Why a Cabin Might Be Your Smartest Vacation Rental Investment

The Evolve Team
The Evolve Team
December 13, 2023

To decide if buying a cabin is a good investment, consider what makes cabin getaways so special: roaring fires, lakefront views, and rustic charm. They’re an escape unlike any other, offering something condos or houses don’t always provide: an experiential feel.

These unique characteristics make cabins especially lucrative for vacation rental, and there’s never been a better time to buy. 

Not only have Evolve cabin rentals seen a 37% increase in booking value since mid-2021, but many of the hottest markets in the U.S. distinguish themselves as the best places to buy a cabin specifically.

In This Article:
Questions to Ask When Buying a Cabin
Types of Cabins to Buy
When to Buy a Cabin
Where to Buy a Cabin
How to Buy a Cabin

Questions to Ask When Buying a Cabin

Exterior view of a modern log cabin with massive windows reflecting the towering green pines surrounding it.

While they have incredible income potential, these are the pros and cons of owning a cabin to keep in mind before jumping into an investment.

1. Will my income offset costs?

Highly sought-after vacation destinations can offer impressive returns on investment, but you first need to consider whether the costs tied to your annual revenue are worth it. Our real estate experts say it’s best to look for markets with lower list prices, ample inventory, and worthwhile cap rates. Then, use our vacation rental income calculator to properly estimate profit margins with all expenses factored in. 

2. When will demand peak in this area?

Great news: the vast majority of cabin rental markets have dual-seasonality. If you’re purchasing in the Poconos, PA or Broken Bow, OK, for instance, you’ll see both summer and winter travel demand — with interest running into the shoulder seasons, too. (Fall foliage can bring in a lot of leaf-peeping travelers.) 

The exception is a few select ski towns with little summer presence (though it’s worth noting that most of the best places to buy a ski property do carry multi-season value). Buying a cabin in winter-heavy markets can still be a good investment though, so long as you prepare for your vacation rental to have lower occupancy once the slopes close.

To help you zero in on the busiest time(s) of year for a variety of cabin-friendly areas, browse our Vacation Rental Market Analyses. Then, connect with our real estate team to get a more tailored look at your investment options.

3. What upfront costs will this property require?

Cabins have a lot of rustic character, but with that comes the risk of extra maintenance before your new home is rentable. Our real estate experts encourage thorough inspections before investing in a cabin to make sure the wood, insulation, bug infestations (inevitable in woodsier areas), and other elements can be properly assessed.

4. How accessible is this cabin?

While the idea of owning a remote cabin might sound like a vacationer’s dream, guests won’t book the home if the roads are impossible to navigate. Same goes for a mountain home if a heavy snow falls but plows can’t make it to your property. Our real estate experts say it’s key to choose a home that’s easily accessible to both guests and vetted service partners at a moment’s notice.

Types of Cabins to Buy

Exterior view of "The Hygge Hideaway" in Prescott, AZ with angular architecture, a barrel sauna, and fire pit.

The first consideration when choosing a cabin type is the market you’re most interested in. A-frame cabins, for instance, are more common in northern areas like the Poconos, Catskills, and New England mountains, whereas more classic log cabins are found farther south in the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountain ranges.

The second factor is price point. If you can afford a large family-style cabin, our real estate experts say that’s the type of cabin to buy every time. Doing so opens up the opportunity for traveling groups, and you’re likely to see greater returns from must-book amenities these larger luxury homes tend to offer. (That said, even one-room log cabins have the potential to make impressive annual revenue if you furnish and market the home to elevate its rustic charm.)

Here’s a quick look at the appeal of some popular types of cabins to buy and how they might affect your bottom line.

1. Log Cabins

Quaint and rustic, classic log cabins typically attract outdoorsy travelers. They also tend to be more energy-efficient, since the thick log exterior traps heat and keeps the home toastier after nightfall. Log cabins are generally more rare, too, so scoring one as a vacation rental owner can translate to extra earning potential.

2. A-Frame Cabins

The stunning architectural impact and massive windows that let in loads of natural light are the biggest draws for travelers booking A-frame cabins. The downside: that distinct, sloping roof often means there’s a lack of conventional storage space. You’ll need to be creative in how you keep your cabin stocked, making sure all essential vacation rental supplies are easily accessible without cluttering the clean lines of each room.

3. Family Cabins

With sprawling floor plans, family-sized cabins give groups the ability to enjoy each other’s company with enough room to spread out. Most are equipped with luxe, family-friendly amenities (think: hot tubs, fire pits, entertainment systems, and easy-to-enjoy outdoor spaces), meaning you can typically charge more per night. Just remember the upkeep for a larger cabin can also increase your expenses.

4. One-Room Remote Cabins

Perfect for traveling couples or solo getaways, one-room cabins foster a simple, unfussy experience. These cabins can also be a good investment because they tend to have significantly lower maintenance costs, as a lack of luxury amenities can all be considered part of that getting-off-the-grid ambiance.

When to Buy a Cabin

Exterior view of a newly renovated A-frame log cabin in Duck Creek Village, UT surrounded by trees covered in snow.

The best time to buy depends on the market. In ski towns, it’s good to have your vacation rental up and running (and winterized) before peak season. For summer-heavy markets, capturing that warm-weather travel increase with spring readiness is key. Of course, for cabins with dual-seasonality, there are multiple opportunities to capitalize on rising booking trends. 

That said, current vacation rental owners planning to sell know when those peak seasons happen, too — meaning most won’t put their homes on the market in the lead up to busy months. 

That’s why our real estate team recommends looking for cabins to buy in the off months, just after a market’s high season dies down. This is when you’ll find the most inventory available, along with lower list prices. 

Plus, properly furnishing and marketing a vacation rental can take a few months, so an off-season purchase gives you more runway to perfectly prepare for the five-star guest experiences that maximize income.

Where to Buy a Cabin

Exterior view of a 3-bedroom, 1-bath cabin in Coeur d'Alene, ID with a spacious deck with multiple tables and umbrellas overlooking a serene lake — the ideal space for morning coffee or evening relaxation.

Another key consideration that will determine if a cabin is a good investment: location, location, location!  

If a mountain home sparks your interest, the Smoky Mountains are an established favorite among cabin-seekers, with stunning scenery and multi-season appeal. Be sure to consider towns like Gatlinburg, TN and Boone, NC when exploring your options in the region. 

For more of a hidden-gem investment, look to emerging markets. Rapid City, SD was recently named one of the best small towns to visit in the U.S., and Hocking Hills, OH is gaining ground as an outdoor adventurer’s paradise.

Lake cabins see a ton of success in destinations like Saranac Lake, NY or Branson, MO. The Midwest is also swimming with prime locations, including Hayward, WI, Boyne City, MI, and Breezy Point, MN.

Regardless of the specific market you land on, our real estate experts recommend keeping these other essentials in mind when shopping for your ideal cabin investment:

1. Breathtaking Views

Unsurprisingly, the best-performing cabin rentals offer memorable nature views, whether it’s a lake, a landscape of trees, or stunning mountain scenery. A cabin with a vista is always a good investment, because a wow-worthy view never goes out of style.

2. Easy Access to the Local Area

This means proximity to ski slopes or snowshoe trails for mountain cabins, or swimming and boat rentals for lakefront rentals. While you can set higher rates with a waterfront or slopeside property, you’ll likely see lower list prices a couple miles from seasonal attractions. Our team can help you weigh revenue against expenses to choose a home with great earning potential and a faster recoup of your investment.

3. Desirable Amenities

If the market you’re eyeing has winter interest, travelers often look for homes with fireplaces and expert snow removal. If there’s summer demand, they want great outdoor space, a grill, and even an outdoor shower. Guests also favor different amenities when booking a lakefront cabin versus a mountain cabin, so make enhancements that embrace your home’s unique perks (like a private dock and kayaks, or a place to drop wet ski gear). And, of course, key amenities like easy parking and WiFi are valuable for any cabin.

How to Buy a Cabin

Exterior view of the "Aces Wild" vacation rental in Broken Bow, OK with a firepit surrounded by chairs in the foreground and a slide and swingset amongst the trees

When it’s officially time to search cabins for sale, finding the perfect one can be a minefield to navigate on your own. Our real estate experts take the guesswork and heavy lifting out of the equation by helping you:

  1. Define your personal and financial goals
  2. Understand the nuances and earning potential of any market 
  3. Connect with preferred real estate agents in the area for expert local assistance
  4. Manage your new property to maximize income and stay ahead of the competition

Of course, if you want proof of performance upfront, our listings for sale page features cabins and other types of properties that already have a proven track record of vacation rental success with Evolve.

Frankly, there’s never been a better time to invest in a cabin. We’ve helped thousands of owners maximize their earning potential — and we’d love to help you. See if you qualify and let your adventure in cabin rentals begin!

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