CROSSLAKE, Minn. — Danielle Hermanny described her family’s New Year’s getaway as a woodland fairytale.

The Twin Cities family of five sledded, snowshoed and spent a cozy few days together in the woods of Crosslake, Minnesota.

Ashley and Nathan Schiesser spent their fifth anniversary this summer in the same spot, enjoying all Crosslake had to offer — and even spotting a black bear.

A view of the cabin from the loft in the Crosslake Treetop Village. 
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
A view of the cabin from the loft in the Crosslake Treetop Village. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Nestled back in the trees off Daggett Pine Road — close to town but secluded enough — stand two treehouse-style cabins, raised off the ground on stilts and complete with heating, air conditioning, a fireplace and a full kitchen.

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Both the Hermannys and the Schiessers are already looking forward to the next time they can book another sky-high stay at the Crosslake Treetop Village, a unique rental experience attracting visitors from all over the country.

Hermanny stumbled upon the property online by chance, listed on a website detailing unique places to stay.

“My husband and I have three small children, and we were just looking for a place where we could be together,” Hermanny said during a phone interview Aug. 11. “It didn’t really matter to us where it was, and particularly during COVID, it’s not like we were going anywhere.”

Stacey and Terry Koch opened the village in fall 2017, getting the idea from the TV show “Treehouse Masters.”

The treehouses — Bears Den and Anglers Way — are decorated according to their names: bears and a woodsy feel in one, and a fishing theme in the other. They were built by Wes Hanson Buildings.

They have all the amenities vacationers could ask for: three queen beds, a cozy loft, a fire pit and hammock chairs outside, a kitchen full of appliances and, perhaps most importantly, that unmistakable “up north” cabin feel that draws so many to the Brainerd lakes area.

“Even just driving up to it, it’s just such a statement because it’s up on those stilts,” Hermanny said. “And it had recently snowed, so it was just kind of nestled in the woods and just was so beautiful.”

Complete with a Christmas tree tucked in one corner, the treehouse’s charm exceeded even the photos on Airbnb.com. It was cozy without being crowded.

Hermanny’s two older kids stayed up in the loft, which has two queen-sized beds and an overhead view of the woods outside.

Beds in the loft area on the second level Wednesday, July 28, 2021, at one of the treetop cabins in Crosslake.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Beds in the loft area on the second level Wednesday, July 28, 2021, at one of the treetop cabins in Crosslake. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“They just thought that was the coolest thing they’ve ever seen in their lives,” she said.

The TV is tucked away in the corner, available for watching movies if desired but not the center focus of the room, allowing the family to concentrate instead on one another, play games, eat pancakes and just be together.

If they wanted to go into town and see people, it was close by. But if they wanted to stay in their little hideaway by themselves, they could do that, too.

“It was exactly what we wanted. It was a place for us to be together and to just enjoy each other’s company,” Hermanny said.

Alex Hermanny stands on the balcony of The Bears Den at the Crosslake Treetop Village during his family's stay last December. Pictured below are his children Thomas, Madeleine and Ellie.
Contributed
Alex Hermanny stands on the balcony of The Bears Den at the Crosslake Treetop Village during his family's stay last December. Pictured below are his children Thomas, Madeleine and Ellie. Contributed

The “up north” feel is exactly what Ashley Schiesser was looking for, coming from Lakeville, and she wasn’t disappointed, especially with the wildlife. Spotting a black bear while staying in the Bears Den was a definite high point of the trip, as was being so close to plenty of restaurants and other things to do.

“10/10 recommend it for a long weekend, a short weekend, family, no family. It’s a great place.”

A booming business

The Kochs put the village up for sale in fall 2020.

Darrin Stuhr had just booked one of the treehouses for a deer hunting trip later that fall, and when he saw the property was for sale, he decided to jump before ever having stayed there.

“We thought, ‘Oh no, we’re going to lose our cabin. Someone’s going to buy this and kick us out,” Stuhr said.

The living room Wednesday, July 28, 2021, at the Bears Den treetop cabin in Crosslake.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
The living room Wednesday, July 28, 2021, at the Bears Den treetop cabin in Crosslake. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Stuhr, who lives in Eden Prairie, had already been thinking about buying property in the lakes area, as his brother lives on Cross Lake.

“We came up here on a Friday and just loved it and put an offer in,” he said.

The Stuhrs originally planned on using the treehouse for themselves and renting it out at other times just to cover some of the costs, but the popularity of the unique rental overtook the family’s original idea.

Mike Camplin had similar plans when he purchased Anglers Way a year ago.

His family was renting a cabin on Trout Lake, and being laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic gave him some extra time to think about the idea of buying property up north near Brainerd, where his wife is from.

A New Zealand native now living in St. Paul, Camplin has spent a lot of time in the lakes area with his wife’s family and fell in love with the region.

A bedroom on the first level Wednesday, July 28, 2021, at one of the treetop cabins in Crosslake.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
A bedroom on the first level Wednesday, July 28, 2021, at one of the treetop cabins in Crosslake. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“I was just looking on Zillow … and these came up, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is cool,’ and then we just continued the process,” Camplin said.

Now, the rental aspect of the properties far exceeds the personal use.

“We have learned the hard way that we have to plan a little bit further in advance if we want to stay at our own cabin,” Camplin joked.

The treehouses are booked at about 85-90% capacity each month.

“The pandemic was obviously a big reason for people to just get away from home, but it’s continuing,” Stuhr said. “Even Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — the odd days of the week — filled right up.”

Owner Darrin Starr pauses in the loft at the Bears Den treetop cabin in Crosslake July 28.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Owner Darrin Starr pauses in the loft at the Bears Den treetop cabin in Crosslake July 28. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

And even though bookings are through the roof, Stuhr still has plans to improve his property even further, including the addition of a shuffleboard court below the treehouse and perhaps a barrel sauna out back. The two owners have also thought about finding boat slips they can rent out so any of their guests who want to come up with boats can do so easily without having to park them in the woods.

“Even though it’s not a lake property, it’s as good as or close to,” Camplin said, noting the lakes aren’t far away. “It’s an incredible property, incredible location.”

Treehouse management

With neither Stuhr nor Camplin living in the Crosslake area, they rely heavily on two things to keep the properties running: trusty technology and an even trustier housekeeper.

The treehouses are equipped with Google Nest products, meaning the locks, security system, thermostats and everything are able to be controlled from anywhere.

“It’s really a great setup to be able to do this remotely and not have the fear of you’re going to have to run up here because someone’s key doesn’t work,” Stuhr said, noting he can set codes instead of relying on traditional keys.

A view of the cabin from the loft in the Crosslake Treetop Village. 
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
A view of the cabin from the loft in the Crosslake Treetop Village. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Jamie Ganz is the duo’s other crucial management tool. She cleans, does the laundry and even enlists her husband to do some light maintenance jobs around the treehouses.

“She’s our eyes to the cabin when we’re not around,” Stuhr said.

Stuhr had managed townhomes prior to buying his treehouse, but neither owner had much experience in the rental business, and Ganz has made that transition for them as easy as can be. And her high-quality work is reflected in the many reviewers who mention the treehouses’ cleanliness.

“Get yourself a really good housekeeper,” Stuhr said as a word of advice to rental owners.

Camplin and Stuhr contract with vendors for lawn care and snow removal services and do a little bit of marketing on social media, but with the help of websites such as Airbnb and VRBO, running the properties is a pretty low-stress job.

“We were lucky enough to buy well-designed, good-looking properties that really sell themselves,” Camplin said. “It’s a cute little cabin up in the trees. It’s close to the lakes; it’s a beautiful location, and it’s quiet. It’s got all the amenities of a hotel room without the cost and without the other people. It’s unique and it’s secluded and independent from anything else, so I think that’s why people choose our cabins to stay at.”

Just the word “treehouse” is often a draw to potential guests, and the atmosphere once they get there is usually enough to make them want to come back.

“While people come here for this unique cabin because of the way it’s built, and it’s up in the trees, when they leave it seems like they’re commenting a lot about the peacefulness — which is kind of surprising because we’re in town — and the animals that they see,” Stuhr said.

Owner Darrin Starr talks about the rental properties Wednesday, July 28, 2021, at the Bears Den treetop cabin in Crosslake.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Owner Darrin Starr talks about the rental properties Wednesday, July 28, 2021, at the Bears Den treetop cabin in Crosslake. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Schiesser has already been in contact with Stuhr about the next time she might be able to come back for a stay — hopefully during the fall or winter — but with the secret of the luxury treehouses hidden away in the woods of Crosslake slowly leaking out, that may be easier said than done.

But it just means Stuhr and Camplin keep getting to meet new people and read more fun entries in their guestbooks. Visitors tend to share personal, intimate stories with their hosts, including one couple who Camplin recalled saying they found out they were pregnant while staying at Anglers Way.

“It’s a business, but it’s also just a community that you’re starting to build,” he said.

And it’s new friends being made along the way.

“It’s been surprisingly fun. As a host … we get to know the guests personally and share a lot of information. I’m Facebook friends with some of them now,” Stuhr said. “The guests are so appreciative. It makes it so fun and makes all your hard work here really, really worth it.”