Hidden Getaways: Renting a Forest Service Cabin or Lookout

Years ago a group of friends and I decided on a trip into the Alaskan backcountry to go salmon fishing in the Tongass National Forest. We assumed we would be flown into some remote backwater location and spend the week trying to stay warm and dry with only a tent for our shelter. To our unexpected surprise however, we discovered that the Forest Service had rental cabins available in pristine locations along the river we planned to fish.

What a discovery! As you would expect, these were not plush accommodations. No, they were simple 15’ x 15’ foot structures with little more than bunk spaces, a table and an outhouse down a trail. However, they were warm and dry with a fireplace and covered porch. And the views more than made up for the lack of amenities.  The cabin we stayed in was only feet from a huge lake with expansive views of the surrounding wilderness. An accompanying trail system led to the nearby river flowing into the lake.

The fishing was great, but I’ve never gotten over sitting on the porch of that small cabin each evening feeling as content as I imagine Daniel Boone must have felt on his own rustic porch. But as I’ve come to learn since, the Forest Service maintains a huge inventory of rental cabins from the basic log structure like the one I stayed in while fishing in Alaska to more ‘plush’ accommodations complete with heaters, stoves, refrigerators and electricity.

Cabins aren’t your only option. Ever want to spend the night on top of the world? You can if you rent a fire outlook. Thanks to budget constraints, a large number of fire outlooks in the west have been converted into rentals with a view that will take your breath away. In many cases, the hardest part of getting there will be the walk up the staircase to the top of the tower. Although in remote areas, many forest service cabins and fire towers are accessible by car or just a short walk from a maintained road.

Many of the cabins were built by the CCC back in the 1930’s. Not only will you get the chance to commune with nature but with history as well. Many rental cabins also served as guard stations for many years.   the Who knows; maybe your great grandfather helped build it.


Tips for renting Forest Service cabins

Rent far in advance. You may only be able to rent one year in advance. That may seem like a long time out, but for popular sites you will still have to be prudent. The farther away they are from cities, the better the chance of availability.

Take note of local fishing and hunting seasons if you’re looking for seclusion. If you want a cabin during a popular season, you may need to book a year or more in advance.

Be flexible. Instead of waiting a long time for a particular cabin, choose another one in the general area.

Many rentals are available year round. Just because the snow is deep doesn’t mean a snow cat or snow machine can’t get there. Nothing beats the seclusion of a winter stay at a cabin with a hot spring nearby.

David Bryce is travel writer who enjoys writing about travel and family vacations.He currently blogs for Thousand Hills Resort in Branson, MO and is always on the lookout for enjoyable places like the cabins in Branson, MO at Thousand Hills.