Nestled deep in the heart of Alaska's wilderness is a network of rustic shelters that beckon adventurous souls from around the world: public use cabins. These cozy abodes offer an experience like no other, immersing visitors in the rugged beauty of the Alaska landscape while providing a comfortable retreat from the elements.
With no shortage of awe-inspiring vistas and wildlife viewing, a stay in a public use cabin is the perfect way to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of modern life and indulge in a real Alaska adventure unlike any other. So, pack your backpack and set out on a journey to discover Alaska's public use cabins.
What is a Public Use Cabin?
A public use cabin is a rustic retreat that can be rented out by visitors for a night or longer, depending on availability. The cabins are maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and other state and federal agencies, and rental fees go towards upkeep and maintenance. These cabins are typically located in more remote areas of Alaska's vast backcountry, providing a unique opportunity for visitors to experience Alaska’s natural beauty. Each cabin comes equipped with basic amenities such as wooden bunk beds, a wood or gas stove, and an outhouse, and guests must bring their own bedding, food, water, and fuel for the stove.
With several hundred public use cabins scattered throughout Alaska's wilderness, there are plenty of options to choose from, each offering a one-of-a-kind experience in the great outdoors.
Why are Public Use Cabins Common in Alaska?
Public use cabins are prevalent in Alaska due to the state's massive stretches of public lands and wide array of outdoor recreation opportunities such as hiking, boating, and fishing. Alaska is the largest state in the U.S., but is also one of the least populated, with a relatively limited road system. Much of the state is accessible only by bush plane, boat, or on foot, and public use cabins open up more options for experiencing Alaska’s diverse landscapes. While backpacking is a popular way to explore Alaska’s backcountry, these cabins offer a slightly cozier option than a tent and can protect you from the elements including wildlife, mosquitos, and unpredictable weather.
Public use cabins were introduced in Alaska as a way to provide visitors with a safe and comfortable base to explore the wilderness. The U.S. Forest Service and Alaska Department of Natural Resources manage a significant portion of Alaska's public lands, which has allowed for the creation and maintenance of these cabins.
How to Reserve a Public Use Cabin in Alaska
If you're looking to experience the adventure and solitude of Alaska's wilderness in a public use cabin, the first step is to decide where in the state you’d like to go. There are hundreds of public use cabins located statewide, with most of cabins in the Southcentral, Inside Passage, and Interior regions of the state. There are also a handful of public use cabins in the Southwest region, on Kodiak Island and scattered throughout the public lands and in that region. Once you’ve narrowed down your region, you can search for public use cabins based on their location, including what city or town they are accessible from and how you get to them – weather by car, foot, plane, or boat. Make sure you pick a cabin that makes sense for your activity level and backcountry experience.
Depending on your destination, you’ll most likely reserve through Recreation.gov for US Forest Service cabins or ReserveAmerica.com for Alaska State Parks cabins. The cabins are in high demand, especially during peak seasons, so it's essential to plan ahead and make a reservation as soon as possible. You can make reservations online or by phone, and reservations can typically be made up to six months in advance of your planned stay.
It's important to note that most cabins require payment in full at the time of reservation, and cancellation policies vary depending on the cabin. Once you've made your reservation, be sure to review the cabin's amenities, how to get there, and be prepared to bring any necessary gear and supplies, such as food, water, fuel, cooking utensils, warm clothing, and bedding. Additionally, get familiar with the cabin's rules and regulations, including how to properly maintain and clean the cabin during your stay.
How to Get to Alaska Public Use Cabins
The ways to get to public use cabins are as varied as the landscapes they inhabit. Some cabins are located in campgrounds and are accessible by car. Other cabins are found in extremely remote locations and are only accessible by chartered plane or water taxi services. Some of the most popular cabins are found along the state’s fantastic trail systems and are offer a great respite after a day of hiking.
Make sure that you pick a cabin that is suitable for your activity level and itinerary. If you don’t have much backcountry experience, pick a cabin that’s accessible by car or a short hike. If you’re prepared for a remote cabin experience, reach out to air and water taxi services in the nearest communities to check on travel times. logistics, and pricing.
Leave No Trace and Public Use Cabin Etiquette
The Leave No Trace principle is an essential concept in outdoor ethics that emphasizes the importance of preserving the natural environment and minimizing human impact. It's especially important in Alaska, where the delicate ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to damage from human activity. When it comes to public use cabins, it's essential to practice Leave No Trace principles to ensure that these remote areas remain well maintained for generations to come.
Leave No Trace
First and foremost, anyone visiting should strive to leave the cabin and its surrounding areas in the same condition they found it. This means packing out all trash and properly disposing of waste in designated areas. Visitors should also avoid damaging trees and vegetation, building new structures, or leaving behind personal items. Additionally, visitors should use existing trails and avoid creating new ones, as this can cause erosion and damage to local flora.
To further reduce human impact, visitors should also consider the type of equipment they bring to the cabin, as well as practice smart camping tactics. For example, using non-toxic and biodegradable soap and cleaning products, minimizing campfire impact, and using low-impact camping techniques can all help to reduce the human footprint on the surrounding environment.
Practicing Leave No Trace principles is crucial when visiting public use cabins in Alaska. By being mindful of our impact on the environment and taking steps to minimize that impact, we can help ensure that these beautiful spots remain accessible to others.
General Public Use Cabin Etiquette
Here are several other examples of public use cabin etiquette that potential visitors should be aware of:
- Keep the cabin clean: Visitors should keep the cabin clean and tidy during their stay, leaving it in the same condition they found it. This includes sweeping the floors, wiping down surfaces, and packing out any trash before you leave the cabin.
- Follow fire safety rules: Many public use cabins have strict rules around campfires, including where and when they can be built. Visitors should follow these rules to minimize the risk of wildfire and ensure the safety of themselves and others.
- Respect wildlife: Alaska is home to an amazing amount of wildlife, and visitors should take care not to disturb or harm animals in their environment. This includes properly storing food and garbage to prevent attracting wildlife to the cabin.
- Be considerate of others: Some larger public use cabins and huts are open to multiple groups. At these cabins, visitors should be respectful of other guests and their privacy by keeping their belongings in their designated spots and respecting quiet hours. If you come across a cabin that you didn't reserve, don't approach or enter the cabin.
A Sampling of Public Use Cabins in Alaska
With hundreds of cabins located throughout the state offering access to a wide variety of experiences – from alpine hiking and glacier kayaking to fishing on remote lakes, and even winter adventures like cross country skiing, ice fishing, and snowmachining - selecting the best public use cabin for your Alaska adventure depends on what you’d like to do and how far off the beaten path you’d like to go. To give you an idea of what’s out there, here are just a few of the public use cabins in Alaska, along with what makes them unique and appealing to visitors. Book early to get your best chance at reserving in your favorite area – it's worth it to plan ahead!
Marten Cabin, Accessible from Juneau
Named for the pine martens that can be seen sneaking through the brush in the area, Marten Cabin is located about 27 miles north of Juneau along Glacier Highway. Marten Cabin is an excellent option for those new to public use cabins as it is located about half a mile off the main campground road at the Eagle Beach State Recreation Area.
McKinley Trail Cabin, Accessible from Cordova
The McKinley Trail Cabin provides a bit of a best of both worlds feeling. Located within the Chugach National Forest, McKinley Trail Cabin gives you the wilderness vibes most cabin users desire, yet it is also only 80 yards from the Copper River Highway, making access easier than many other public use cabins. McKinley is popular amongst fishermen and fisherwomen who use the cabin as a home base for fishing the Copper River.
Byers Lake Cabin #1, Accessible from the Parks Highway
Byers Lake Cabin is one of Alaska’s most desirable public use cabins because of its top-notch location. Yes, it is located near the shores of Byers Lake and easily accessible via the Parks Highway, but what makes the location truly special is that it is within Denali State Park. If you miss out on Cabin #1, there are others around the lake although they will require more of a hike in from the Byers Lake Campground.
Olnes Pond Cabin, Accessible From Fairbanks
Taking Elliot Highway 22 miles north of Fairbanks will bring you to Olnes Pond Cabin. Olnes Pond Cabin is one of the very rare examples of a public use cabin in Alaska that is wired for electricity. Reservations are most easily found during the shoulder seasons, as reservations during summer are either hard to come by or unavailable. But don’t let that deter you. With easy access from Fairbanks, proximity to the Chatanika River, and activities like boating and ATV trails, Olnes Pond Cabin could easily become a favorite amongst Alaska’s public use cabins.
Aialik Bay Cabin, Accessible from Seward
Located deep in Kenai Fjords National Park, the Aialik Bay Cabin offers breathtaking views of glaciers and the surrounding wilderness. Visitors reach the cabin by boat or plane, which sleeps up to six people, and enjoy kayaking, hiking, fishing, and wildlife watching in the area.
Crescent Lake Cabin, Accessible from Cooper Landing
The Crescent Lake Cabin is situated on the shore of Crescent Lake in the Chugach National Forest. This cozy cabin is only accessible by hiking, making it a great option for visitors looking for a more remote experience. The cabin offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and lake, as well as access to Alaska staples like fishing and keeping your eyes peeled for moose and bears.
Mulcahy View Cabin, Accessible from Kodiak
This remote cabin is located in Shuyak Island State Park on Shuyak Island at the northern end of Kodiak Island, making it accessible by boat or floatplane. The cabin is situated in a picturesque rainforest near the shore allowing for marine wildlife viewing. Keep an eye on the sea, and you are sure to spot sea otters or whales.
Nugget Creek Cabin, AccessiBle from Fairbanks
Be Prepared and Have Fun!
Alaska public use cabins are a unique way for adventurous visitors to explore Alaska's backcountry. These cabins are truly off the grid and usually don't have cell service. You are responsible for being prepared to ensure a safe and enjoyable wilderness experience, and being a responsible steward for the cabin and surrounding area. With idyllic views, peace, quiet, and access to the outdoors and wildlife, the cabins are a one-stop shop for the rustic charm that draws people to Alaska. Take the opportunity to unplug, relax, enjoy quality time with friends and family, and soak up the beauty of the 49th State!
Alaska: AKA Your Next Adventure
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