Through two generations, this family-owned business has been inviting other families for a scenic escape in the woods. Though things have certainly changed, there’s still a distinct charm to this rustic destination.
To successfully roll with the ups and downs, learn from the experiences, and come out even stronger after those challenges is the goal of any business owner. It’s also a repeated theme for Terisa and Jamie King, the owners of Kishauwau Cabins, in Tonica, Ill.
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic to celebrate their 35th anniversary in business, the King family has accelerated their work and come out even brighter on the other side. Even so, there were some pretty scary times for the couple.
“When the pandemic hit hard at the beginning of 2020, we received cancellation after cancellation,” says Terisa. “Business was going very well, and then all of a sudden we had an entire summer with no new revenue and no guests in any of our 17 cabins.”
It was no small pill to swallow, as the family has been offering unique weekend getaways since 1986. That’s when Jamie’s parents, Ben and Ellen King, purchased Camp Ki-Shau-Wau from the Boy Scout Council. They transformed the camp and its facilities into a family-oriented retreat with cabin rentals and vacation house rentals in a scenic, heavily wooded part of Illinois.
Over the years, the family has renovated four original cabins and built an additional 13. The property now envelops 65 acres of beautiful scenery on a bluff above the Vermilion River, in a spot that’s roughly 100 miles southwest of Chicago, with close proximity to Starved Rock State Park and Ottawa.
When pandemic restrictions eased somewhat into the fall of 2020, visitors trickled back to Kishauwau Cabins in search of some de-stressing time. With Kishauwau Cabins’ naturally spread-out property, guests told the Kings they felt safe enjoying some peace and quiet. The woods, of course, provided a natural, soothing barrier from the outside world.
“We were fortunate that the COVID-19 pandemic brought visibility and relevancy to us because of our open space, when other hospitality areas were closed,” says Terisa.
Thanks in part to their longevity, Kishauwau Cabins maintains a large and loyal following. Many families and couples return year after year to this year-round retreat so they can unplug, detach from technology and resist the ever-present log-ons to the outside world. What they find is a place where they can savor a peaceful, restful getaway in a natural setting.
The 17 cabins on site can accommodate and sleep from one or two people up to 14, depending on the building. Their intimacy and flexibility helps these cabins to cater to romantic escapes, family reunions and even corporate teambuilding retreats.
For all of their quaintness and country charm, these beautifully constructed cabins aren’t without their modern conveniences. Each cabin is equipped with central air and furnace heating, enabling them to stay comfortable year-round. They also have wood stoves or gas fireplaces for the winter months. All cabins have a fully equipped kitchen with basic pots and pans, cooking utensils and dishes. A private, outdoor bonfire pit, picnic table and grill enable guests to savor the outdoors, not to mention roasting s’mores by the fire, without competing for community space. A covered porch with porch swing beckons guests to kick back and enjoy.
For added flair and easy identification, each cabin has its own unique name, like Illini, Grandma’s or Winnebago.
For travelers with pets, Kishauwau Cabins offers a few cozy, pet-friendly cabin rentals, too, so there’s no need to leave behind a beloved family pet.
When COVID-19 started forcing shutdowns early last year, King was already armed with a marketing plan that could help her to stay in front of families and potential new visitors.
“In 2006 when my father-in-law, Ben, passed away, we had to make a decision to change our way of doing things to remain open and grow,” says Terisa. “We had to do something quickly to continue the dream.”
For the King family, that meant rebuilding the business and moving quickly into the digital age. Terisa started mastering digital advertising and other means of publicity.
“My dad owned a machine shop, and I think I inherited a bit of his business brain,” says Terisa. “I was confident and was able to create ads to bring attention to Kishauwau Cabins. And it worked.”
Her goal is to reach people in the planning phase of their vacation, during that point in time when they’re searching for vacation options but haven’t yet made a commitment.
“We entered the digital age and doubled our business through continued digital marketing, including Facebook ads,” she says.
Taking things a step further, the Kings used COVID-19 concerns as an opportunity to create contactless guest check-ins, something Terisa says will continue in the future.
“It has really worked out well for us,” she says, “and our customers don’t mind.”
The King family still resides on the Kishauwau property, and they remain devoted caretakers. A total of eight employees, comprising Terisa and Jamie, their son Keegan, a niece and four cleaning staff, meticulously take care of the cabins and attend to the property to ensure every stay is one of carefree comfort.
Looking back at how Kishauwau Cabins has changed over the years, Terisa explains that, to grow and move ahead, it’s sometimes important to seek outside help.
“I have learned that it is very important, as a business owner, to recognize your weaknesses,” she says. “I love working with and meeting people and have a knack for marketing, but as far as other needs, we value professional help.”
Terisa encourages business owners to seek professional guidance from accountants, bankers and others who are experts in their fields.
“Right now, we also are in the process of working with someone to create a new website,” she adds. “We have also hired a professional photographer who has taken amazing photos of our cabins and property.”
They may seem like innocuous things, but such projects help to keep Kishauwau Cabins in the forefront and easily accessible for guests and prospective visitors, says Terisa.
In each cabin, you’ll find a journal waiting for guests to leave a personal message about their stay. A quick survey shows their deep appreciation for what Kishauwau Cabins means to them.
One couple notes, “Jack’s Cabin is pure joy, and it was profoundly moving to see a dark, unspoiled sky. This place is so tranquil and comfortable.”
Another family writes, “It was our first time staying here, and my kids loved it. It was nice to be unplugged for a few days. We hope to be back soon.”
Given its location, Kishauwau Cabins invites adventures to Starved Rock, Ottawa and the surrounding areas for casual and fine dining, visits to local breweries and wineries, outdoor recreation and numerous State Parks, and shopping, spas and live entertainment.
Work is never truly done at Kishauwau Cabins. There’s always something to work on. Terisa says the latest project has been installing new carpeting, and there’s a continued emphasis on cleaning and sanitizing the cabins to keep guests worry-free.
“Each season of the year at Kishauwau Cabins has its own natural allure,” Terisa says. “That’s what makes our property one of the most inspirational and memorable places to be.”