News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Airbnb Superstars – Cabin experience a national standout

Out along the North Santiam River, about halfway, in river miles, between Stayton and Mehama/Lyons, lies a little oasis of paradise.

Eagles and ospreys soar above the sparkling river. Salmon rush through the water while battling upstream to their spawning grounds. Deer and elk often can be seen paddling across the swift-moving flow. Baby swallows peep and chirp and poke their heads out of the numerous bird boxes that dot the property’s thick assortment of trees. Kayaks zip by, riding the current west into Stayton.

The property, which is slightly less than an acre, features a 1,200-foot main house, an artists’ studio, a sizable shop and one of the most popular, indeed almost revered, Airbnbs in the country.

Tim and Cyndi Hill, then Salem residents, bought the property in 2015 after a 4-year search for a riverfront retreat.

“The first time we came here I nearly jumped out of my skin,” Cyndi Hill said. “It had a shop and space for an art studio. We fell in love with the place.”

The Hills added the 680-square-foot cabin in time for the August 2017 eclipse, which achieved its 2 minutes of totality in dramatic fashion above the surging river and framed by the towering trees.

The bookings have run strong ever since, although the reservation book now is chock-full almost 12 months out. The increased demand is a function of a recently announced national honor the Hills received from Airbnb. They were named Airbnb’s “most hospitable” host, not just for Oregon, but for the entire United States. The cabin has more than 400 5-star ratings in three key categories, cleanliness, check-in and communication.

Tim Hill works as a realtor and Cyndi Hill is a trainer for Salem-Keizer Public Schools. 

Tim did a huge chunk of the heavy lifting in the cabin build, with only the permit-heavy chores such as electrical and plumbing requiring contractors. 

Tim and Cyndi Hill in the “Artsy Fartsy Studio”.     JAMES DAY
Tim and Cyndi Hill in the “Artsy Fartsy Studio”. JAMES DAY

Cyndi, meanwhile, converted a small shed on the parcel into her Artsy Fartsy Studio. She specializes in acrylic pour, offers clinics/workshops for visitors and mails the finished products to guests once they have dried.

The cabin features a huge tub in the bathroom, painted scenery behind the bed that changes periodically, curtains that were custom-painted by Cyndi, two comfy recliners in front of the TV and a huge porch with brightly painted deck chairs and a pleasing view of the river. 

A covered swinging bench sits on a concrete pad just a few yards up from the river bank, although it’s moved to higher ground during the winter when the river rises.

There is no kitchen, although the cabin offers a microwave plus a grill on the porch. The goal, as the Hills put it, was not to have guests enter the unit and be greeted with the residual odor of frying bacon. 

The unit has a full complement of pots, pans and dishes – as well as a gleaming ice bucket and champagne flutes. The Hills wash everything, eliminating the nagging doubts about whether the guests cleaned everything to the correct sanitation level. And it removes dish washing from the checkout routine of guests.

The Hills stayed open during the COVID pandemic but dramatically dialed up the cleaning and disinfecting protocols. In post-pandemic times the protocols have remained just as rigid, making the high cleanliness ratings a natural.

The guest list leans toward Oregon and Washington residents, with a good chunk of California visitors. The Hills estimate that more than half of their guests are repeat customers. One California artist, twice stayed for 11 days. The minimum stay is two nights. There is no maximum. The cost is about $150 a night. Many book the cabin for special events such as weddings and anniversaries.

The cabin’s inviting swing by the river.     JAMES DAY
The cabin’s inviting swing by the river. JAMES DAY

One North Carolina couple went straight from their car to the river, wading right in despite the stingingly cold water. As the story goes, they were giddy at the idea of going into a water body that does not contain snakes.

The Hills have inner tubes available at a retaining wall near the river and emphasize, via introductory conversations and a thick guest reference book in the cabin, the outdoor activities available in the region. Some guests, they say, take it all in, sound fired up … but then never leave the cabin.

Poignantly, other guests, particularly those in medical fields, often come alone for a few days … just to get away from the work stress and recharge the batteries.

The Hills understand. Tim Hill sums it up this way: “To have the opportunity to live on the river like this is pretty special.”

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