Distance: 150 miles, three-hour drive
Ten miles west of Brunswick, Georgia on Highway 82 on 133 acres of forest and wetlands sits a small colony of nine treehouses, geodesic domes, garden, chicken coop, library, outdoor showers, labyrinth, sweat lodge and more, all ecologically sustainable through the conservation of electricity, minimal water usage from a local well, recycling of refuse and use of a saw dust composting toilet.
Operating as an International Youth Hostel for the past 35 years, the Hostel in the Forest was built and has been sustained entirely by volunteers. The hostel idea came to founder Tom Dennard while backpacking on a solo trip to Europe in the early 70s.
“Traveling on trains, I met a number of young people who told me they were staying in a place called a hostel. I’d never heard of such a place. I came home enamored, if not obsessed, with the idea of having my own hostel,” said Dennard.
Dennard began searching for a location for his hostel and stumbled upon a good deal on 75 acres, which he purchased despite having no money and no need for that much property. After exploring the property, he spotted a large grove of live oak trees towering over a sea of palmettos. After meditating at the base of one of the live oaks, Dennard became convinced that he had found the perfect spiritual place to build his hostel. There was only one problem: this mystical place was not on the 75 acres he had just purchased.
“I then had to find the owner, who turned out to be a crusty old farmer a few miles away who frowned upon long-haired boys. Undaunted, I became the owner of a whopping 90-acre-tract of swampland to build my hostel,” said Dennard. “Until the day he died, the old farmer always referred to the hostel as ‘the hippy hotel.'”
Dennard and his staff believe that nature should be revered and respected, rather than used simply as a resource for development. The Hostel in the Forest brings this vision to life, supporting itself with an organic vegetable garden used in dinners each night, recycling waste, a cutting-edge gray-water system, watering plants with a solar powered irrigation system, and using a worm box that composts table scraps into fertilizer for the garden.
The first dormitory Dennard built on the property was a cedar shake-covered geodesic dome, a very popular construction in the seventies. Treehouses naturally followed the domes, and a two-story bunk room is also available to guests.
Dennard’s “hippy hotel” now hosts hundreds of guests from around the world and numerous educational retreats and lectures designed to teach visitors how to move toward a wholesome and more sustainable future.
The Hostel in the Forest operates as a 501c3 and is a membership organization. Ten dollars will get you a lifetime membership and another $30 per night will cover your stay ($15 per night for ages 7-17; seven and under are free). There is no heating or cooling in any of the rooms, and due to free-range chickens and ducks, pets are not allowed.