Pack the kids and snowshoes and check out these forest service cabins.
BY MIRA BRODY
We all need to get out on occasion. We hunt, fish, hike, climb, swim, and camp, all necessary forms of escapism. But in the dead of winter and if you aren’t looking to shred the tram or sport crampons and scale vertical walls of ice, what else can you bring the family to do?
Enter U.S. Forest Service cabins. In the late 1800s, when industrialization brought urban growth to the country, the need for recreation grew as did the avocation for setting aside large swaths of wild forests to recreate in, today known as national forests and managed by the Forest Service.
The National Forest Service owns and manages 113 public cabins in Montana, many built in the 1920s and ‘30s as headquarters for forest rangers and crews working on trails, wildfires, and a range of forestry projects. Today, these quaint cabins are available to rent, providing a unique, rustic outdoor experience for all ages that will give you an escape to the woods without shivering in a snow-covered tent. In winter, many are accessible by cross-country ski, snowshoe or by foot, and are equipped with a wood stove, fuel and cooking supplies, making for a light trek and cozy night in.
Some of these cabins are nestled right here in Gallatin County and even in winter sit only a few miles from the nearest road, making an easy journey for even the shortest of legs.
Spanish Creek Cabin is a two-story structure built in 1934 at the base of Lee Metcalf Wilderness at 6,200 feet above sea level. Retaining its rustic nature from that era, Spanish Creek sleeps four and has a wood stove for cooking and heat. The cabin is available year round and offers an excellent base camp for a variety of summer and winter recreation opportunities.
Wave to Ted Turner’s bison herd as you approach Spanish Creek Cabin. Heading south on U.S. Highway 191 from Bozeman, you’ll hang a right at Spanish Creek Road. In winter months, park at the gate, approximately three- and-a-half miles from the cabin. From there, you have a relatively easy hike, snowshoe or ski in along an unplowed portion of the road.
Soak in some of the most awe-inspiring views the Gallatin Mountains have to offer from the porch of the Maxey Cabin in Hyalite Canyon. Situated in an open meadow looking out toward some of Hyalite’s most majestic peaks, Maxey Cabin was built in 1912 by then-owner of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and Great Falls Tribune, William M. Bole (for whom Hyalite’s prominent Mountt. Bole was named), who purchased the land from the Northern Pacific Railroad. Pre-New Deal, there was no reservoir and no dam, just the Hyalite Creek headwaters.
Today, the main cabin can sleep up to four, with a neighboring unheated structure available only in summer, providing extra space for a total of 15 people and making for a unique family reunion. Maxey is located past Hyalite Dam on the right—the final mile is not plowed and there is a gate about two-thirds of a mile from the cabin.
Nestled in Hyalite Canyon, Window Rock Cabin is set in a meadow just south of the Hyalite Reservoir. In the shadow of Mountount Bole, start a crackling fire in the outdoor fire ring or indoor wood stove with the sounds of Hyalite creek flowing nearby.
From Hyalite Canyon Road, just past the dam, the driveway to the cabin is only 650 feet away. Be sure to pack your skis—Hyalite Canyon has 18 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails and endless backcountry opportunities. Built in 1940, the cabin sleeps four and remains a retreat for one of Gallatin National Forest’s most popular recreation areas.
Basin Station Cabin is a primitive, rustic, two-room structure located in the Hebgen Lake Ranger District of the Custer Gallatin National Forest just past the town of West Yellowstone. From U.S. Highway 20, about seven-and-a-half miles from town, park at the Buttermilk Trailhead just past Denny Creek Road. Guests can ski, snowmobile or snowshoe one mile down Highway 20 from the Buttermilk Trailhead parking lot, then proceed along the two-mile trail to the cabin.
Sitting in an open meadow in the Upper Madison River Valley with views of distant pine forests and mountain peaks on all sides, the cabin providesing a backdrop for the herds of elk that frequent the area. Basin Station sleeps four people and provides includes a wood stove for heat.
The Trail Creek area is known for its small collection of abandoned coal mining communities that came andin went in the late 1800s. The Trail Creek Cabin is situated off of Interstate 90, but lies deep in the surrounding pine forests offering a convenient yet remote getaway not accessible by car or truck.
There are two approaches to the cabin: after exiting I-90 onto Trail Creek Road, take the three-mile ski or snowshoe from Newman Creek Road, or a five-mile trip from Goose Creek Road. Trail Creek Cabin was built in 1924 and was the original ranger station for the Bozeman Ranger District. The cabin can accommodate up to four people and has a wood stove for heat. It’s an ideal home base for backcountry skiing, snowshoeing or wildlife watching.
Mira Brody is the New Media Lead at the Outlaw Partners.