the action at Big Bear Lake. For those who haven't a clue where Big Bear Lake is, just think Los Angeles and the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles. By the time you get to the Riverside area, you start seeing the signs for Big Bear Mountain Resorts that will get you onto one of three routes up to the mountains where Big Bear Lake sits at an elevation of close to 7,000 feet.

Yes, the drive up will involve several miles of windy mountain roads, often two-lane highways that will take you close to an hour to reach Big Bear from the time you leave the valley floor. But if you plan plenty of time for your journey, you can enjoy the scenery and not worry so much about getting there on time. One big hint: Don't go up late Friday afternoon or come back late Sunday afternoon unless your schedule absolutely demands it. Better to schedule a longer weekend and avoid traffic going up, coming down or both ways.

About 6,000 residents live at Big Bear full time, but the area swells with visitors on weekends and prime vacation times. There is a good selection of restaurants not too many Zagat type establishments, but nonetheless a variety of food from homestyle cooking to Mexican to Japanese to fast food. A lot of visitors stock up at the local supermarkets and cook their own meals since many of the vacation rentals come with kitchens.

With two major ski operations, Big Bear is known for its downhill skiing and snowboarding, although cross-country is popular as well. Because it is so close to the Los Angeles basin, the ski areas are always busy on weekends and their extensive snowmaking capabilities means that the resort is less dependent on weather than most California ski areas.

There are numerous cabin rental companies in the Big Bear Lake area. For more information on the accommodations at Big Bear Lake, go to Big Bear lodging.

(Editor's note: is California's leading source of information on getaway travel in the Golden State. Visit the site often to find the latest getaway specials, a comprehensive list of resorts and lodgings and to use the Getaway Machine travel calculator to match up your needs and preferences with exactly the right lodgings and location.)

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If Idyllwild is your kind of California vacation, be sure and check out our other articles on Gold Country, Big Bear Lake, the Delta King and Lake Arrowhead.

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