tough question to answer

Is It A Cottage? Is It A Camp? Is It A Cabin?

Doing The Research

I’ve been busy this morning, doing the research so you don’t have to….that’s one of the services offered here at The Cottage Chronicles, we do the research so you can spend more quality time doing whatever it is you do for quality time.  A service that is absolutely free I might add….but I am digressing from tonight’s post.

One of our more astute readers, Chris, commented  yesterday about how some of us refer to our cottages as camps, our camps as cottages, and how it seems like it might be a regional thing depending on the area your particular place is located.

So I got to thinking about that, and wondering if there was any basis to the difference between camps and cottages, chalets and cabins. Frequent readers know that when I get to thinking….well…I think really hard…..

Is It A Cottage, Camp or Cabin?

Imagine my surprise to discover that this is not something that has just popped up. The debate about whether a place, is it a cottage, camp or cabin has been going on for a long time, apparently, unbeknownst to yours truly, who obviously had his head in the beach sand at the campcottage…..umm…..cabin….chalet……?

It seems that the difference between going to a camp and going to a cottage depends on a lot of factors, none of which is definitive or easy to nail down.  However, because I do the research so you don’t have to, I did find out some interesting stuff for us to consider……

The Camp

In my little sheltered world, we always referred to the cottage as “the camp” It was only when I started this blog that we began using the word cottage, mainly because of the confusion I thought might happen between the use of the word camp, as a noun, versus a verb, as in going camping in a tent or travel trailer not to mention the use of the word ‘camp’ to describe a children’s camp, like the Tim Horton’s Children’s Camp or Boy Scout Camp for instance.

Of course when our going to the camp began, we didn’t have hot and cold running water, television, or internet access etc. For that matter, there wasn’t even such a thing as the www. internet, and color television, we thought television land was all shades of grey.

Outhouse Out Back

It was a camp in the truest sense, with an outhouse out back, running water but no hot water, surrounded by trees and not a blade of manicured, fertilized Kentucky Blue Grass to be found.

These days thanks to hi tech orbiting satellites, gas generators, solar power and the like, even a place in the deepest backwoods can have lights, television, running water etc.

Hot and Cold Running Water

I have noticed however, that when inviting friends to visit ‘the camp’ I notice that they are often surprised, (usually in a pleasant way) to discover that the ‘camp’ has hot and cold running water, indoor plumbing, a shower, television, etc etc.

In fact, many would turn down the invitation for a weekend at the camp until they found out about the amenities that we had….wimps….lol.

Following Chris’s comment, I started to look into the definitions of a camp, a cottage, a cabin and try to determine the difference, between them, or if there infact is one.

Wilkipedia says,

“In most other settings, the term “cottage” denotes a small, often cosy dwelling, and small size is integral to the description, but in other places such as Canada, the term exists with no connotation of size at all. In certain places (e.g. North America, Scandinavia and Russia) the term “cottage” can refer to a vacation/summer home, often located near a body of water. However, in North America generally this is more commonly called a “cabin”, “chalet” or even “camp”.
winter cabin in snow clipart
I’ve noticed that in Britain, a cottage usually means a small home, period, not necessarily in the country, but perhaps in a more rural setting than downtown London. Any small home, usually on one level, would be referred to as a “cottage”

Wordnetweb.princeton: defines a camp as, among other things,

temporary lodgings in the country for travelers or vacationers; “level ground is best for parking and camp areas”

Just to add to the fray, Webster’s defines a chalet as

“A summer cottage or country house in the Swiss mountains; any country house built in the style of the Swiss cottages.”

To me, a chalet is a type of cottage, usually an A frame design, with a very pitched roof, often in a mountainous region, such as a downhill ski area, as opposed to alongside a lake. However, if the mountain had a lake….

Webster’s goes on to define a cottage as “A small house; a cot; a hut. The term was formerly limited to a habitation for the poor, but is now applied to any small tasteful dwelling; and at places of summer resort, to any residence or lodging house of rustic architecture, irrespective of size.”

Webster’s also defines “a camp” as “The ground on which an army pitch their tents, whether for a night or a longer time.” We’ve never had the army pitch any tents at our place, but we did have a Boy Scout Troop stay there one weekend, so I suppose that made the place an official “camp”.

Marg Scheben-Edey, a real estate broker in the Georgian Bay area of Ontario, and a blogger of repute at  The Collingwood- Blue Mountain Real Estage Blog has this to say about the terms,

“In Canada, the term “cottage” usually refers to a vacation or summer home, often located near a body of water. However, according to a reference on Wiki, this type of property is more commonly called a “cabin” in Western Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, a “chalet” in Quebec, and a “camp” in Northern Ontario, New Brunswick and in some northern US states. Here in the Collingwood area, people tend to call a waterfront, vacation home a cottage. A small and humble rural property might be referred to as a cabin.”

On a Maine web forum,, I found the following answer under a question posted about the difference between a cottage and a camp. The poster, someone named Coaster, said this,

 “Generally speaking, a camp is a seasonal vacation dwelling, usually without a full foundation, often (but less often all the time) lacking indoor plumbing and/or electricity. Camps can be insulated for winter use (or just have a honking big wood stove in them) for snowmobiling or ice fishing.”

“They can be on a pond or lake or deep in the woods. Vacation homes on saltwater are usually called cottages — especially the expensive ones. (Is there any other kind these days?) Sometimes you hear the word cottage used to refer to a freshwater vacation place, but it’s less common in Maine. In Canada lakeside vacation homes are often called cottages. Or another definition: Mainers own camps, out-of-staters own cottages.”

Camping At Our Cottage

Penny’s Blog at Cottage Life Magazine has an interesting post about using the word cottage as a verb versus a noun.

Is it ok to say, “we spent the summer cottaging” the same way you might say “we spent the summer camping” Or would you say, “we spent the summer camping at our cottage”?

Is A Cottage Pretentious?

To be honest, I think saying cottaging does add to the pretentiousness of it all. I have to admit, the more I read about this cottage/camp thing the more I am starting to feel a little pretentious about the word cottage……oh it is gonna be sooooo damn difficult to change the name of this blog….

So…there ya go. I don’t think we are any further ahead than when we started, although I do sense a bit of a theme.

What you call your place in the woods, on the lake, by the seashore, depends largely on where you are from. There is also a tendency for some folks, particularly those of us in the East, to think of cottages as a little more elaborate, perhaps a bit bigger, and yes, a little more “pretentious” compared to a camp.

Do Modern Amenities and Conveniences Matter?

Amenities seem to play a role in discussions about the camp versus cottage debate. If a place has indoor plumbing and is insulated, it’s a cottage.

If it has an outhouse and no insulation, it’s a camp. But lot’s of small camps have some insulation and many of them have indoor plumbing, so that would make the roughest little camp a cottage if it had basic insulation and a toilet indoors.

And of course, with modern gas generators having electricity, a water pump, flush toilet,  television etc are possible in the remotest locations, even in places on accessible by boat or four wheeler. 

Does Size Matter?

In terms of size, a big building isn’t necessarily on a foundation, nor does the size of a place indicate indoor plumbing, and there can be some pretty big camps and some pretty small cottages, depending on it’s use, family size etc.

I suppose the easiest way out of this conundrum might be to only go to the camp/cabin/chalet/cottage between June 21st and September 21st, the official summer season, which would enable us to call it a “summer home” because it’s summer and a home is where the heart is…..

Is It A Cottage, Camp, Cabin or Chalet? What Do You Think?

So…what do you think? Is your place a camp, cottage, chalet, cabin, summer home, getaway, lakefront place? How do you refer to it?

Is going to the cottage more pretentious than going to the camp?

Does a cement foundation make it a house?

Does it depend on the neighborhood and the surrounding buildings?

Is it indoor plumbing that makes the difference?

If everyone else around you has a cottage, can you still have a camp?

If you cannot drive to it by car, is it a camp?

Or is how  you define your place based on old tradition that doesn’t accurately describe what it is today. Did it start as a camp and become a cottage? Many cottages, and in fact, many houses, started as camps, so are you still calling your cottage the camp because you always called it the camp regardless of what it has now become?

Does what you do at your camp/cottage define what it is? If you hunt and fish there, is it a camp? If you golf nearby is it a cottage? If you have outdoor campfires and drink beer, is it a camp? If you sleep in sleeping bags and bunkbeds….well you get the idea.  

I’d love to hear your opinions on this, and how you define your place.

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9 thoughts on “Is It A Cottage? Is It A Camp? Is It A Cabin?”

  1. After reading the comments on the last post I thought you might debate this topic.
    I think that how you describe these places comes from your own traditions and background. For me the name comes down to the use. Single use cabins are referred to as camps, such as the Fish Camp and the Hunt Camp where the Cottage is a multipurpose cabin, regardless of the size or amenities, were I go to just relax . Good thing I find cottage work relaxing because it seems that a lot more work gets done there than at home.

  2. Hi Robert

    Thanks for this reply. You got me thinking too. My wife says that actually the term “summer home” is pretentious here in my neck of the woods and therefore she always says “cottage” or “cabin” when discussiing our place, because that means it is LESS elaborate. Interesting eh? But then she says “Why is it when we have a fire by the lake, we call it a ‘camp fire,’ when in fact we’re at the cottage?” Ah, the mysteries of the English language. Her mother is English and she wanted to know why we didn’t apply a name to the cottage, because that’s what they do in the UK. Something like “Pinestone Cottage” or the like. Never occurred to me.
    Also, I thought it was interesting your comment about foundations. Our place was originally on blocks and all the previous owner did was fill in the space between the blocks with more blocks to create low walls. He did a good job but the existence of these “foundations” doesn’t mean it’s a more sturdy place or deserves to be called something else, at least here in my neck of the woods.
    Finally, I like the comment above about getting more work done at the cottage. Why is it that I can work on cottage chores all day and not be bummed out, but the chores at home DO bum me out? You have to have a sense of humour if you do the cottage thing…

  3. I love this discussion! We named our “place” Hemlock Haven Lodge but usually refer to it as “the camp” sometimes the cabin and sometimes the cottage… obviously we are very conflicted. Growing up we went every week-end we could to our family’s spot in the mountains/forest and it’s name was Castle Lodge but we always said we were going to the camp. I think the term camp around here (the Alleghenies)is a throw back to “The Great Camps” of folks like the Carnegie’s, the Mellon’s, etc. Anyway most camps in our neck of the woods are anything but pretentious, mostly a place to park your boots and your hunting rifle or fishing pole however the women folk in my family love our lodge/cabin/cottage/camp and work to make it a restful retreat. Still conflicted about the name thing.

  4. Our place has always been called the camp and I guess it always will be. I feel it should be called the cottage because we have all the luxuries…running water…washroom…shower…bathtub…all the extended comforts of TV (no cable lol), fridge stove, microwave etc. looking over a beautiful lake. We can drive to it all year round. I guess it was just given the handle of “The Camp” so many years ago it will always be the camp even if we move there.

  5. Rob,

    Great blog… you have are sauna for the camp yet??

    I’m in the process of building one.

    You need one.


  6. Hi Keith, No sauna yet, haven’t really considered one. But now that you mention it…..maybe!!

  7. We’ve always called our cabin the “cottage” because its part of club so other cottages surround it and its only a member sort of thing. However with my uncle’s cabin we’ve always called it the “camp” because its where they hunt for deer and it doesn’t have a lake anywhere near it unlike how the cottage does.

  8. Thanks for your comment Haley. You have touched on an excellent point, proximity to water and also how a place is used seems to influence what it is called, camp, cottage, cabin etc.