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A view of Porcupine Cabin in the Crazy Mountains as dusk gathers in the sky. PHOTO BY BAY STEPHENS

Camping in a USFS cabin

By Jessianne Castle EBS ENVIRONMENTAL & OUTDOORS

LIVINGSTON – A night spent in a Montana winter is a unique experience not to be missed. Cool temperatures and snowy trails are often humbling and provide for opportunities of self-discovery and adventure. And while winter camping can certainly be a study of survival, a stay in a U.S. Forest Service cabin means a roof over your head and a warm-up by the fire.

The Forest Service offers 23 cabins that are available for the public to rent within the Custer Gallatin National Forest, all of which provide the basic staples of four walls, a roof and a wood stove, but still require at least a bit of adventure to reach.

Maxey Cabin

Nestled in the popular Hyalite Canyon, Maxey Cabin is quaint, cozy and serene. The main cabin sleeps four people and its wood stove provides ample reprieve from the winter conditions outside. An unheated smaller cabin attached to Maxey’s porch is closed for the winter season, but can accommodate two more travelers in the summertime.

With blankets of snow, timbered trails and frozen waterfalls, Hyalite Canyon is a vast expanse to explore. Enjoy skiing along several groomed trails, carve turns in fresh powder on one of the area’s not-so-distant slopes, or check out one of more than 150 ice routes.

To get to Maxey, head south from Bozeman on Hyalite Canyon Road for about 11 miles. The cabin’s access road is gated but upon reservation you’ll receive the combination to unlock the gate. From December to March, park at the access road just off Hyalite Canyon Road and ski, snowshoe or hike the final 2/3 mile to the cabin.

Battle Ridge Cabin

The 80-year-old Battle Ridge Cabin sits within the Bridger Mountain range southeast of Bozeman. Tucked back from a meadow and flanked with evergreen trees, this rustic dwelling is just 5 miles south of Bridger Bowl Ski Area, as well as several cross-country ski trails. It also boasts a moderate sledding hill that’s just steps from the cabin front door.

In the wintertime, you can access Battle Ridge Cabin by travelling 20 miles from Bozeman on Bridger Canyon Drive. Winter parking is available at the Battle Ridge Trailhead and from there you can ski, walk or snowmobile a half mile to the cabin.

Big Creek Cabin

Paradise Valley’s Big Creek Cabin is the largest dwelling in the Yellowstone District, and with five rooms and two porches spanning the 28-by-40-foot log structure, there’s room for 11 people to stay. The original Big Creek Cabin, which still stands nearby, was built in 1907, and the current cabin available for rent was constructed in 1925 as a guard station for the Forest Service.

The cabin rests along the Big Creek riverbed on the eastern side of the Gallatin Range and visitors can cross-country ski right out the front door.

To stay at the Big Creek Cabin, travel on U.S. Highway 89 south of Livingston for about 34 miles. Turn west onto Big Creek Road and continue for 5 miles. Parking is available about a half mile from the cabin.

Porcupine Cabin

Porcupine Cabin is somewhat unique among the many Forest Service cabins in Montana: as opposed to logs and chinking, it’s built like a house. The three-room frame structure can sleep eight people.

Located in the Crazy Mountains overlooking the Shields Valley, Porcupine Cabin is surrounded by stunning views. To the west, visitors can see the Bridger range, while the jagged peaks of the Crazies stand tall in the remaining three directions. The area offers a quiet retreat, with snowshoe and ski trails galore.

From Livingston, travel north on Highway 89 to Wilsall then turn northeast onto Shields River Road. Continue for 8 miles before turning onto Porcupine Road and travelling another 6 miles. The last 2 miles are not plowed so plan to walk, ski or snowmobile to the cabin.

Fourmile Cabin

While Fourmile Cabin in the Boulder River drainage is certainly a rustic mountain stay, it boasts a touch of luxury with an electric cook stove and lights. A wood stove remains the cabin’s only source of heat, and twin beds can sleep four.

With Fourmile Creek and the Boulder River nearby, the peaks of The Needles, Carbonate Mountain and Hawley Mountain in the Absaroka Range are tall and commanding on all sides of the little cabin, and visitors will enjoy scenic cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling.

To access Fourmile Cabin travel 25 miles south of Big Timber on Highway 298. The road turns into a graveled Main Boulder Road. Continue for about 17 miles to the cabin. Depending on snow conditions, cabin-goers may need to walk or snowmobile variable distances to the cabin. Call the Yellowstone Ranger District for details.

If You Go

A stay in any Forest Service cabin will be a rustic experience. There usually isn’t cell phone service and you should be prepared for a chilly walk to the outhouse, to name just a few bucolic attributes. Also remember that winter conditions change quickly in Montana—check avalanche reports and call the Ranger District office for details.

These cabins are rented through an online reservation system and it’s not uncommon for the most popular ones to book out six months in advance.

Visit recreation.gov to check reservations or find out more on a specific cabin.

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