Adirondack Mini-Cabin

In a few weekends, you can build your own trail shelter.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

If you're familiar with certain state and federal park systems, you may recognize this little abode, known in the East as an Adirondack shelter. It's often a welcome sight along the trail-a place to build a fire and rest for the night. The plans here detail how you can easily build a semi-permanent camping structure for the kids-or for yourself for those summer nights when you'd rather "rough it" than sleep indoors.

Adirondack shelters are traditionally built from logs that are cut on-site and are roofed with split shakes. The shelter detailed here is 12 feet wide by 6 feet deep and will accommodate four backpackers. This design can be built for larger groups by extending the back wall.

Step 1: The Flooring The foundation is just two level supports-either two solid-cement footers, cemented stones or cinder blocks or two large logs cut and planed to the same size (see diagram, photo). The tops of the blocks or the logs should be at least 6 inches above the grade. Build them higher if you want more storage for firewood.

The ground is seldom level. So dig a shallow trench into the ground in which to lay the foundation supports (set up plywood framing in which to pour concrete footers), burying them at the proper pitch and depth to make them level. You can also plane the tops of wood supports to exact levelness. It's essential to get the supports level, as this dictates the levelness of the floor and structure. If you're using cement, blocks or stone, insert 1/2-inch bolts into the cement or between blocks or stones to create points for securing floor joists. Three bolts per footer is fine; just be sure to set them in place where each will meet a joist.

Next, take fourteen 2-inch by 6-inch by 12-foot plywood boards (buy these, or make or recycle your own) and nail them together in pairs to make seven floor joists. Space these evenly across the foundation supports. If you're using log supports, nail the joists to the log. With cement footers or block/ stone supports, drill a hole in the end of each joist, slip the joist over the exposed bolt end and countersink the securing nut and washer.

Install the flooring by nailing twenty-eight 2-inch by 6-inch by 6-foot plywood boards across the floor joists. These should be flush at the edges with the joists.

Step 2: The Walls Assemble roughly 35 straight logs, 4 to 6 inches in diameter, of varying length. These must be relatively uniform, with no significant tapering. Stripping the bark is optional, but if the bark is loose and hanging, the logs will be easier to handle if shorn to bare wood. Anchor each wall with a half log (see diagram) secured with long, tenpenny nails or spikes driven into the flooring supports below, using a sledgehammer. Next, place the first back-wall log atop the side logs. Use an ax or an adze to notch the log so that it fits securely over the side logs and also sits flush against the floor boards (see "Build Your Own Cabin," April 2002, for a detailed explanation of notching, fitting and securing logs). Secure this log with long nails or spikes driven into the floor with the sledgehammer.

Continue adding side logs and notching and adding back-wall logs, securing them with nails or spikes. A back wall 9 or 10 logs high should be of sufficient height. To maintain an even, vertical rise, nail two wooden poles to either end of the bottom logs on the side and back walls. Brace each additional log against these poles as it is added, making sure that you center each log atop the one beneath.

Step 3: Cutting Gables
After placing the fifth or sixth side log (depending upon their size), the remaining side logs will have to be cut to form a gable. Spike into place three long logs (they'll jut outward at the front but should be flush in back) and cut thesee at an outward 45-degree angle to form the forward eave of the gable (see diagram). Mark the angle of the cut using a bevel measure and chalk line or yardstick and magic marker. Make the cut with a chain saw; you'll be doing this from a ladder, so be sure to brace the ladder as you saw. Repeat this on the wall on the opposite side of the shelter.

Next, spike in place the four final gable logs-two long, two short. Cut a triangular pattern out of cardboard and trace it on these logs on either wall. The back slope of the gable (and thus of the roof) can be at a shallower angle than the front (see photo). Cut along the line to create the roof peak and tapered gables. (You may notice that the shelter in the photo is a bit different from that in the diagram. No two shelters are alike, due to the differences in building materials, and these plans are easily customized to your tastes. Extending the back wall to make a larger shelter will also alter the slope of the rear roof.)

Step 4: Making the Roof
With the walls and gables in place, nail roof-support planks from gable to gable, across the open roof span. The planks should be 14 to 16 feet long, or you can join shorter lengths with butt blocks. The plank width can range from 1 by 6 inches to 2 by 4 inches to 2 by 6 inches, depending on how solid a roof you want to make. As you nail these to the gables, you can space them apart, leaving gaps, or set them edge to edge. Be sure to leave roughly 12 inches of overhang over the gable edge on either end, trimming the plank ends even.

Vertical supports can be added to the inside surface of the roofing planks (see ceiling in photo). Nail 2- by 6-inch boards at intervals across the planks. You can also brace the roof peak with a central, inch-wide pole; toenail the pole ends into the floor and inner roof peak respectively (see diagram).

Tack a layer of roofing paper over the roof planks. Depending on the width of the paper roll, you can lay three or four spreads of paper lengthwise across the planks (see diagram). This is a wise addition to ensure a watertight roof. Then add rows of shake shingles, starting from the bottom edge and tacking them into place with roof tacks. Overlap half of each successive row as you go (see diagram).

Step 5: Final Touches
Fill seams and chinks in the log walls with cement. Use caulk to fill in seams in the floorboards. Spike a half log across the bare front ends of the side logs (see photo). Add shelves, seats or benches to the inside walls as you wish. Painting isn't necessary.

Contact: For detailed building plans for previous "Do It Yourself" boat-building projects, go to, E-mail or write to Paul Butler, Box 1917, Port Angeles, WA 98362.