Vertiginous views are one thing, but combine such dizzying prospects with the sense that the planks on which you walk might give way at a moment's notice, and even the bravest soul would be forgiven for allowing a little fear to creep in. The urge to inhabit high up places has been with us throughout the course of human history – tied up with a desire for protection from predators and the ability to see threats coming from afar.
Trees were obvious choices when our ancestors were selecting lofty locations in which to build house and home – but with such grand designs come natural risks. Living tens if not hundreds of feet above ground means it's a long, long way down should you happen to lose your footing. Vertigo-sufferers need not apply for planning permission.
10. Cedar Creek Treehouse, Ashford, Washington
If you're looking for a vacation that also offers a spot of adventure then this offbeat treetop retreat might be just the thing. Poised 50 feet high up in the air, Bill Compher's Cedar Creek Treehouse clings to a 200-year-old tree growing through the floor and out the roof. Built in the early 1980s, the treehouse offers spectacular views of its natural surroundings, but if ascending a five-story stairwell to stay halfway up a giant western red cedar still sounds a little safe for your tastes, then right next door is a more forbidding prospect...
The octagonal Cedar Creek Treehouse Observatory, completed in 2002, hovers 100 feet above the forest floor in a neighboring fir tree, offering breathtaking, if stomach-churning, panoramas of the Nisqually Valley and peaks like nearby Mt. Rainier. Climbing the aptly-named, 82-foot-tall Stairway to Heaven to reach the observatory should be enough to induce sweaty palms, but if not there's also a swinging 43 foot-long suspension bridge to negotiate once you've wound your way to the top of the spiral staircase. Thrilling? That's one way of putting it.
9. Treehouses of Korowai and Kombai, West Papua
While living in treehouses is something of a novelty for most people in western societies, for the Korowai and Kombai clans of West Papua, it's a way of life. In the swampy jungles of their isolated territory, treehouses tower overhead at precipitous heights of 110 feet or more. These structures may look likely to wobble or even topple, but are held secure by palm tree fibers. The tribespeople choose to live the treetop lifestyle in order to escape the heat and stinging insects below, while in days past, the treehouses provided protection against flooding and hostile tribes.
Of course, for westerners it probably seems a frightening distance down from these treetop dwellings, rickety ladders or no, so it's a good thing that the Korowai and Kombai are skillful climbers – and they need to be! The treehouses are built in clearings carved out of the forest by the tribespeople, who fell trees for use as building materials using rudimentary stone axes. The finished constructions are their family homes, refuges from natural dangers – even though they might look like environmental hazards in themselves to untrained, Occidental eyes.
8. Green Magic Treehouse, Vythiri, Kerala, India
Deep in the remote Wayanad jungle, in the Indian state of Kerala, travellers interested in getting a bird's eye view on their surroundings might want to try one of these treehouse out for size. Found at Vythiri, the Green Magic Treehouse is by all accounts a peaceful and serene rainforest location in which to bed down for the night – but it's probably not for the fainthearted, as the structures sway atop stilt supports among the treetops, some 85 feet above the undergrowth below!
Fully-fitted and with verandas to boot, the treehouses were built among giant ficus trees – thin but apparently sturdy – with eco-friendly materials like bamboo plus the ancient building techniques employed by local tribespeople. Access to the rooms is by an intimidating wicker cage hauled up to the canopy using a pulley system. This, coupled with an undulating rope suspension bridge up top means that no amount of repose here will alleviate a serious fear of heights. The jungle chorus may sound enchanting and the sun rays through the foliage might be delightful, but the fact remains that it's a long way to plummet to earth.
7. The Gibbon Experience Treehouses, Bokeo, Laos
More eco-tourism madness in this next set of treehouses, located in northwestern Laos. In terms of height, they take some topping, situated as they are well over 100 feet up in the mist at and above canopy-level. Suspended high over the jungle floor, they're truly impressive treetop structures – and scary with it. Sleeping at such an elevation with just a small platform between you and certain death is clearly hair-raising in itself – toilets, showers and a kitchen are small comfort – but gnarlier experiences await...
As well as being a conservation project, the Gibbon Experience offers adventurous spirits the opportunity to fly through the air from treehouse to treehouse, almost like the once thought extinct ape they're trying to spot. The only difference is, humans get the help of an ingenious network of zip lines, which allow guests exhilarating glides literally hundreds of feet up above the ground, with some rides lasting up to a minute. The views out over the surrounding lush green landscape are clearly spectacular, but a change of underwear is definitely advised.
6. Rooftop Treehouse, Amsterdam, Netherlands
This next picture alone is enough to make you feel lightheaded, the scene it depicts is so far above the cityscape below. Balanced precariously atop Amsterdam's Museum of Modern Art with 360-degree views over the Dutch capital, this was truly a treehouse to set anyone's head spinning! The structure's lofty position was due to its being built on top of a 12-story building, and while it was actually less than 30 feet above the rooftop, that's still quite a drop – not even counting the further 164 feet down to street level!
Under Heaven 01, as it was named, was created in 2004 by installation artist Leonard van Munster, with recycled fruit and veg crates used to construct the none-too-sturdy-looking structure, hoisted into position on top of the building and held in place by guy wires. The artist then climbed the ladder to sit in the treehouse by night. Quite something to see not only a tree glowing and appearing to grow above the roofline, but someone inhabiting it too. A daring artistic statement indeed!
5. Takasugi-an Tea House, Chino, Japan
This precarious-looking treehouse is built on top of two chestnut trees cut from a nearby mountain and brought to this patch of land in 2009. What's distinctive about this dwelling is that it's as much tea house as treehouse, having been designed by Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori following in the tradition of his country's tea masters. Is it tranquil? If gently rocking in the wind atop two sticks of wood while sipping a cuppa is your idea of serenity...
To reach this teetering tearoom, the intrepid tea drinker must first brave freestanding ladders propped up against one of the trees that provides support for the structure. It's shoes off time at the platform halfway up, a quick gulp that's more to do with fear than hot beverages, then upwards to the room itself – a simply designed space fitted with bamboo mats and a fireplace. Takasugi-an means, “a tea house [built] too high.” We couldn't have put it better.
4. DIY Treehouse of Yesteryear, Location Unknown
We've no idea where this treehouse was – or is – located, nor even when this picture was taken. What we do know is that it's insane. We sure hope those kids aren't panicky about heights – surprisingly they look as if they're enjoying the vantage point, with their legs dangling into thin air – but put it this way: we wouldn't want to see that makeshift structure shaking in the wind. And what is that guy doing letting his charges up in that thing? Precarious isn't the word.
3. Beach Rock Treehouse, Okinawa, Japan
With its glinting, domed design and beautiful position, nestled in the branches of an ancient arbor, this treehouse is pretty special – but that doesn't stop it setting our hearts racing at the thought of peering over the edge while up inside it. The Beach Rock Treehouse was built by Japanese treehouse creator Kobayashi Takashi – strangely enough for the purpose of communicating with extra-terrestrial life. We're not sure what aliens would think if this was their first human contact; we just hope they'd like lofty aerial views!
Climbing to the top of this “Plexiglass portal to the universe" is actually a lot safer than it might seem, with stout-looking ladders and platforms providing access. That said, it's perched precipitously high above the ground in Japan's Okinawa forest, so more timid visitors to its scenic resort location should take note. On the other hand, for the adrenalin junkies, there's a giant rope swing to take you sailing through the treetops! Tarzan would have dug it. Would you?
2. Inkaterra Canopy Tree House, Tambopata, Peru
Another hotel experience for those with an adventurous spirit – and of course a head for heights! Here, in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, perched in the fork of a cepanchila tree, 90 feet above the underbrush, you'll find the Inkaterra Canopy Tree House, a bedroom perfect for any masochistic vertigo sufferers who enjoy having nightmares about their fear of falling – or getting no sleep at all! This treehouse is so high, it overlooks the very jungle canopy! Still, sunrise over the treetops is said to be spectacular!
An intense experience of some description awaits anyone fearless enough to spend the night here, though there are also some interesting neighbors – among them mischievous monkeys, brightly colored tree frogs, and rowdy screamer birds to whose chorus one awakes. After the ascent up a rickety looking spiral staircase that winds around a tree, the swaying Canopy Walkway takes you to the platform the treehouse rests on. There's even a panic button should giddiness or sheer terror get too much for the guest, who can then abseil down to the ground accompanied by a member of staff.
1. Nameless Treehouse, Location Unknown
It's ricketiness that makes this pair of treehouses (also pictured top) such prime candidates for the scariest we've found. If scaling the not so secure-looking spiral stairwells that snake around each trunk were not a recipe for white knuckles on hands gripping tightly to less than reassuring banisters, then there are the two ramshackle huts perched on top like eagles' nests – hardly the most comforting of sanctuaries after such an ascent. We'll wager strong winds or a lightning storm would be enough to spell disaster for anyone ensconced in these most precarious of low budget treetop dwellings.