Photo by Lili Kovac on Unsplash
Several years back, I volunteered long-term with an organization based out of the midwest focused on conservation. Every fall and summer for several years, I drove up to Montana from Missouri. The Montana Forest Service trained our organization in wildland firefighting and conservation techniques. In exchange for this service, we provided skilled labor.
One of the tasks that we undertook was to rehabilitate Forest Service cabins. Honestly prior to my period of time with this organization, I had no idea that the United States Forest Service even had cabins to rehabilitate. It makes sense though: early firefighters and Park Rangers often needed a place to stay while patrolling the region.
Many of these cabins are actually still in use by the Forest Service, but they tend to serve a different purpose now. These days, many of these cabins can be rented out by the public. Oftentimes, these cabins, old Ranger Stations, and fire towers sit in wild and remote land. Usually the scenery is out-of-this-world gorgeous.
These cabins are ideal for anyone who wants to enjoy a little backwoods nature trip. Hunters, anglers, and adventurers alike will delight in just how off the grid these places can be. Anyone up to the task of getting to these places will be rewarded with peace, quiet, and amazing scenery.
However, it can be quite a task to get to them. Often, a 4x4 is needed. Occasionally they are unreachable except by virtue of cross country skiing, horseback, long hike, or snowshoe. Most lack running water, indoor plumbing, and modern amenities.
If these facts don’t scare you away, stay tuned. I’ve picked out quite a few cabins that are near Reno that are able to be rented by the public. These are perfect for a longer get away for adventurous hikers and travelers who want to spend some time relaxing outdoors.
Calpine Lookout is a very popular Forest Service rental. It is a three story fire tower that was built in the 1930’s and was in use until the mid 1970s. The top floor is rentable. In the summer you can drive directly to the tower base. In the winter, you’ll probably need snowshoes or a snowmobile to access the tower.
There is no running water or electricity here. There is a propane stove and other propane powered appliances. The 14 by 14 room has two twin beds, basic cooking utensils, table and chairs, propane lights, and an accessible toilet. Be prepared to bring your own water, toilet paper, groceries, and bedding.
Van Vleck Bunkhouse
This bunkhouse overlooks a gorgeous meadow in the Crystal Range region of the Sierra Nevadas. In the summer you can drive to the bunkhouse, but in the winter it is only accessible by cross country skiing. It is an intermediate cross country trip, and should only be done by intermediate to advanced skiers.
The water system is shut down in the winter, but during the summer there is running water, hot and cold. There is no electricity but the cabin has a gas stove, kitchen, indoor plumbing, an outdoor vault toilet, bunk beds and a queen sized bed.Bring basic camping gear, sleeping bags, and your own food.
Crocker Guard Station
Sitting at 5,700 feet in the Eastern Sierras, the Guard Station was built in 1912 to accommodate Forest Service personnel. There are four bedrooms with ten twin mattresses total. There is a kitchen, dining room, living room, and outhouse with a vault toilet. There is no fridge.
There is a propane powered cooking stove as well as a heater. Basic cooking supplies are included. Guests should bring their own water, as the site does not have any. Guests should also bring their own food, bedding, and other necessities like toilet paper.
Originally a sleeping quarters for rangers of the adjacent Forest Service lookout from 1934 to 1978, the lookout is still open to the public daily. The Hut itself can be accessed via car in the summer and warmer months. During the winter, it is a 3 mile snowshoe or ski trail which goes up 1000 feet of elevation gain.
There is a propane heater and cookstove inside the hut. There is a solar lighting system indoors. There are three sleeping platforms with mattresses, four wool blankets, and cleaning supplies. Guests will need to bring their own water, in addition to food and other basic camping necessities including pots and pans.
Harvey West Cabin
The Harvey West Cabin was constructed in the early 1930s by the Sacramento Box and Lumber Company and was purchased by prominent businessman Harvey West as a summer retreat in 1936. The cabin sleeps twelve people - one queen, two doubles, four singles, and two cots.
Inside there is an open great room, kitchen, two downstairs bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, and two large lofts that overlook the great room. The cabin contains furniture including couches, pots, pans and other kitchen items. The kitchen has a propane stove, propane oven, and propane fridge. There is no electricity. The great room has a propane heater and a fireplace. Guests will need to bring food, but the cabin has hot and cold running water.
If you have overlooked these cabins and Ranger Stations in the past, I can’t blame you. I didn’t know they even existed for most of my life. However, the secret is starting to get out on these gems so if any of them struck your fancy, book them early.
If you want to ensure that you are fully prepared, carefully read over the details on each of these cabins on the Forest Service website. Make sure you know exactly how you’ll be arriving at your rental, and what sort of equipment you’ll be needing.
Go ahead and indulge in a weekend trip with your friends, and don’t forget the beer. If you’re looking for a relaxing hunting or fishing trip, these have you covered. If you’re a romantic and long nights stargazing after long days of hiking really lights you up - you’re going to love these places.
Just remember to arrive prepared and have a great time!
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