December is such an exciting month for kids. There are parties and crafts, holiday strolls and gifts. When January rolls around it can be a bit of a letdown. We like to plan a special, but inexpensive, trip during the first month of the year so we have something to look forward to.
Forest Service cabins are a great getaway any time of the year, but can be especially fun in winter. As the snow falls and icicles grow, Forest Service cabins can provide a toasty home base for winter activities.
The Gallatin National Forest rents 22 cabins and 1 fire lookoutmost built in the 1920s and 1930s by Forest Service Rangers. All cabins have wood stoves and wood, and many have propane lanterns; some have electricity, but none have water in the winter. Potties are pit toilets outside the cabin. Bring sleeping bags, food, water, matches and hot cocoa mix.
Some cabins are accessible by vehicle while others are accessed by skis, snowshoes or snowmobiles. There are a lot to choose from, but here are a few of my favorites.
Mill Creek Cabin
About 12 miles up Mill Creek Road from the Paradise Valley, the Mill Creek Cabin sits at the end of the plowed road. Mill Creek runs along the back of the cabin and a sledding hill is across the road. Access to cross country skiing from the cabin door.
Beaver Creek Cabin
This one requires a 3.5-mile ski or snowmobile ride, but it is pretty flat. The cabin is on the Beaver Creek Road north of Quake Lake. The small cabin sleeps four, with a loft. In addition to the usuals, bring your own bedding, mattresses are not provided. Snowshoeing and skiing are right out the door, and you probably wont see anyone else up there.
Kings Hill Cabin
We have reservations here for January and I have it on good authority that this is one of the best cabins around. Its on the Lewis and Clark National Forest north of White Sulfur Springs. Unlike most cabins it has two rooms and electricity. Skiing is right out the door or at Silver Crest Cross-Country Ski Trails (.5 miles) or Showdown Ski Area (2 miles).
Know before you go
Rent a cabin or lookout by logging on to www.reserveusa.com or call 1-877-444-6777. Find photos and descriptions of Gallatin National Forest cabins and lookouts at www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin/?page=recreation/areas/cabin_lookout, though reservations must be made through the reservation service up to 180 days in advance. Cabins are also available on a last-minute walk-in basis up to three nights in advance at the district managing the particular cabin. (Google the name of other forests for their cabin descriptions.)