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Cowboy Heaven Consulting, LLC
6116 Walker Road
Bozeman, MT 59715
406-587-9563
1-877-613-0404
info@cowboyhvn.com

 

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Forest Service Cabin Rentals

Your own private mountain cabin (for a few days, at least)

E.gif (928 bytes)ver dreamt of having a rustic log cabin hideaway in a gorgeous mountain setting? Guess what? You already do, and not just one but a choice of them. A somewhat little-known fact is that the U.S. Forest Service rents out many of their backcountry cabins for short-term stays. During the days when backcountry rangers patrolled mostly by horseback, they stayed in these cabins. They were mostly constructed from the twenties up through the fifties, so there is a good bit of history attached to them. Obviously,Bear Creek Cabin.jpg (25517 bytes) rangers no longer patrol by horseback a great deal, and the Forest Service has decided to rent the cabins out for recreational use. These cabins can be a great place to stay for a few days while exploring the surrounding country, and an excellent alternative to tent or RV camping. There is something about staying in a mountain cabin that seems to appeal to everyone, and these Forest Service cabins fit the bill perfectly. They rent for relatively low cost, i.e. generally about $20/day and are available in most areas with National Forest land. There are over 90 cabins and lookouts available to rent scattered throughout the Forest Service Northern Region, which encompasses Montana and northern Idaho. A catalog is available from any Ranger District office, where reservations can also be made. Ask for the Recreational Cabin and Lookout Directory. A couple of these offices are:
  • Northern Region Headquarters
    P.O. Box 7669
    Missoula, MT 59807
    406-329-3511
  • Gallatin National Forest
    P.O. Box 130
    Bozeman, MT 59715
    406-522-2520

 

A bit of advance planning is advisable. Some of the more remote cabins receive very little use, but the most easily accessible ones are popular and are likely to require reservations. This is not a big problem, though, and making reservations a couple of weeks in advance should be plenty in most cases. The reservations can be handled via phone, mail, and fax through the Ranger District office responsible for the area where a particular cabin is located (this is explained in the catalog).

These cabins are somewhat primitive, without electricity or running water in most cases, but that just adds to the ambiance in my opinion. Besides, if you have been out hiking or cross-country skiing all day, and especially if it is storming, they will seem like the Taj Mahal in comparison to a backpack tent. They generally come equipped with a wood stove (the old-fashioned type), lantern, table, chairs, and bunks (including mattresses in the ones I have used). Most also come equipped with some basic cooking equipment (pots, pans, and utensils) and firewood. Toilet facilities consist of an outhouse. They will usually comfortably accommodate four people, but some of the larger ones will hold up to ten. The length of stay is limited,Spanish Cabin.jpg (21771 bytes) and varies from two days up to two weeks, depending on the cabin. More detailed information on what is available at specific cabins is contained in the catalog. In most cases, all you will need to bring is food and drink (if you desire something other than water), a sleeping bag, and your personal effects. The amenities (or lack thereof, depending on your point of view) make staying in one of these cabins a throwback to an earlier age when modern conveniences we take for granted were unheard of. Staying in one is like stepping back in time, and just the kind of mini-adventure we love here at CHC. Staying in one (or several) of these cabins will add immensely to a vacation, and will be far more memorable than any number of motel stays (although there is something to be said for a hot shower).

The times when the cabins are available for rent vary. Many are available year around, but some only in winter (or summer). Most of the ones that are open all year can be driven to once the snow melts out of the high country, but require ski or snowmobile access during the winter months. Obviously, the ones only open during the winter will require ski or snowmobile access. This can vary from only a few hundred yards to several miles, depending on snow conditions. Staying in one of these cabins is fun anytime, but is an especially good alternative for skiers and snowmobilers. Having a warm, dry, comfortable place to stay makes all the difference when the snow lies deep. Due to their original purpose of ranger use, most cabins are well situated to allow access to a variety of trails, and offer great exploration potential. Say what you will about winter camping, but I think it is highly over-rated, and I have done a good bit of it. A backpack tent, or God forbid, a snow cave just isn’t even in the same league with a cabin and woodstove when it comes to comfort and cooking. It’s just a lot easier to enjoy yourself when you’re able to get well fed and rested, not to mention warm and dry.

The National Forest lands where these cabins are located are generally notBrackett_Cabin.jpg (14247 bytes) nearly as well-known and popular as Glacier and Yellowstone, but offer comparable recreational opportunities in many cases. They are also much less crowded, and use regulations tend to be less restrictive, i.e. you can bring along your dog and let him run around a bit without bothering anyone. Of course, common sense and good manners should dictate not allowing your pets to harass wildlife or other people. Some of the cabins include corrals for horse users, something I haven’t taken advantage of yet but plan to in the future. Overall, National Forest policies are much more friendly to horseback use than National Park ones, particularly Glacier Park. I realize that the Parks are much more heavily used (at least close to the roads) and require more restrictions, but much of the backcountry is virtually untouched and I sure wish I could take packtrips in it without being required to pack along a complete supply of horsefeed, something I find ridiculous. Forgive me for getting slightly off on a tangent here, but the less restrictive Forest Service policies are appreciated and a lot more sensible, I believe.

The Forest Service cabin and lookout rental program is another one of those somewhat little-known things that can immensely add to your vacation experience. My family and I have greatly enjoyed staying in them, and I’m sure you will also.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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