How to Rent a Forest Service Cabin

forest service cabin in the snow

If you’re looking for a vacation rental that is slightly more adventurous than usual, it’s worth looking into renting one of the USFS fire lookout towers or backcountry cabins.

These cabins and towers maintained by the USFS are spread all around the country and are available on a first come, first serve basis by booking through the National Recreation Reservation System. The rates and specifics for each rental can be found in the directory therein.

man in front of firewood shed chopping wood in pine forest

Many of these structures were built in the early to mid 1900s, and do not have modern conveniences like running water or electricity. Many are in remote locations that provide a degree of solitude that can be difficult to find in today’s modern world. If you need to plan an escape this summer to refresh your mind – these cabins are a great resource available to us all.

A few tips:

  • Rentals book fast. Some cabins can be reserved up to a year in advance. Plan ahead to ensure you get your top choice of dates.
  • Consider shoulder seasons. Calendar periods like early spring or late fall don’t typically have as high a demand as summer and autumn.
  • Some cabins may be available on short notice. If you’re passing through an area and want to check availability, the local ranger station will likely have intel on open rentals.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Some of these cabins are in areas inhabited by large predators like bears and mountain lions; use best practices for backcountry travel to and from the cabins and store food appropriately.
  • Be prepared to chop your own firewood and filter/boil your drinking water. Some cabins are equipped with axes and a few essentials, but many are not. Be sure to check the details page for the location you are visiting and pack accordingly.
  • Once you book, you’ll receive a confirmation letter. Be sure to have the letter or a screenshot saved on your phone as you will need that there with you during your stay.
  • Don’t poach a cabin. Unauthorized cabin use is a violation of state and federal law and carries a stiff penalty, a $5k fine and up to 6 months in jail.
forest service cabin in snowy field with tall pine trees