If you’re anything like me, you might be looking for a vacation rental that is more adventurous than the usual hotel or VRBO. If that is the case, I recommend looking into renting one of the United States Forest Service (USFS) Fire Lookout Towers or Backcountry Cabins.
These cabins and towers, maintained by the USFS, are scattered all around the country and are available on a first come, first serve basis by booking through the National Recreation Reservation System at www.recreation.gov. The rates and specifics for each rental can be found in the directory on the website.
The following is a guide for renting a USFS Fire Lookout Tower or Backcountry Cabin.
Crescent Mining Camp, Buena Vista, Colorado
I recently tried one of these rental USFS cabins at the old Crescent Mining Camp on the outskirts of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness near Rockdale, Colorado in Clear Creek Canyon. This camp can be found at the intersection of County Road 390 and FS road 381.
These are great cabins!
As an engineering geologist, I’ve always wanted to know what life was like during the Colorado mining boom. This was my opportunity. This old mining camp provided a first-hand experience of the rich history and natural beauty of the nearby Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and the Pike National Forest.
Clear Creek Canyon is a rich historical area. These cabins provide an amazing rustic basecamp with a glimpse of the miner’s life. It was great to have a cabin rather than having to pitch a tent. Good things to do are walking along the stream and visiting the ghost town at nearby Winfield. The Winfield ghost town-site is further up the canyon.
The cabins have been restored, but provide no amenities. Visitors need to bring bedding, including cots. Bring a cook stove as well. There is an outdoor fireplace. and vault toilet at the cabins, but no drinking water.There are four cabins in the camp; two are reserveable at www.recreation.gov.
Here are a few of my favorite things about this camp:
- You are in the prime spot for OHV exploring, so don’t be surprised to find fellow off-roading enthusiasts zipping around.
- I loved that dogs are allowed.
- We are especially glad that there is a gate on the road in front of the cabins and we don’t have ATVs through there all day and night!
- It was very quiet and peaceful.
- Love the stream next to the cabins and visiting the beaver lodges.
Tips For Renting a USFS Fire Lookout Tower or Backcountry Cabin
Many of these structures were built in the early to mid 1900s, and do not have modern conveniences like running water or electricity. Many are in remote locations that provide a degree of solitude that can be difficult to find in today’s modern world. If you need to plan an escape this summer to refresh your mind – these cabins are a great resource available to us all.
A few tips:
- Rentals book fast – some cabins can be reserved up to a year in advance. Plan ahead to ensure you get your top choice of dates.
- Consider shoulder seasons – calendar periods like early spring or late fall don’t typically have as high a demand as summer and autumn.
- Some cabins may be available on short notice – if you’re passing through an area and want to check availability, the local ranger station will likely have intel on open rentals.
- Make sure you contact the Forest Service office ahead of your trip to confirm any gate or lock codes.
- Be aware of your surroundings – some of these cabins are in areas inhabited by large predators like bears and mountain lions; use best practices for backcountry travel to and from the cabins and store food appropriately.
- Be prepared to chop your own firewood and filter/boil your drinking water – some cabins are equipped with axes and a few essentials, but many are not. Be sure to check the details page for the location you are visiting and pack accordingly.
- Once you book, you’ll receive a confirmation letter. Be sure to have the letter or a screenshot saved on your phone as you will need that there with you during your stay.
- Don’t poach a cabin – unauthorized cabin use is a violation of state and federal law and carries a stiff penalty, a $5k fine and up to 6 months in jail.
Learn more about he history of fire tower lookout and cabin rentals on the USDA Forest Service website.