Backcountry cabins and lookouts an alternative to roughing it

By SAM BROWN/Montana State News

The Garnet Mountain fire lookout on the Gallatin National Forest is now rented out to backcountry travelers who are looking for a different wilderness experience.

Perched high on top of Garnet Mountain in the Gallatin Mountain range is a quaint cabin just shy of 100 square feet. Wind from the west sneaks into cracks between weathered wooden boards with a whistle. The windows surrounding the cabin reward occupants with a view of the surrounding Spanish Peaks.

Cabins like this one were used to provide shelter to fire lookouts, forest rangers and miners.

The Garnet Mountain Fire Lookout has not been used to spot fires since 1980s. Instead, it has been added to a collection of buildings the U.S. Forest Service has maintained for rentals to backcountry travelers who are looking for better-than-usual accommodations in the wilderness and are willing to make the trek to them.

These cabins are scattered all over the United States and provide weekend getaways for travelers unwilling to bring all the gear necessary to go camping.

Some date as far back as the early 1900s and their rustic charm and character have only grown better with age.  Many of them are built on the tops of mountains giving visitors the perfect view as they cook breakfast in the morning.

These cabins hold anywhere from two to eight people. They are situated deep into the wilderness and are perfect for expeditions requiring a basecamp. Some, built near lakes and rivers, provide ample opportunity for fishing.

Prices range from $20-$100 a night and reservations can be made online.  Many of these cabins have exploded in popularity and getting a reservation during the peak season can be difficult.

Stays are limited to one week per party and the Forest Service recommends making reservations. The cabins can be reserved up to 180 days in advance.

Some cabins rarely see more than a few visitors a year. Those usually require a floatplane or boat to access.  Most are open all year-round and are stocked with firewood in the winter.

Forest Service cabins are an alternative for those who want to get into the backcountry but aren’t willing to schlep all the gear necessary.

Edited by Mary Koppy.

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