Mountain Outlaw Guide: Forest Service cabins
The following story was originally published in the Summer 2012 edition of Mountain Outlaw magazine. Read that on explorebigsky.com/publications.
By Felicia Ennis, Explorebigsky.com Contributor
We drove slowly up the winding road to our cabin tucked a half mile into the woods, then parked, and carried a box of food and sleeping bags down a narrow trail. The log cabin was just as I dreamed it: front porch, small windows, wood shed and outhouse to one side, creek on the other.
Inside we set things down and quickly went to work as homesteaders. As I unpacked the food, my friend started a fire in the wood stove. Soon, we were heating water for tea over one of the stove’s hot plates.
While the cabin was rustic, it was clean and comfortable, and it felt cozy having our own private getaway in the woods for the weekend.
The National Forest Service has more than 50 public cabins in Montana. In the summer they’re accessible by foot, car, four-wheeler and mountain bike. Some are roadside, and others are deep in the backcountry. Most are open year round, but access can be longer and challenging in winter.
Many of the cabins were built in the 1920s and ‘30s as field headquarters for forest rangers and crews working on trails, fires, and range and forestry projects. Some continue to be used for that reason and are stocked with wood, have running water, comfortable mattresses, sinks, and dining tables and chairs.
Reservations are required and can be made online at recreation.gov or by calling (877) 444-6777. Visitors are often given a combination to open the door.
1. Window Rock Cabin – Gallatin National Forest/Bozeman District
Beautiful forests surround this secluded and comfortable getaway in Hyalite Canyon, south of Bozeman. The cabin is easy to access via a well-maintained, paved road. It was built in 1940 and is open year round.
Access: Car, or a short distance on foot if staying in the winter.
Location: Hyalite Canyon, 13 miles south of Bozeman
Beds: Four, plus a loft
Activities: Hyalite Canyon is a beautiful mountainous area with great hiking, fishing, mountain biking and rock climbing. The Grotto Falls trail is wheelchair accessible.
Reservations: Call the Bozeman Ranger Station at (406) 522-2520
2. Garnet Mountain Cabin – Gallatin National Forest/Bozeman District
Wow – what a view! The Garnet Mountain Fire Lookout sits atop Garnet Mountain, on the eastern flanks of Gallatin Canyon. It’s the only fire lookout available in the district, has outstanding 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, and is far from the reaches of civilization.
Access: Several trails wind up Garnet Mountain to this cabin, ranging in length from two to six miles. Hike, or ride a mountain bike, dirt bike or ATV.
Location: Travel south of Gallatin Gateway approximately five miles from Highway 191 via the Storm Castle Creek Road and Garnet Mountain Lookout Trail. The cabin is three-and-a-half miles from the trailhead at Storm Castle Creek or four miles up the road from the yearlong gate closure below Rat Lake. Mountain bike, dirt bike and ATV access is possible via Rat Lake Road.
Activities: Hiking, mountain biking and soaking in the view Reservations: Call the Bozeman Ranger Station at (406) 522-2520.
3. Ibex Cabin – Gallatin National Forest/Yellowstone District
Ibex Cabin is a rustic one-room cabin in the foothills of the Crazy Mountains, 40 miles northeast of Livingston. It’s nestled in a pine forest with the mountains to the east and prairie to the west. There is a wood heating stove, propane lantern, but no drinking water.
Access: High clearance 4x4 vehicles can drive to Ibex from June through October. This one room log cabin, built in 1939, has no running water or electricity.
Location: 15 miles east of Clyde Park, on the western side of the Crazy Mountains. Travel a half mile north of Clyde Park on Highway 89 and turn right on Cottonwood Bench Road. Road is well signed from here; continue northeast about 15 miles to the cabin.
Activities: Hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, dirt biking, horseback riding and wildflower viewing (especially in the spring)
Reservations: Call the Livingston Ranger Station at (406) 222-1892
4. Big Creek Cabin – Gallatin National Forest/Yellowstone District
The Big Creek Cabin is set in a flat clearing surrounded by spruce and fir trees. Big Creek flows 50 feet from the back porch. This cabin is very accessible all year, and is perfect for those who love the solitude and natural wonders of the forested lands in the Gallatin Range. With five rooms and two porches, it’s the largest in the Livingston district.
Access: Easy, year around. Good dirt road to front door.
Location: Travel south of Livingston on Highway 89 approximately 34 miles to the Big Creek Road, then west four miles to a small parking lot just west of the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch.
Activities: Hiking, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking and bird watching Reservations: Call the Livingston Ranger Station at (406) 222-1892
5. Bear Creek Cabin – Beaverhead–Deerlodge National Forest
Bear Creek Cabin is located at the edge of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, at the foot of the west side of the Madison Range. The cabin is equipped with power, a wood stove, a refrigerator and an oven. There is also a bunkhouse nearby, great for overflow, but with fewer amenities.
Access: The last five miles are gravel or dirt. The route is well signed at all turns.
Location: Madison Valley, 20 miles south of Ennis, on the edge of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. From Ennis, drive 11 miles south on Highway 287 to Cameron. Turn east for three miles, then south for a mile and a half, east for another mile, and south a mile. At the Bear Creek sign, it’s two more miles to the cabin.
Activities: Hiking, fishing, hunting and horseback riding
Felicia Ennis was born and raised in Montana. She is owner/founder of Bella Treks, an international travel company specializing in customized itineraries all over the world. bellatreks.com