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Alaska public use cabins offer comfort in great outdoors

Jill Burke

One of Alaska’s best travel deals is its network of public use cabins. They’re inexpensive, several are accessible via a moderate hike from a parking area, and considering you get to spend a sheltered night immersed in Alaska’s grandeur, the cabins are easily one of the state’s best kept secrets.

It’s not uncommon for cabin lovers to keep favorite locations tightly under wraps, like gold miners protecting coveted claims. Reservations can be made up to seven months in advance, and favorites book up quickly. Readers take heed. You’re about to receive a golden piece of true Alaskan travel advice.

If you are traditionally a tent camper, the cabins can feel like a luxurious alternative. A little planning on a multi-day hiking adventure allows you to simply hike between cabin destinations. Imagine trekking without the need to unpack the tent, assemble the poles or hang your food high in a tree far away from hungry bears. Even better, should rainfall dampen your outing, taking cover is as easy as opening a cabin door. If you’ve ever battled to get a tent up in a downpour, you already know what a relief a cabin can be in inclement weather.

Cabins are also a nice way to introduce families or the adventure-minded-but-somewhat-tentative traveler to the backcountry. Most cabins sleep between three and 12 people, feature wooden bunk beds, heating stoves fueled by either wood or oil, a dining table, cooking platform, and windows. An outhouse is generally also close by.  Cabin conditions vary from small and very rustic to more modern models which tend to be larger and offer better lighting. Some are nestled by lakes or rivers. Others are seaside, some sit in valleys and still others perch atop hillsides overlooking ocean bays and mountain ranges. A few are easily accessible on the road system, while others can only be reached by plane or boat. The point is, however you and your family define adventure, with a little research you’ll be able to locate a public cabin rental to fit your needs.

Who it’s for: anyone who wants a cost-effective way to enjoy an overnight stay in Alaska’s great outdoors. Prices during the summer peak season range from $25-$75 per night.

Who it’s not for: travelers who need creature comforts like mattresses, indoor plumbing and electricity to be happy campers.

What to expect: solid cabins providing basic shelter. Plan to bring your own food, water, sleeping bag and pad and other essential gear for an overnight stay in Alaska’s backcountry. Learn about bears before you go.

How to get one: public use cabins offered both through the State of Alaska and the U.S. Forest Service and cover many regions of the state. (It’s also worth perusing what’s available through the Kenai Wildlife Refuge.) Reservations can usually be made six to seven months in advance, but you may be able to find openings with less notice if your schedule is flexible. The ability to sneak away for a mid-week trip will increase your booking options.

Dispatch Favorites (sorry, we’re saving the ultimate favorites for another entry)Devils Pass Cabin on the Resurrection Pass Trail, Dale Clemens Cabin on the Lost Lake Trail, Callisto Canyon Cabin in Resurrection Bay, Barber Cabin off of the Russian Lakes trail, and, we have not tested but are intrigued by the relatively new Engineer Lake Cabin in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge near Skilak Lake.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published May 9, 2011.