Wheelhaus Resort in Jackson Hole Allows Vacationers to 'Test Drive' a Tiny Home

Going small is a big step for many home buyers. After all, a tiny home is usually less than 500 square feet. The average American home is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 square feet.

However, before you push all your chips to the center of the tiny table, there is an alternative. You can head to Fireside Resort in Jackson Hole, WY, and "test drive" a Wheelhaus cabin on wheels while on vacation. Fall in love with tiny living? You can buy one of your own.

The miniature mobile cabin concept came about when Wheelhaus founder Jamie Mackay, whose father built log cabins, bought a recreational park trailer camp outside Jackson Hole.

Mackay went looking to buy a bunch of park trailer homes (also known as park model RVs), but couldn't find any he liked. So the developer soon became a designer and manufacturer, too. There are now 23 cabins on wheels at the resort that's been around since 2011, courtesy of the tiny home company.

To be clear, Airstreams these are not. They look like sleek, small modern cabins with wheels and a chassis -- and no motor. "It's got to be built to the recreational vehicle code," Mackay adds. Translation: They need to be towed on the road, so they can be no bigger than 10 feet wide by 40 feet long.

After Fireside Resort opened, some happy vacationers wanted a more permanent memento of their stay. They wanted the cabins. Mackay started to take orders. Now, the company has built about 50 personal cabins. It's also expanding its resort cabins to other places: Michigan's Traverse Bay Resort; Wildwood Lakefront Cottages north of Seattle; and Park City, UT.

Here's how it works. Buyers go to the website and choose from a variety of models, along with all kinds of options, including a Nest thermostat, gas fireplace, a washer and dryer, and decks.

The prefab homes are built to spec in about two to four months and towed to your doorstep -- or wherever you'd like your doorstep to be.

Kitchen appliances, wiring, and lighting are included. The homes have high-end finishes, including hardwood floors, high ceilings, lots of glass, a breakfast bar, a kitchen-living space, one bedroom, and one bathroom.

When your Wheelhaus arrives, water and electric have to be hooked up, and you're ready to move in. Just add furniture.

This is exactly what Doug Dzenick did. The Alberta, Canada, resident wanted a vacation home at Trestle Creek Golf Resort.

"I have a motor home, but it was too small for what we wanted to do," Dzenick says. He spotted the Wheelhaus models online. "I like the fact that it's more like a house than a trailer," he adds.

His Wheelhaus cabin was modified from the U.S. version -- Dzenick's resort bans wood exteriors -- and it was allowed to be slightly larger.

Mackay notes that Dzenick's use of the Wheelhaus as a second home is the norm. These tiny cabins could work as very small primary homes, but they're mostly used as guest quarters, office space, or vacation pads, Mackay says. "They're quite livable. Most people almost disagree with me that they're [only] 400 square feet."

That may be due to clever ways to add on, including covered decks that add 100 to 200 square feet of outdoor space and lofts that give owners an added 150 square feet to spread out. According to Mackay, the luxe little homes on wheels are the "BMWs of the tiny house."

And, like a luxury car, they're not exactly cheap. Depending on the model and finishes, the price can range from $85,000 to $323,000 for three homes hitched together.

With about 1% of the housing market, tiny houses are not likely to take over the industry anytime soon, according to Elaine Walker, a founder of the American Tiny House Association. But small can still go big. "The trend is growing," Walker says. "I think it will grow even more quickly as zoning adapts and pocket neighborhoods of tiny homes are created."

Meanwhile, the Wheelhaus cabin resorts are one way to try out living very well, and very small.