Are you one of the thousands of people who Google, “How do I rent a cabin in the woods near me?” or “log cabins for rent near me” each month? Do you dream of a log cabin weekend getaway? I know I do. Even though I live here, a cabin in Montana is still a dream vacation for me.
Over the years, we have found that Forest Service cabin rentals in Montana (or Idaho or Wyoming or anywhere the mountains are beautiful) make fun winter getaways. I used to like winter camping, but these days I prefer a warm place to sleep at night. My adventurous side still looms large, so family cabin rentals are the perfect compromise. I get heat, a place to cook, and secluded getaways.
Overnighting at Forest Service cabins provides the feeling of being out in the backcountry while providing many of the comforts of home. Plus, with a lighter backpack—no need to carry a stove, sleeping pad, or other camping necessities—it’s easy to go light and cover more miles, or to bring in gourmet food and libations to fill those long winter nights. A lot of cabins you can even drive right up to.
In this article I will tell you how to rent a Forest Service cabin and what you need to think about when choosing a cabin to rent. I will share reviews of some of my favorite Montana cabins and a few private cabins and yurts, and how to make a hut-to-hut type trip using Forest Service cabins.
What is a Forest Service Cabin?
Montana Forest Service cabins weren’t built to be a winter cabin getaway. They were constructed by the Forest Service to house their staff. These cabins were built mostly in the 1920s and 1930s for Forest Rangers. From there, they would patrol the National Forests.
Today, Rangers work out of District Offices and spend a lot less time in the field. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a Forest Ranger. I even went into college with that idea. But the workload and lifestyle of rangers has changed a lot. They don’t need their cabins, so you and I can rent them for recreational use.
Most Forest Service cabins have wood stoves and wood (or propane stoves), and many have propane lanterns; some have electricity, but none have water in the winter.
How Do You Rent a Forest Service Cabin?
While I may not work from a beautiful log cabin in the woods, I still get to use them. Renting a Forest Service cabin is easy and affordable.
If you don’t know where you want to go or just want to see what your options are, head over to Recreation.gov.
- Type the state you want to visit into the search field
- Click “filters”
- Check “Fire Lookouts/Cabins Overnight”
- “Hide Filters” and you get a list of fire lookouts and cabins
- You can use the movable map to find a good location or click on any of the cabins listed to find out more about them.
If you know the National Forest on which you’d like to rent a cabin, navigate to their website via Google.
- Click the “Recreation” menu on the left sidebar.
- Click “Camping and Cabins”
- Cabins will be listed by District and you can click on any one for more details.
- You will most likely be taken to the Recreation.gov website to reserve the cabin.
- Cabins can be rented up to 180 days ahead of time. Weekends fill up, so set your alarm to make the reservation. We prefer weekdays when possible. It’s easier to get a reservation during the same season and there are less people around.
How To Choose a Forest Service Cabin
- Location: If you are only going for a night or two, you probably want a cabin nearby. We generally don’t like to drive more than a couple hours, but we might go farther for the right set up.
- Access: Some Montana Forest Service cabin rentals are right on the road, you can practically drive to the door. Other cabins require you to ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile in during winter. Make sure you know what the approach is like before you rent. Of course, more cabins are easily accessed in summer than winter, but getting to the cabin is half the fun.
- Size: Forest Service cabin rentals come in different sizes. When you look for a cabin online, it will list how many people it sleeps. Some cabins sleep as few as two, others might sleep 10. Most of these cheap log cabins to rent have bunk beds, but sometimes the set up is different.
- Environment: Are you looking for Montana lake cabin rentals or is your search for “ski cabin rentals near me”? The location of the cabin you rent depends on what you want to use your cabin as a basecamp for: hiking, cross-country skiing, fishing, kayaking…
- Amenities: Be sure to note what is provided in the cabin so you don’t forget to bring anything you need and you don’t bring extra stuff that’s already there. See my Cabin Packing List for all the essentials you need to pack for secluded log cabins. Most cabins have propane lamps (but not propane), dishes, cutlery, pots and pans, mattresses, and wood (if there is a wood stove).
- Pet Access: A lot of the cabins allow dogs, but not all of them. The Judith Guard Station is a no-pet zone, for instance.
Forest Service Cabins For Rent in Montana
Some cabins are accessible by vehicle while others are accessed by skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles in winter. There are a lot to choose from, but here are a few of my favorites.
Kings Hill Cabin
One of our go-to cabins is the Kings Hill Cabin in the Little Belt Mountains. We pass (and stop) at hot springs on the way there. It’s across the street from Showdown, an alpine ski area, and just up the road from Silver Crest Nordic Ski area. Plus, you can cross-country ski right out the door or build a snow fort.
The cabin sleeps six with three bunk beds, has electricity, and is heated with a wood stove.
For family cabin vacations, this tops the list. It does get a little snowmobile-y on weekends, so if you aren’t into the noise or fumes, go midweek. I write a lot more about staying at the Kings Hill Cabin.
Judith Guard Station
On the east side of the Little Belt Mountains is the Judith Guard Station. It’s a lot fancier than other Forest Service cabin rentals. There’s even wallpaper and a piano. The Judith Guard station sleeps eight (nine if someone sleeps on the couch/futon), so it’s a great cabin to rent for groups or a couple families. There are three bedrooms upstairs, a kitchen, living room/dining room, and a parlor.
It’s about a half-mile ski/walk into the cabin if you don’t have a four-wheel drive with decent clearance. Unless, it’s a low snow year, then you might be able to drive all the way. We stayed at this forest cabin for rent with friends as part of The Family Expedition Project and had a great time cross-country skiing on the frozen Middle Fork Judith River, playing card games, and building snow forts in the willows. It’s become one of my favorite mountain getaway cabin rentals.
Mill Creek Cabin
About 12 miles up Mill Creek Road from the Paradise Valley, the Mill Creek Cabin sits at the end of the plowed road. Mill Creek runs along the back of the cabin and a sledding hill is across the road. Access to cross country skiing from the cabin door. In summer you can bike or drive to the Passage Creek Falls trailhead and hike to the waterfall or go really big and hike up Mount Wallace.
The cabin sleeps four on two bunk beds and has a nice fire ring outside. We have rented it for day use to host birthday parties.
Beaver Creek Cabin
This one requires a 3.5-mile ski or snowmobile ride, but it is pretty flat. The cabin is on the Beaver Creek Road north of Quake Lake between West Yellowstone and Ennis. The small cabin sleeps four, with a loft. In addition to the usuals, bring your own bedding; mattresses are not provided. Snowshoeing and skiing are right out the door, and you probably won’t see anyone else up there.
In summer, you can drive to the cabin and enjoy access to trails for hiking or horseback riding. It’s gorgeous. I wrote about horseback riding in the Hilgard Basin here and about rolling off my horse here.
Fox Creek Cabin
For a loop trip with an overnight stay, try the Fox Creek Cabin. With a capacity of only two people, this tiny cabin makes for a romantic outing, and who isn’t looking for romantic log cabin getaways? From the History Rock trailhead, ski up and over the ridge into the South Cottonwood Creek Drainage. Bring your firewood as the Forest Service doesn’t supply any.
The following day ski out seven miles following the gently meandering South Cottonwood Creek or stay two nights and skin up and schuss down Wheeler Mountain on the non-traveling day.
Garnet Mountain Lookout
I think the fire lookout rentals Montana has to offer are even cooler than the cabins. They are small, but the views are incredible.
If you are a savvy backcountry skier, the Garnet Mountain Lookout is a good option. It’s up to a ten-mile ski in via Rat Lake (depending how far you can get in your vehicle) and an elevation gain of 1,300 feet. In summer, it’s a 3.5-mile hike on a single-track trail.
The lookout sits on top of Garnet Mountain and affords views into the Gallatin Range and across the Gallatin River into the Madison Range.
Skiing off Garnet Mountain can be a little sketchy avalanche-wise, but with the right conditions and know-how, it can be a fun adventure. At the top and bottom there are low angle meadows, which are joined together by some openish tree skiing.
Battle Ridge Cabin
The Battle Ridge Cabin in the Bridger Mountains is a quick 0.25 mile ski in. It’s an easy ski to tour the North or Middle Forks of Brackett Creek. Or skin up towards the Bridger Ridge and have a half hour head start on folks driving in from Bozeman.
In summer you will be surrounded by wildflowers and have access to many trails in the Bangtail and Bridger mountain ranges. The Battle Ridge Cabin is wheelchair accessible and sleeps four to five people. Two sets of bunk beds with mattresses and one cot are provided.
West Boulder Cabin
The West Boulder Cabin is a great forest cabin rental at the north end of the Absaroka Mountains. It can be up to a mile ski to reach the cabin in winter, but you can drive right up in summer. This three-room cabin has electric lights, an electric cook stove, and a refrigerator. Amenities include five single beds with mattresses.
The area around the cabin is breathtaking and skiing or hiking (or biking or horseback riding) into the West Boulder Meadows or up to Lost Lakes will provide even more unbelievable scenery.
Gordon Reece Cabin
If you don’t mind a little work with your vacation, the Gordon Reece cabin at Chief Joseph Pass will fit the bill. It’s a half-mile walk to the “ski mansion” whose first floor serves as a warming hut while the upper floor loft area is set up for sleeping. The cabin can be reserved at no charge by those interested in being hosts. Hosts shovel snow, tend fires and make sure there is plenty of hot water for skiers using the groomed trails.
Window Rock Cabin
If you like cabins near lake activities, this might be the one for you. Located at the south end of Hyalite Reservoir, you’ll have access to the lake, hiking trails, mountain biking, or cross-country and backcountry skiing, and ice climbing.
The cabin is accessible by car in the summer. During the spring (from March 31st through May 15th) the road to the cabin is closed to motorized vehicle traffic. Be prepared to hike or bike 12 miles to the cabin during this period. During winter months the access road is infrequently plowed, so be prepared with a four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle or to ski up to 12 miles to the cabin (but probably just a few). The cabin sleeps four.
The Maxey Cabin is also near Hyalite Reservoir. We like this one for an easy family ski adventure. Unless the snow is nuts, you should be able to park a mile from the cabin. We did.
The cabin is located in a pretty meadow, surrounded by hiking, biking, skiing trails. It sleeps four on two bunk beds.
The cabin is accessible by car in the summer. During the spring (from March 31st through May 15th) the road to the cabin is closed to motorized vehicle traffic. Be prepared to hike or bike 12 miles to the cabin during this period. During winter months the access road is infrequently plowed, so be prepared with a four wheel drive, high clearance vehicle or to ski up to 12 miles to the cabin. The final mile on the Maxey Cabin Road is not plowed during the winter and guests should come prepared to ski or snowshoe the final distance to the cabin.
Hut-to-Hut Skiing in Montana
We don’t really have a hut-to-hut system in Montana like the 10th Mountain Division system in Colorado, but with a little creativity, you can string together some Forest Service cabins to create something similar. You could also mountain bike or hike these routes.
Mystic Lake Cabin and Trail Creek Cabin
These two cabins are each great on their own, but are a really fun option for a hut-to-hut ski. Well, it’s more of a cabin-to-cabin tour linking the Mystic Lake Cabin with the Trail Creek Cabin in the Gallatin National Forest (now the Custer-Gallatin National Forest).
From the junction of Trail Creek Rd. and Newman Creek Rd. ski in 3.1 miles to the Trail Creek Cabin. With a short ski en route to the cabin there should be plenty of time for touring nearby meadows or carving turns on the slopes.
The next day, get out the GPS or a map and compass and find your way to Mystic Lake. The route starts on the logging road, but soon switches to a trail past the Old Cougar Reservoir and Bear Lakes (6-8 miles depending on the route). Because this area gets used by snowmobilers, there may be tracks all over the place—make sure you know where you are going.
The Mystic Lake Cabin is nestled in the trees along the shore of—you guessed it—Mystic Lake. Tour around the lake or explore the south fork of Bozeman Creek. From the cabin it’s a shorter (5.3 miles), but steeper ski out New World Gulch Trail—with the possibility of sneaking in some turns on Mt. Ellis—or a mellow tour (10 miles) on the logging road following Bozeman Creek.
Other Cabin in the Woods Vacation Ideas
If a Forest Service cabin isn’t posh enough for you, check out these huts and yurts.
Nemesis Mountain Hut
Nemesis Mountain Hut can be rented from Hellroaring Ski Adventures. The Hut is actually two huts—a six-person bunk tent and a kitchen tent which sleeps two. Located in the Centennial Mountains, twenty-five miles from West Yellowstone, this hut provides awesome access to great backcountry skiing. Take the snowmobile shuttle in and bring all the comforts of home.
Yurtski is located at 6800 feet in the Swan Mountains. Like the Nemesis Hut, Yurtski offers a snowmobile shuttle. Or have the sled carry your gear while you ski in the eight miles, mostly on Forest Service roads. From the yurt, a skin track leads to three alpine bowls and a variety of skiing and touring terrain.
I spent a couple nights at Yurtski with a friend before my kids were born and loved it. I am not an adventurous backcountry skier, but found plenty of gentle slopes to make turns.
Both Hellroaring Ski Adventures and Yurtski offer catered, guided or self-service trips.
Elkhorn Hot Springs
We have stayed at Elkhorn Hot Springs in the Pioneer Mountains many times. It’s not the fanciest place, we use the term “rustic” generously. It has several rustic cabins and lodge rooms for skiers who like to soak.
Maverick Ski Area is a mere three miles down the road and twenty miles of groomed cross-country ski trails start right outside the door. There’s also a restaurant serving dinner on the weekends and complimentary hot breakfast buffet. And don’t forget the hot springs.
One of our first family visits was when I was playing around with the new photo apps and filters on my phone, apparently. Another time we stayed over New Year’s with a couple other families. We went again over Anders’ birthday and made this video:
Wade Lake Resort
With thirty-five kilometers of groomed cross-country ski tracks, access to plenty of skiing slopes in the Gravelly Mountains, wildlife viewing, and a spectacular setting, Wade Lake Resort has it all.
In summer enjoy fishing, hiking, birding, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, photography or the area’s other attractions and activities. In winter enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, wildlife viewing and photography.
Rent one of the five cabins and you get use of the ski trails and a gear shuttle in and out. In summer, you can drive right up.